Welcome to part 2 of Presenting A Poem for the Earth and Al Gore’s Unwavering Optimism. To read part 1 with the accompanying poem, titled The Earth in Rapture, Our Earth, please click here. Part 2 featuring a continuation of the transcription of Al Gore’s Ted Talk video, begins now:
Speaking of the North Pole
This is also connected to the extinction crisis. We're in danger of losing 50 percent of all the living species on earth by the end of this century. And already, land-based plants and animals are now moving towards the poles at an average rate of 15 feet per day.
Speaking of the North Pole, last December 29, the same storm that caused historic flooding in the American Midwest, raised temperatures at the North Pole 50 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal, causing the thawing of the North Pole in the middle of the long, dark, winter, polar night. And when the land-based ice of the Arctic melts, it raises sea level.
Paul Nicklen's beautiful photograph from Svalbard illustrates this. It's more dangerous coming off Greenland and particularly, Antarctica. The 10 largest risk cities for sea-level rise by population are mostly in South and Southeast Asia. When you measure it by assets at risk, number one is Miami: three and a half trillion dollars at risk. Number three: New York and Newark.
I was in Miami last fall during the supermoon, one of the highest high-tide days. And there were fish from the ocean swimming in some of the streets of Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale and Del Rey. And this happens regularly during the highest-tide tides now. Not with rain -- they call it "sunny-day flooding." It comes up through the storm sewers. And the Mayor of Miami speaks for many when he says it is long past time this can be viewed through a partisan lens. This is a crisis that's getting worse day by day.
We have to move beyond partisanship. And I want to take a moment to honor these House Republicans [Applause] who had the courage last fall to step out and take a political risk, by telling the truth about the climate crisis. So the cost of the climate crisis is mounting up, there are many of these aspects I haven't even mentioned. It's an enormous burden.
The Number 1 Risk to the Global Economy
I'll mention just one more, because the World Economic Forum last month in Davos, after their annual survey of 750 economists, said the climate crisis is now the number one risk to the global economy. So you get central bankers like Mark Carney, the head of the UK Central Bank, saying the vast majority of the carbon reserves are unburnable. Subprime carbon. I'm not going to remind you what happened with subprime mortgages, but it's the same thing.
If you look at all of the carbon fuels that were burned since the beginning of the industrial revolution, this is the quantity burned in the last 16 years. Here are all the ones that are proven and left on the books, 28 trillion dollars. The International Energy Agency says only this amount can be burned. So the rest, 22 trillion dollars -- unburnable. Risk to the global economy. That's why divestment movement makes practical sense and is not just a moral imperative.
The Exciting News
So the answer to the first question, "Must we change?" is yes, we have to change. Second question, "Can we change?" This is the exciting news! The best projections in the world 16 years ago were that by 2010, the world would be able to install 30 gigawatts of wind capacity. We beat that mark by 14 and a half times over. We see an exponential curve for wind installations now. We see the cost coming down dramatically.
Some countries -- take Germany, an industrial powerhouse with a climate not that different from Vancouver's, by the way -- one day last December, got 81 percent of all its energy from renewable resources, mainly solar and wind. A lot of countries are getting more than half on an average basis.
More good news: energy storage, from batteries particularly, is now beginning to take off because the cost has been coming down very dramatically to solve the intermittency problem. With solar, the news is even more exciting! The best projections 14 years ago were that we would install one gigawatt per year by 2010. When 2010 came around, we beat that mark by 17 times over. Last year, we beat it by 58 times over. This year, we're on track to beat it 68 times over. We're going to win this. We are going to prevail.
The exponential curve on solar is even steeper and more dramatic. When I came to this stage 10 years ago, this is where it was. We have seen a revolutionary breakthrough in the emergence of these exponential curves. [Applause] And the cost has come down 10 percent per year for 30 years. And it's continuing to come down.
Now, the business community has certainly noticed this, because it's crossing the grid parity point. Cheaper solar penetration rates are beginning to rise. Grid parity is understood as that line, that threshold, below which renewable electricity is cheaper than electricity from burning fossil fuels. That threshold is a little bit like the difference between 32 degrees Fahrenheit and 33 degrees Fahrenheit, or zero and one Celsius. It's a difference of more than one degree; it's the difference between ice and water. And it's the difference between markets that are frozen up, and liquid flows of capital into new opportunities for investment.
This is the biggest new business opportunity in the history of the world, and two-thirds of it is in the private sector. We are seeing an explosion of new investment. Starting in 2010, investments globally in renewable electricity generation surpassed fossils. The gap has been growing ever since. The projections for the future are even more dramatic, even though fossil energy is now still subsidized at a rate 40 times larger than renewables. And by the way, if you add the projections for nuclear on here, particularly if you assume that the work many are doing to try to break through to safer and more acceptable, more affordable forms of nuclear, this could change even more dramatically.
An Answer in 3 Parts
So is there any precedent for such a rapid adoption of a new technology? Well, there are many, but let's look at cell phones. In 1980, AT&T, then Ma Bell, commissioned McKinsey to do a global market survey of those clunky new mobile phones that appeared then. "How many can we sell by the year 2000?" they asked. McKinsey came back and said, "900,000." And sure enough, when the year 2000 arrived, they did sell 900,000 -- in the first three days. And for the balance of the year, they sold 120 times more. And now there are more cell connections than there are people in the world.
So, why were they not only wrong, but way wrong? I've asked that question myself, "Why?" [Laughter] And I think the answer is in three parts. First, the cost came down much faster than anybody expected, even as the quality went up. And low-income countries, places that did not have a landline grid -- they leap-frogged to the new technology. The big expansion has been in the developing counties.
So what about the electricity grids in the developing world? Well, not so hot. And in many areas, they don't exist. There are more people without any electricity at all in India than the entire population of the United States of America. So now we're getting this: solar panels on grass huts and new business models that make it affordable. Muhammad Yunus financed this one in Bangladesh with micro-credit. This is a village market. Bangladesh is now the fastest-deploying country in the world: two systems per minute on average, night and day.
And we have all we need: enough energy from the Sun comes to the Earth every hour to supply the full world's energy needs for an entire year. It's actually a little bit less than an hour. So the answer to the second question, "Can we change?" is clearly "Yes." And it's an ever-firmer "yes."
Last Question: "Will we change?" Paris really was a breakthrough, some of the provisions are binding and the regular reviews will matter a lot. But nations aren't waiting, they're going ahead.
China has already announced that starting next year, they're adopting a nationwide cap and trade system. They will likely link up with the European Union. The United States has already been changing. All of these coal plants were proposed in the next 10 years and canceled. All of these existing coal plants were retired. All of these coal plants have had their retirement announced. All of them-- canceled. We are moving forward.
Last Year: if you look at all of the investment in new electricity generation in the United States, almost three-quarters was from renewable energy, mostly wind and solar. We are solving this crisis. The only question is: how long will it take to get there? So, it matters that a lot of people are organizing to insist on this change. Almost 400,000 people marched in New York City before the UN special session on this. Many thousands, tens of thousands, marched in cities around the world. And so, I am extremely optimistic. As I said before, we are going to win this.
To Quote Poet Wallace Stevens
I'll finish with this story. When I was 13 years old, I heard that proposal by President Kennedy to land a person on the Moon and bring him back safely in 10 years. And I heard adults of that day and time say, "That's reckless, expensive, may well fail." But eight years and two months later, in the moment that Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon, there was great cheer that went up in NASA's mission control in Houston. Here's a little-known fact about that: the average age of the systems engineers, the controllers in the room that day, was 26, which means, among other things, their age, when they heard that challenge, was 18.
We now have a moral challenge that is in the tradition of others that we have faced. One of the greatest poets of the last century in the US, Wallace Stevens, wrote a line that has stayed with me: "After the final 'no,' there comes a 'yes,' and on that 'yes', the future world depends." When the abolitionists started their movement, they met with no after no after no. And then came a yes. The Women's Suffrage and Women's Rights Movement met endless no's, until finally, there was a yes.
The Civil Rights Movement, the movement against apartheid, and more recently, the movement for gay and lesbian rights here in the United States and elsewhere. After the final "no" comes a "yes." When any great moral challenge is ultimately resolved into a binary choice between what is right and what is wrong, the outcome is fore-ordained because of who we are as human beings. Ninety-nine percent of us, that is where we are now and it is why we're going to win this. We have everything we need.
Some still doubt that we have the will to act, but I say the will to act is itself a renewable resource. Thank you very much.
––Applause for Al Gore
A Bright Skylark Literary Productions Post
Earth Day Weekend 2016
Contemporary award-winning author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.