Al Gore told young green energy advocates Friday that progress on global warming must come from a strong grassroots movement that can counter the oil and coal lobbies, which he alleged have “paralyzed” governments.
Gore – who compared action on global warming to the Civil Rights movement – was the keynote speaker at Power Shift 2011, a Washington, D.C. conference attended largely by college students.
“It’s true that governments by and large have been politically paralyzed because the energy companies, the coal companies, the oil companies, the coal-burning utilities, they have spent enormous amounts of money and they have succeeded in many countries in paralyzing the political process,” the former vice president said.
“There are four anti-climate lobbyists on Capitol Hill in this city for every single member of the House and every single member of the Senate,” Gore said Friday night at the opening of the April 15-18 conference.
“What is the answer for this?" Gore asked. "It has to come from you. It has to come at the grassroots level. It has to come from young people, and I believe that you are up to it and that you can do it.”
He lauded the work of the young advocates but said they need to build a more powerful political movement, which is largely the aim of the conference, which includes scores of workshops and training events.
“The answer will be you,” Gore said. “All we need is political will, but political will is a renewable resource. ... Let’s get to work."
The speech and the conference come at a time when climate advocates have been thrown on the defensive politically.
A sweeping cap-and-trade and energy bill collapsed in the Senate last year, and emissions caps are dead on Capitol Hill for now.
Advocates are instead fighting to preserve the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate greenhouse gases.
GOP-led legislation that strips EPA’s power recently passed the House. It currently lacks the 60 Senate votes to pass, but alternative measures are in play aimed at delaying or limiting the rules.
Against this backdrop, Gore said it’s vital to continue pushing for policies that would put a monetary cost on industrial emissions. “Putting a price on carbon” is the goal of cap-and-trade plans and other proposals to ensure emissions cuts, but such measures face gigantic hurdles in the current Congress.
Gore said the Civil Rights movement was fueled by youth questioning their parents about legal discrimination, and he drew a link to climate change.
“When they could not answer that moral question coming straight from the conscience of young people, that is when the laws began to change,” Gore said. “You need to ask, ‘tell me again why its al right to put 90 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every 24 hours, 20 percent of it will still be there in 20,000 years.'”
“You need to ask that question and other related questions. Don’t they see the evidence, don’t they hear what the scientists are saying, do they actually believe this lying from the large carbon polluters, that the scientists are making this up?” Gore added.
He went on the offensive against climate change deniers, citing a litany of extreme weather events – ranging from floods in Pakistan to droughts in the U.S. southwest – and noted that nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred in the last 12 years.
“You cannot negotiate with the laws of physics,” Gore said of global warming. “You can’t amend the laws of physics, you have got to respond to reality as we find it, and it takes courage and it takes leadership.”
He called combating climate change in the country’s economic interest, comparing unchecked emissions to the sub-prime mortgage bubble that proved so damaging.
“We have got trillions of dollars of sub-prime carbon assets whose value depends on the assumption that it is perfectly all right to put these 90 million tons of pollution into the atmosphere every 24 hours,” Gore said.
“It’s not all right. And it’s not all right to borrow all of the money from China to buy the oil from Saudi Arabia-dominated global oil markets, and then burn it in ways that destroy our future. We need to change every bit of that,” Gore added, while stating that low-carbon technologies bring jobs with them.
Gore steered clear of criticizing the White House directly at a time when some green advocates are disappointed with several administration decisions and what they call a lack of political muscle devoted to climate issues.
But he noted that, “We have not yet done enough. Our leaders have not yet done enough. Our country has not yet done enough. The world has not yet done enough," before adding "we can solve this."