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Al Gore ‘extremely optimistic’ climate crisis can be turned around

Al Gore speaks at TED2016 - Dream, on Feb. 17 at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Bret Hartman/TED

Al Gore says climate-related disasters are on the rise with record-breaking temperatures, warmer oceans, rising sea levels, unusual storms and longer, more pervasive droughts. "It's a climate crisis," he warned during a TED Talk in Vancouver.

But Mr. Gore says he is "extremely optimistic" that things can be turned around.

"We are solving the crisis. The only question is how long will it take to get there?"

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Ten years after bringing mainstream attention to the issue of climate change, an impassioned Mr. Gore was back at the TED conference Wednesday with a fiery update. He offered sobering – even terrifying – statistics.

"The heart of the problem is that we still rely on dirty carbon-based fuels for 85 per cent of all the energy that our world burns every year," said the former U.S. vice president and presidential candidate-turned climate change activist.

"The accumulated amount of man-made global warming pollution that is up in the atmosphere now traps as much extra heat energy as would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima-class atomic bombs exploding every 24 hours, 365 days a year," he said – adding that the figures were fact-checked multiple times and were even conservative.

"It's a big planet, but that is a lot of energy, particularly when you multiply it 400,000 times per day," he continued. "And all that extra heat energy is heating up the atmosphere."

Mr. Gore said the Earth is now experiencing more extremely hot days than cooler than average days – extremely hot days are 150 times more common than they were 30 years ago.

He said 14 of the 15 hottest years on record have been in this century; last year being the hottest. Further, January was the 371st month in a row warmer than the 20th-century average, and for the first time it was more than two degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the average.

He said warmer oceans are evaporating more water vapour into the skies; average humidity worldwide has gone up more than four per cent. Storm conditions have triggered "massive, record-breaking downpours" – including a two-day deluge last July in Houston that represented more than two days of the full flow of Niagara Falls in the middle of the city, he said.

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"These record downpours are creating historic floods and mudslides," he said, citing examples in Chile and Spain.

"Every night on the TV news now is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation."

He says the extra heat is pulling moisture from the ground, causing deeper, more pervasive droughts, drying out vegetation and resulting in fires in western North America. And there's more lightning, too.

"These climate-related disasters also have geopolitical consequences and create instability," he said, suggesting the destruction of farms in Syria beginning in 2006 has contributed to the current refugee crisis.

With sea levels rising, Mr. Gore talked about seeing fish from the ocean swimming on the streets of Miami.

And he warned of the economic consequences, with the World Economic Forum in Davos last month listing the climate crisis as the top risk to the global economy and talked about a "subprime carbon bubble."

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But an energized Mr. Gore didn't leave it at doom and gloom.

He said with remarkable growth in renewable energy, things are turning around. He showed solar panels on grass huts in Bangladesh, and reported an explosion of investment in the private sector.

"This is the biggest new business opportunity in the history of the world."

For all the bad news, he said there was "a lot more" good news.

"We're going to win this. We are going to prevail."

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About the Author
Western Arts Correspondent

Marsha Lederman is the Western Arts Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver. She covers the film and television industry, visual art, literature, music, theatre, dance, cultural policy, and other related areas. More

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