He’s back. Al Gore, the man who should have been President (hope that doesn’t open a sticky can of worms – we are a democracy, people!) is back and he’s pushing a firm finger into our chests, just in case we’ve either missed or conveniently forgotten An Inconvenient Truth.
I, for one, couldn’t be happier to see Al back with his sharply-pointed finger. I mean, what else do you do with your life when you suffer the humiliating and questionable loss of the Top Job? Well, you polish your shoes, brush off your superhero cape and make a difference in the long and ardous road to save our world, that’s what you do.
Humans are a curious breed in that they often delight in and bask in the numbing and sunshiney effect of ignorance and overwhelming desire for luxury and wealth. Those of privilege, in particular, live entire lifetimes inside a thick-walled ‘what we don’t know won’t hurt us’ bubble. Yet, in the case of the fate of our planet, oh yes, it will hurt, baby. And bad.
Sure, it’s easy to coast on through life and leave our mark and toddle off this mortal coil without a backward glance… but think of the children! What are we leaving behind for our progeny? I don’t know about you, but I’m not in the least bit interested in leaving my great grandkiddies to flail around in a cesspit of post-apocalyptic doom, created by our thoughtlessness, narcissism, ignorance, apathy, misappropriation of money, and utter laziness.
I may not be the perfect champion of the planet. Yes, I have accepted the odd plastic bag at the checkout, but I have also grappled with a tumble of items, sans bag, after sheer reluctance to add one more bag to the rubbish pile. Our family recycles, actively saves power, minimises chemical use, owns only one car (by choice), tries to eat seasonally and locally, offsets air travel, all that. Yet I constantly berate myself that I’m perhaps not doing quite enough to help the cause.
The arrival of Our Choice – A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis into my post box, therefore, couldn’t have come at a better time.
In the opening pages of this glossy, beautifully printed book, I laughed out loud to hear a quote from American novelist Kurt Vonnegut. When commenting on the day aliens will discover an extinct earth, fraught with self-inflicted damage too calamitous to sustain life, Vonnegut imagines an epitaph carved into the wall of the Grand Canyon – “We probably could have saved ourselves, but were too damned lazy to try very hard… and too damned cheap”.
Couldn’t have said it better myself. Does that not make one feel ashamed of our self-absorbed, incessantly busy [rat]race?
One promise that heartened me in the reading of Our Choice, is that ecological experts do believe we have the power to solve the climate crisis. They admit it won’t be easy, but it is absolutely doable. With massive, vainglorious, money-focused conglomerates pumping out the majority of climate-altering muck into the atmosphere, it would be so simple to sit back and recycle our beer can then raise our hands in surrender – after all, on a world scale, what impact can a single person or small family really have?
Of course, as explored in Gore’s book, it’s not about recycling cans or using washable rags to wipe our backsides, it’s about a collective mindset that must infiltrate and upheave our very way of thinking – most importantly in terms of educating the poppets coming up through the ranks beneath us – our children and our children’s children.
In Chapter One of Our Choice – What Comes Up Must Come Down, Gore explains startling information on what is happening to our earth’s atmosphere – and how fundamental the notion of cause and effect is to our understanding of this extremely grave situation. Gore gives it all to us – he tells us what is happening, in detail, and provides plenty of astonishing photographs to hammer the points home.
Are you stunned to know that mankind is pumping 90 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air – not every year, but every single day? With as much as 20 percent of anything we pump skyward remaining in our atmosphere 1,000 years from now, asphyxiation or bombardment from galatic missiles via the gargantuan holes ripped into our protective atmospheric skin is surely imminent.
Beyond the very real and totally unsensationalised scare tactics, Gore goes deep with his facts. He backs everything with meticulously researched information, from describing albedo (a measurement of the sun’s reflection) to showcasing global warming pollutants such as butane, methane and tetrafluoroethane. We also learn such details as how electricity is created, how a generator works and how to harness energy from the sun. No – not just by installing a solar panel – but how the solar panels actually work. It’s quite astonishing to see photographic evidence of a mass of more than 1,000 UV panels lining the roof of the Paul VI audience hall at the Vatican. Who knew the Pope was bathing in sun-warmed water?
But the intrigue doesn’t end there in this truly fascinating, almost encyclopedic book. Gore talks of harvesting the wind and soaking up geothermal energy – essentially the energy found deep within the earth’s crust – an energy that has the potential to oustrip oil, coal and gas combined. U.S. Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, has even described the possibilities of geothermal energy as “effectively unlimited”. Very exciting stuff indeed, especially as this source of power has virtually no CO2 emissions.
Gore also talks about growing fuel with biofuel crops such as corn, sugarcane and miscanthus grass. And yes, he’ll take you through a diagram-enhanced explanation of exactly how crops are converted to ethanol, a renewable fuel. Quite astounding and it honestly makes one stand in wonder at the work people are doing around the world, quietly and studiously, to make our existence here more sustainable.
Forests, soil and over-population are all opened and explored, as well as the true cost of carbon and its capture and sequestration, fascinating nuclear options and how we can recommit our minds and money to more efficiently redirect the trajectory of mother earth.
In the chapter Changing the Way We Think, Gore discusses the dichotomy between how humans make solid decisions that are actually acted upon, and… well – real life brain activity and resultant lack of action. Rather than standing on a soapbox and telling us all what to do, however, he asks the question: “Why is it that humanity is failing to confront this unprecedented mortal threat?” Then he goes about exploring it.
You’ll find a comprehensively explorative answer here, complete with brain scans explaining the human brain’s self-control centre, highlighting activity that helps us consider long-term risk and values. When the scan subject considered the effects of eating chocolate, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex was used, yet the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain we use when engaging self-control – lay dormant, only becoming highlighted when the subject considered the long term benefits of eating an apple.
Most certainly, our dorsolateral prefrontal cortex self-control centre seems to lie dormant for much of our everyday lives. With material consumption in modern day society reaching levels bordering the absurd, it’s frightening to consider the de-evolution of this vital part of our brains – the part that is no doubt responsible for the control we need to engage when making choices about our future.
Like the final two chapters entitled The Power of Information and Our Choice, we have within our power, as caretakers of the planet, to reformat our managerial mindset and therefore the strength of our role on earth. Although powerful to the point of rendering humans as mere fleas on a mighty beast, the earth is very much at our mercy. Make no mistake, however, she is bucking against the pain.
Will it take terrible tragedy via natural disasters – a direct symptom of our modern failings – to make us finally engage our brains and get off our apathetic behinds? If big business won’t do anything then we need to be the voice. We need to stand up and demand change. Arming yourself with the information contained in Our Choice is a fine way to start. Dappled with chilling and mesmerisingly beautiful (and horrible) evidence of what is happening to our earth, Our Choice is a book every family should refer to.
There are solutions and there are superheroes bent on making them happen. Thanks, Al.
About The Author
Al Gore was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1976 and the US Senate in 1984 and 1990. He was inaugurated as the 45th vice president of the United States on 20 January 1993 and served eight years. He is chairman of Generation Investment Management, a London-based firm that is focused on a new approach to Sustainable Investing. He also serves as chairman of Current, an independently owned cable and satellite television network for young people based on viewer-created content and citizen journalism. He is a member of the Board of Directors of Apple Computer, Inc., a senior advisor to Google, Inc., and a visiting professor at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He is the author of the 1992 bestseller Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit and An Inconvenient Truth (2006), the companion book to the award-winning documentary film and The Assault on Reason.