Gore says sustainable energy will win — the question is whether it will win in time

Source: By CHRIS POTTER, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette • Posted: Friday, October 20, 2017

This might seem a tough time for environmentalists to be optimistic, what with President Donald Trump rolling back environmental regulations even amid mounting evidence of global climate change. But former Vice President Al Gore is trying.

“The emphasis on hope is really important, because a bad news story that doesn’t leave room for hope can be paralyzing,” he told reporters amid the proceedings of this week’s Climate Reality Project gathering at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. “And the good news is that we now have a truly legitimate basis for a lot of hope.”

Mr. Gore has been leading a series of discussions in front of some 1,300 climate-change activists, who hope to educate their own communities about the threat of global warming. The Project, a nonprofit chaired by Mr. Gore, hosts three such events a year, and Mr. Gore said he’d trained 14,000 people since 2006

Mr. Gore’s efforts, which include a book and the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” earned him a Nobel Prize. But he arguably failed in his highest-profile education campaign: trying to convince Mr. Trump to keep the U.S. in the Paris accord, which committed nations to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions.

“I did not give up on him until he made the announcement” to withdraw in June, said Mr. Gore. While he said “I felt no further need to try to communicate with him” afterward, Mr. Gore said he “definitely did have [the] impression” Mr. Trump had sincerely considered the issue. Relying on assessments by Morgan Stanley and others, he predicted that market forces would ensure the United States met the Paris goals anyway.

Mr. Gore argues that technology improvements have made wind and solar power increasingly convenient and cost-effective compared to fossil fuels, the burning of which produces gases that cause global warming. And while “partisan lines have hardened on almost every issue,” he said, “we are not that far from a governing majority on climate.”

As evidence, he cited a Senate vote in May rejecting a White House bid to overturn regulations on methane emissions, which are a key factor in climate change. And he lauded a “Climate Solutions Caucus” included 50 House Republicans, including three from eastern Pennsylvania.

“Those of you who are, like me, affiliated with the Democratic Party — we have to reach across the partisan divide,” he told activists during a Tuesday session.

Some polling suggests that won’t be easy. Gallup polls for example, show that the percentage of Republicans who said they worried “a great deal” about climate change had dropped from 29 percent in 2000 to 18 percent this past spring. That’s during a period in which concern among Democrats and independents mounted — along with the evidence for climate change itself.

Mr. Gore cited a different poll, conducted after the 2016 election by Yale and George Mason universities. That survey showed that almost half of Trump voters think climate change is happening, and more than three-fifths favor either taxing or regulating the pollution that causes it.

“I think these extreme events connected to the climate crisis are having a big impact on people,” he said, referring to disasters including hurricanes Irma and Maria, as well as wildfires in California.

Still, those warnings might seem remote to Western Pennsylvania, while the benefits of burning coal and natural gas are closer at hand.

Mr. Gore has become a skeptic of natural gas development, a burgeoning industry here that he’d previously celebrated. While backers of gas say it emits less carbon-dioxide than coal, he said, leaks of methane — which also warms the climate — erase that advantage. He called natural gas a “dead end.”

Coal miners, meanwhile, would not have been gratified by Mr. Gore’s presentation on Tuesday, when audience members cheered maps showing coal-fired power plants that had either been closed or cancelled.

Mr. Gore said later that he sympathized with miners: “We owe them not only respect, but a national commitment to retraining [and] new opportunities for good jobs.”

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tried a similar message in 2016, and lost coal country handily. “There may have been a lot of factors that played into that,” said Mr. Gore with a rueful chuckle. But he predicted miners who voted for Mr. Trump would be disappointed: “Pretending that we can turn back the clock is not an honest message.”

His own message was tempered with a warning. Eventually sustainable energy would triumph, he predicted — but if humans put off the transition for too long, rising sea levels and other effects would have disastrous effects.

“We will win it,” he said. “But we have to win it in time.”