Hardly a day goes by that we don't hear about the dire consequences of climate change and the impending doom it will bring on the planet and all of mankind. Heat trapping gases created by our reliance on and addiction to fossil-fuel energy sources are raising the temperatures in our oceans and our atmosphere, melting ice caps throughout the polar regions, and causing extreme weather patterns all over the globe.
Climate change is no longer a problem to be solved in some distant future. The negative results of carbon-based energy are here today, everywhere, and scientists are predicting even more devastation over the coming decades because of the lag effect. That means even more superstorms, severe drought, heat waves, oppressive smog, air poisoned by the release of methane gas from melting ice caps, and the potential extinction of up to half of all living species on the planet.
It's quite depressing when you think about it, but does that mean we should throw our hands up in despair and accept defeat, accept that the very survival of the human race is doomed?
Not at all, says Al Gore. Remember him, the first presidential candidate to bring the issue of climate change to the national stage? He warned us all 14 years ago that global warming is a real problem -- not some paranoid theory fabricated by fringe scientists -- and that drastic policy and regulatory changes are needed to head off the problem before it's too late.
The effects of climate change are more prevalent now than they were back in 2000, and the predictions for the future even more dire, but Gore says the situation is not hopeless.
"In the struggle to solve the climate crisis, a powerful, largely unnoticed shift is taking place," he wrote in the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine. "The forward journey for human civilization will be difficult and dangerous, but it is now clear that we will ultimately prevail."
That shift is taking place on several fronts, Gore explains. First and foremost is the technological advancements in renewable energy that have made solar and wind power much cheaper and more efficient far more rapidly than anyone had predicted. The cost of electricity from photovoltaic solar cells is now equal to or less than the cost of electricity from other sources powering electric grids in at least 79 countries. Gore predicts that by 2020 -- as the scale of deployments grows and the costs continue to decline -- more than 80 percent of the world's people will live in regions where solar will be competitive with electricity from other sources.
In fact, he wrote, in poorer countries, where most of the world's people live and most of the growth in energy use is occurring, photovoltaic electricity is not so much displacing carbon-based energy as leapfrogging it altogether. In other words, regions of developing nations that have never had access to electricity have skipped over traditional power grids and gone straight to solar. Bangladesh, for example, is installing nearly two new rooftop PV systems every hour.
Here in America, more states are adopting net metering laws that allow homeowners who install solar PV systems to sell electricity back into the grid when they generate more than they need. As more consumers install solar panels -- or buy into community solar projects like here in Windham County -- utilities will have to raise prices on their remaining customers to recover the lost revenue. Gore says those higher rates will, in turn, drive more consumers to leave the utility system and so on, leading to the so-called utility death spiral.
All of this is creating a noticeable shift in the energy business. The rapid technological advancements in renewable energy are stranding carbon investments; grassroots movements are building opposition to the holding of such assets; and new legal restrictions on collateral flows of pollution are further reducing the value of coal, tar sands, and oil and gas assets. As a result, more and more investors are diversifying their portfolios to include significant investments in renewables, Gore explains.
The final significant shift Gore discusses in his article is political. The forces fighting against renewable energy are formidable, well financed and carry considerable political power built up over the past century -- Gore specifically mentions brothers Charles and David Koch, who run Koch Industries, the second-largest privately owned corporation in the U.S. Gore says they have secretly donated at least $70 million to a number of opaque political organizations tasked with spreading disinformation about the climate crisis.
"But here is more good news: The Koch brothers are losing rather badly," Gore wrote.
In Kansas, their home state, a poll by North Star Opinion Research reported that 91 percent of registered voters support solar and wind. Three-quarters supported stronger policy encouragement of renewable energy, even if such policies raised their electricity bills. Gore says it's important for voters to keep the political momentum going.
"Now is the time to support candidates who accept the reality of the climate crisis and are genuinely working hard to solve it -- and to bluntly tell candidates who are not on board how much this issue matters to you," Gore wrote. "If you are willing to summon the resolve to communicate that blunt message forcefully -- with dignity and absolute sincerity -- you will be amazed at the political power an individual can still wield in America's diminished democracy."
The bottom line, Gore says, is that there is still time to avoid the catastrophes that most threaten our future: "Each of the trends described above -- technology, business, economics and politics -- represents a break from the past. Taken together, they add up to genuine and realistic hope that we are finally putting ourselves on a path to solve the climate crisis."