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A New York Times bestseller!
The follow up to the #1 New York Times bestselling An Inconvenient Truth and companion to Vice President Al Gore’s new documentary, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, this new book is a daring call to action. It exposes the reality of how humankind has aided in the destruction of our planet and delivers hope through groundbreaking information on what you can do now.
Vice President Gore, one of our environmental heroes and a leading expert in climate change, brings together cutting-edge research from top scientists around the world; approximately 200 photographs and illustrations to visually articulate the subject matter; and personal anecdotes and observations to document the fast pace and wide scope of global warming. He presents, with alarming clarity and conclusiveness (and with humor, too) that the fact of global climate change is not in question and that its consequences for the world we live in will be assuredly disastrous if left unchecked.
Follow Vice President Gore around the globe as he tells a story of change in the making. He connects the dots of Zika, flooding, and other natural disasters we’ve lived through in the last 10+ years—and much more.
The book also offers a comprehensive how-to guide on exactly how we can change the course of fate. With concrete, actionable advice on topics ranging from how to run for office to how to talk to your children about climate change, An Inconvenient Sequel will empower you to make a difference—and lets you know how exactly to do it.
Where Gore’s first documentary and book took us through the technical aspects of climate change, the second documentary is a gripping, narrative journey that leaves you filled with hope and the urge to take action immediately. This book captures that same essence and is a must-have for everyone who cares deeply about our planet.
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About the Author
Gore was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1976, 1978, 1980, and 1982 and the U.S. Senate in 1984 and 1990. He was inaugurated as the forty-fifth Vice President of the United States on January 20, 1993, and served eight years. During his time in the Clinton Administration, Gore was a central member of the president's economic team. He served as President of the Senate, a Cabinet member, a member of the National Security Council, and as the leader of a wide range of Administration initiatives.
He is the author of the bestsellers Earth in the Balance, An Inconvenient Truth, The Assault on Reason, and Our Choice.
Read an Excerpt
Having spent the better part of my life for the past several decades trying to learn from experts on the climate crisis and working with technology and policy innovators to develop solutions for the unprecedented challenge humanity faces, I have never been more hopeful.
At this point in the fight to solve the climate crisis, there are only three questions remaining:
Must we change?
Can we change?
Will we change?
In the pages that follow, you will find the best available evidence supporting the overwhelming conclusion that the answer to the first two of these three questions is a resounding “Yes.”
I am convinced that the answer to the third question—“Will we change?”—is also “Yes,” but that conclusion, unlike the answer to the first two questions, is in the nature of a prediction. And in order for that prediction to come true, there must be a continued strengthening of the global consensus embodied in the Paris Agreement of December 2015, in which virtually every nation on Earth agreed to take concerted action to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to zero as early in the second half of this century as possible.
That strengthened consensus depends in turn upon the continuing growth of a global grassroots movement to encourage political leaders in every nation to take even bolder steps than the ones agreed to in Paris. Luckily, that grassroots movement is already growing rapidly, not only among activists and leaders of civil society but also among business leaders, investors, mayors, and other elected officials who recognize that the stakes have never been higher. As more and more people come to the same realization that we really must change, the movement continues to gain momentum.
In other words, all three of these questions are intimately interrelated. In order to accelerate and complete the historic transformation of global civilization that is already under way, it is first necessary to come to grips with the unprecedented threat to humanity posed by our continued reliance on fossil fuels, our unsustainable industrial transportation, agriculture, forestry, and ocean management practices—and our habit of short-term thinking that blinds too many of us to the unimaginable damage we are causing. And in order to summon the will to act with the requisite boldness, we have to have confidence that once we commit ourselves, we can succeed.
I have never been more hopeful. So let’s begin with the first question: must we change?
In some ways, it is easy to understand one of the main reasons it has taken so much time to fully recognize the self-destructive nature of our current pattern. After all, humanity has gained immeasurable benefits from the burning of fossil fuels—higher standards of living, longer lifespans, historic reductions in poverty, and all of the blessings of the elaborate global civilization that has been developed over the past 150 years.
Moreover, because we still depend on fossil fuels for more than 80 percent of the energy that powers our civilization, we are naturally daunted by the prospect of a rapid transition to renewable sources of energy and the speedy development of much higher levels of efficiency in all human activities.
Nevertheless, the obvious and overwhelming evidence of the damage we are causing is now increasingly impossible for reasonable people to ignore. It is widely known by now that there is a nearly unanimous view among all scientists authoring peer-reviewed articles related to the climate crisis that it threatens our future, that human activities are largely if not entirely responsible, and that action is needed urgently to prevent the catastrophic harm it is already starting to bring.
More importantly, Mother Nature is reminding us almost daily that the impacts of the climate crisis are growing steadily more severe, with more frequent and powerful climate-related extreme weather events. Every night, the TV news is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation.
But before diving further into examples of the unprecedented harm we are causing, please remember how important it is to guard against feelings of despair. Despair, after all, is simply another form of denial, and can serve to paralyze the will we need to fight our way out of this crisis. And bear in mind that the hopeful news about the availability of solutions is a powerful antidote to the feelings that can be aroused by the disconcerting news about the self-harm we are presently inflicting upon humanity.
High temperature records are being routinely broken on every continent—even Antarctica, where, in 2015, scientists confirmed one measurement of 17.5ºC (63.5ºF). Because of the physics of global warming, nighttime temperatures are rising even faster than daytime temperatures, and heat waves are becoming far more common.
Air temperatures are predicted to steadily increase all around the world because of the continuing accumulation of man-made global warming pollution in the atmosphere, the thin shell of air that surrounds our planet. The cumulative amount of this gaseous pollution exceeded 400 parts per million for the entire year for the first time in human history in 2016 (43 percent higher than preindustrial levels).
The combination of higher ocean temperatures and the growing acidification of ocean water (approximately one-third of the CO2 we release into the atmosphere settles into the ocean, where it has already increased acidity by 30 percent) are leading to the death of coral reefs throughout the world. It is also disrupting the process by which coral polyps—and all sea creatures with shells—scavenge calcium carbonate from seawater and transform it into the hard structures necessary for their survival.
Warmer ocean temperatures are also causing the mass migration of fish populations, many of which are simultaneously being depleted by overfishing, the runoff of pollution from coastal areas, and a sharp decline of oxygen in the growing number of “dead zones” in the ocean. The decline of fish populations in the tropics and subtropics is especially threatening because of the heavy reliance on seafood in those regions.
The climate crisis is resulting in more frequent downpours around the world, but the geographic distribution and the periodicity of rainfall have also been altered. As the water cycle is disrupted, some areas are receiving big increases in precipitation, while others are receiving much less. While much more precipitation falls in big storm events, the period of time between rainfalls has also been increasing in many regions. And during the intervals between rainfalls the higher air temperatures suck more moisture from the first several centimeters of the soil, leading to deeper and longer droughts.
Driven by these droughts and warmer temperatures, there has been a dramatic increase in fires and a radical extension of the “fire season” (in the western United States, for example, the annual fire season has already increased by 105 days). Firefighters are now having to deal with a new phenomenon they call “mega-fires.” These extremely large fires are particularly severe in the northern boreal forests of Alaska, Canada, and Siberia. The higher temperatures have also greatly increased the damage to forests from pine beetles and bark beetles, which survive milder winters in greater numbers and reproduce more generations during the longer summers. When they attack trees weakened by drought, they end up devastating millions of acres of forestland, turning them into kindling for the larger fires.
The seasonal timing of rainfall patterns has become more erratic and less predictable, which has had a harsh impact on subsistence farmers who depend on rain-fed agriculture. Especially in the tropics and subtropics, many farmers report that they can no longer rely on the age-old rainy season/dry season pattern that previous generations counted on to decide when to plant and when to harvest.
Because the larger downpours rush off the surface of the land, carrying larger amounts of topsoil with them, the underground aquifers beneath are not being replenished as efficiently as they are by more regular, gentler rains. And because higher temperatures increase the need for water—by plants and animals, in agriculture and energy production, and for human consumption—growing populations in many regions have begun to rely more heavily on underground aquifers, depleting those sources more rapidly than they are replenished.
Increasing temperatures are also accelerating the melting and breakup of land-based ice—in mountain glaciers, and more significantly, in Greenland and Antarctica—thus accelerating sea level rise and threatening the inundation of low-lying coastal areas where hundreds of millions of people live.
Food supplies are also being threatened by the climate crisis. Higher temperatures are already decreasing crop yields of corn, wheat, rice, and other staples.
Diseases affecting humans have become more threatening because of the climate crisis. The so-called “vectors” that carry many infectious diseases—such as mosquitoes, ticks, snails, algae, and others—are extending their range in a warmer and wetter world. Viruses such as Zika, dengue fever, and West Nile virus, among others, incubate faster.
Climate has always mediated the relationship between human beings and microbes. Indeed, some historians have suggested that civilizations in higher latitudes have more readily flourished because they are relatively freer from the overburden of microbial diseases that are much more prevalent in the hotter and wetter regions of the lower latitudes of the tropics and subtropics. According to Princeton’s Andrew Dobson, “Climate change is disrupting natural ecosystems in a way that is making life better for infectious diseases.”
One of the most startling examples of the new threat from tropical diseases is the recent outbreak of a mutated form of the Zika virus that causes microcephaly and other serious birth defects. Zika is also the first mosquito-borne disease known to be sexually transmitted by humans. Although air travel has played a large role in the spread of tropical diseases, the changing climate conditions have given them a chance to take root in regions where they never thrived previously.
For all of these reasons, and more, the answer to the question “Must we change?” is abundantly clear: “Yes!” Indeed, some scientists have warned that if we do not change, the future of human civilization itself is at dire risk.
But here is the good news: the answer to the second question—“Can we change?”—is also a resounding “Yes!” In just the past 10 years the cost of clean, renewable solar energy and wind energy has fallen so quickly that in a growing number of regions throughout the world, it is now cheaper than electricity made from the burning of fossil fuels—and the cost continues to decline year by year.
Some areas of technology—such as computer chips, flat screen televisions, and mobile telephones—respond to research and development spending in an almost magical manner. Not only does the cost go down much faster than anyone expected, the quality goes up at the same time.
Consider, for example, what has happened with cell phones: in 1980, AT&T took note of the new technology that led to the first bulky mobile telephones and asked one of the world’s leading market research companies, McKinsey, to predict for them how many such mobile phones they might be able to sell by the year 2000. They were excited to get the answer that they could probably count on selling 900,000 such phones. When the year 1999 arrived, the telephone industry did sell 900,000 mobile phones—in the first three days of the year! By the end of the year, 109 million phones had been sold—120 times more than predicted.
The cost had come down far more quickly than anyone anticipated, even as the quality of the phones increased dramatically, with many more features packed into a much smaller form factor. Moreover, these cell phones proved especially popular in developing countries, where landline telephone grids had never been built in the first place. The people in those regions simply leapfrogged the technology on which the wealthy countries were still dependent.
The same thing is now happening with renewable energy, especially solar. Panels are being installed on the roofs of grass huts in Africa and South Asia—and on rooftops throughout the world. Utility-scale “solar farms” are producing electricity at even lower rates. In fact, some of the new contracts for large solar farms signed in 2016 provide electricity at rates less than half the cost of the cheapest electricity generated from the burning of coal or natural gas. And the price continues to decline rapidly.
As a result, just as the early predictions of growth in the number of cell phones were badly wrong, so were the best predictions made 15 years ago on the spread of solar and wind energy.
For the year 2016 in the United States, 70 percent of all new electricity-generating capacity came from solar and wind. Less than two-tenths of 1 percent came from coal. And in a growing number of areas, solar electricity is now beating proposals to generate electricity from the most efficient forms of gas turbines.
To brighten the renewable energy story still further, the cost of battery storage is also now beginning to rapidly decline. This is particularly important, because more efficient, cheaper batteries can solve the so-called “intermittency” disadvantage of renewable sources—that is, they can continue providing electricity at nighttime when the sun doesn’t shine and during periods of the day when the wind is slack. As Noah Smith, a Bloomberg View columnist, wrote, “Solar-plus-batteries is set to begin a dramatic transformation of human civilization.”
Non-polluting electric vehicles are also beginning to make inroads in the transportation sector of the economy. While their percentage of the vehicle fleet is still small, demand is growing rapidly and competition is driving virtually every major vehicle manufacturer to introduce more affordable models in the next 12 months. The leading electric vehicle manufacturer in the United States, Tesla, has just surpassed General Motors and Ford to become the most valuable car company in the nation. Homeowners with solar panels on their rooftops and an electric car in their garages are already paying less than the equivalent of $1 per gallon in gasoline costs. Electric buses are predicted to take over from diesel buses in major cities over the next decade.
Moreover, by using the powerful new digital tools now available in our civilization—including the fast-growing “Internet of Things”—industrial and business managers are achieving much higher levels of efficiency in the use of energy and natural materials. Thousands of new technology solutions are spreading rapidly through the global economy. LED lighting is displacing incandescent bulbs and compact fluorescent light bulbs at an unprecedented rate in what is now being called perhaps the fastest technology transformation in any market sector in the history of the world.
The fossil fuel industry is engaged in a losing battle to confuse people into thinking that the climate crisis isn’t real, and that the renewable energy revolution is trivial and meaningless. In fact, taken together, the spread of renewable energy, battery storage, electric vehicles, LEDs, and the thousands of new hyper-efficiency solutions all make up what many are now referring to as “The Sustainability Revolution.” It combines the scale of the Industrial Revolution with the speed of the Digital Revolution.
The fossil fuel industry, which is already engaged in a losing, rearguard battle to confuse people into thinking that the climate crisis isn’t real, is also engaging in what some have described as “a strange new form of denial”—an effort to convince people that the renewable energy revolution is trivial and meaningless. In their failing efforts to both persuade people the crisis isn’t real and that solar and wind energy are not cost-effective solutions to it, they bring to mind the famous scene in the Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup, in which Chico asked, “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”
Importantly, investors around the world are ignoring the fossil fuel industry’s arguments and are now shifting resources massively into renewable energy and are financing the highly profitable Sustainability Revolution. As the renewable energy industry has flourished, the market capitalization of the global coal industry has fallen almost 90 percent in the past seven years.
And with the International Energy Agency warning that two-thirds of the proven reserves held by oil and gas companies can never be burned—lest human civilization be destroyed—investors are beginning to realize that they are in danger of the kind of financial catastrophe that was caused in 2007–2008, when the value of subprime mortgages was suddenly discovered to be worthless. In the same way, “subprime carbon assets” now pose a serious threat to the stability of the global economy. And smart investors are moving quickly to minimize their exposure to this historic risk.
The Sustainability Revolution combines the scale of the Industrial Revolution with the speed of the Digital Revolution. It is also important to note that the conventional air pollutants from the burning of coal and other fossil fuels that accompany CO2 emissions—including particulates and sulfur dioxide—have now reached intolerable levels in many cities around the world—especially in China and India—where people are becoming desperate to reduce the levels of pollution. The health problems associated with air pollution are driving political unrest in some areas as people become more aware of the dangers they face.
But that leaves the third and final question: “Will we change?”
I have heard over and over again a hunger to engage in this struggle for the future. That gives me hope every day. I am convinced that the answer to this question is also “Yes.” The global agreement reached in Paris at the end of 2015 is encouraging not only because of the universal commitment from governments but also because it amplified the signal to investors, industries, businesses, and institutions that the entire world is poised to move quickly to a sustainable and renewable future. This transformation has already begun and is picking up speed. The Paris Agreement also calls for regular five-year reviews of the commitments made by the nations that are party to the agreement to encourage them to increase their commitments to emission reductions as the new technologies become ever cheaper and as opposition to the pollution from fossil fuels grows ever stronger.
Many state, provincial, regional, and local governments are already moving faster than national governments. A growing number of cities in the United States have succeeded in obtaining 100 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, and many regions around the world are making similar progress.
While the answer to “Will we change?” is almost certainly “Yes,” it is not yet clear that we will change rapidly enough to avoid the catastrophic damage we must avoid. Yet it is abundantly clear that we can avoid it if we accelerate the pace of transformation.
And that is why, starting on page 176, you will find an action handbook for anyone who wants to be a part of the answer to the biggest question our civilization has ever confronted.
Because many governments in the world—especially the United States government in 2017—are still controlled by fossil fuel interests, the growing citizen activist movement pushing for more rapid change is actually the most important movement in world history.
As I have traveled the world, including during the filming of An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, the companion film to this book, I have heard over and over again a hunger on the part of everyday citizens to engage in this struggle for the future of our civilization. And that gives me hope every day.
If you want to be a part of this historic change, you will find in the following pages not only a more detailed description of the crisis and its solutions but also a list of actions that you can take to join the climate movement and ensure that we will change—and that we will change in time.
If we were to fail, the next generation would be well justified in looking back at us and asking: What were you thinking? Couldn’t you hear what the scientists were saying? Couldn’t you hear what Mother Nature was screaming at you?