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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

'So much depends on it': Al Gore issues environmental call to arms at Collision

Posted By on Wed, May 2, 2018 at 1:01 AM

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The man who was almost president has a message for the entrepreneurs, investors and other tech-adjacent professionals milling about this week's Collision conference in New Orleans: he needs you on board.

"I'm not here to just give you information," he says. "I'm here to recruit you. We need your help to win this struggle. We need your help to solve the climate crisis."

In a 30-minute speech to a packed-to-the-gills house (people sitting in the aisles, on the floor in front of the stage), former vice president, Nobel laureate and venture capitalist Al Gore exhorted conference-goers to sign on to what he says will be the defining battle of our lifetimes — the struggle to turn back the clock on an ever-warming, ever-more-meteorologically volatile planet whose climate has been disrupted by human activity and fossil fuel emissions.

"The world that you will grow into," Gore told the young-skewing crowd, "will be shaped by the decisions we make about this today."

The joke about Al Gore was always that he was boring, and it's true that his recitation of a damning litany of statistics about the fluctuating climate — half the Earth's animals lost in the past 30-40 years, 17 of the 18 hottest years ever recorded taking place since 2001, 509 days of Niagara Falls' flow falling as rain during Hurricane Harvey — was a little challenging to listen to. But it's tough to say whether that's Gore's dogged delivery or the case those facts inexorably build, which is large, frightening and seems to dwarf the actions of any one person.

"We can't give in to the human vulnerability that we all have, [which is] to turn away from stuff that's hard to think about," Gore said.

Speaking without notecards or a teleprompter, Gore outlined three main questions that he says will drive the push to stop climate change in years to come. The first two questions are "must we change?" and "can we change?" and he said both already have been answered in the affirmative. Particularly, new developments in wind, solar and battery technology have allowed state and international governments to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, reducing emissions. Gore says new energy technologies will only become more prevalent — and profitable — in the years to come.

The central issue, then, becomes the third question: "Will we change?" According to Gore, the answer to that question lies in whether sufficient pressure can be applied to both elected officials, who too often support fossil fuel-friendly policies, and the investor marketplace. He called specifically on attendees of the conference to both turn out to vote and to address climate change with the same rigor and passion as they treat their entrepreneurial projects.

While once it was true, he says, that investors argued that they couldn't make a decent return supporting  sustainable technology, that time has passed, and investors have both business and social responsibilities to support products and projects that will protect the increasingly fragile planet.

Gore was among the headlining speakers at the Collision conference's last year in New Orleans — organizers announced Tuesday that the event will be held in Toronto in 2019. It seemed particularly poignant to hear one of the last headlining speakers in the state, a place that's frequently menaced by hurricanes and is said to lose a football field's worth of coastline every 100 minutes, call on an international audience to use the power and money of the tech and banking industries to find solutions to climate change — and sooner rather than later.

Except for a few winking turns, the talk was notably nonpartisan. But every once in a while, you could catch a glimpse of Gore the politician. One of the night's biggest applause lines was an aside about the state of affairs in post-Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico ("It is a disgrace the way we have abandoned our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico. They deserve better," Gore said.) In those moments, it was impossible not to wonder what might have happened if the 2000 election, another recent election cycle where the winner of the popular vote lost via the electoral college, had gone a little differently.

But maybe it doesn't matter. Since losing the presidency, Gore has become one of the most visible environmental advocates and a high-powered investor in sustainable technologies. If he can meaningfully change the conversation — especially in the wealthy tech and banking worlds — around an issue that affects literally every person alive, perhaps things happened the way they were supposed to.

"We have to do it. We can do it. I'm convinced we will do it," Gore said. "So much depends on it."

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