The Trump administration may be pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, tearing up environmental regulation and doing everything possible to make coal great again. But none of these jarring setbacks are going to stop the world from succeeding in solving its climate crisis, a defiant Al Gore said Wednesday.
In a keynote speech in Toronto, Gore told a standing-room-only audience of Canadian technology innovators at the Sony Centre that while the absence of American leadership does harm, “the big harm can still be avoided.”
Citing the spate of extreme weather events including ongoing flooding in the Carolinas, the former vice-president told the Elevate festival that watching the nightly news now “is like a hike through the Book of Revelations.”
But just as Americans prevailed against setbacks in the campaign to abolish slavery, so too will the global cause for sustainability ultimately prevail, with U.S. technological innovation leading the way.
“Have faith,” Gore said, noting that a new president, in as little as 30 days from taking office, could restore U.S. engagement with the Paris Accord. “For anyone who thinks we lack the political will to do this, I’ll just remind you that political will is a renewable resource.”
In informal remarks following his speech, Gore, a board member of Apple, was interviewed by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. Both singled out the Toronto-to-Waterloo corridor for its dynamic, diverse and fast-growing technology sector.
Gore dryly observed that Ontario advocates for climate action were facing their own political headwinds, given recent events. But he acknowledged that American, uniquely, is “the only country with a persistent climate-denial movement.”
Asked why that was so by Schmidt, Gore noted how large carbon polluters inject billions into tilting American opinion away from climate action, using the same blueprint of disinformation that Big Tobacco used when studies first began to link cigarettes with cancer.
“U.S. democracy was hacked long before the Russians hacked it,” said Gore, referencing the Kremlin’s efforts to bolster Trump’s presidential campaign. “The average U.S. congressman now spends five hours a day begging lobbyists for money. I know that sounds radical, but it’s a fact.”
Yet none of that is stopping other levels of American innovation and change, said Gore. He pointed to how California, after a summer buffeted by wildfires, this month fast-tracked a bill that will make the state 100 per cent carbon free by 2045. And he noted how Google itself, employing its DeepMind machine learning subsidiary, was able to reduce by 56 per cent the energy consumed by its server farms, without having to replace so much as a single piece of hardware.
“We cannot go on using the sky as an open sewer,” he said. “The next generation is demanding a better world. We’re going to win this thing.”
Mitch Potter is a reporter and feature writer based in Toronto