Former US vice president Al Gore is one of the world’s most prominent campaigners for climate action, and usually paints a grim picture. But now he’s making the case for optimism.
In his speech at the TED 2016 conference in Vancouver, Gore highlighted how an “explosion of new investment” is boosting the uptake of new technologies, and how climate change is the “biggest new business opportunity in the history of the world.”
Sure, he does spend the first half of his lecture explaining the dangers of climate change, but when he gets to the good stuff, he goes all in – you can fast forward to his positive message by skipping to 12:55.
Explosion of New Investment
“This is the biggest new business opportunity in the history of the world, and two-thirds of it is in the private sector. We are seeing an explosion of new investment,” Gore said, talking about renewable energy innovation.
“Some people are using the phrase ‘The Solar Singularity’ now,” he said, “meaning when it gets below the grid parity, unsubsidised in most places, then it’s the default choice.”
“Grid parity is understood as that line, that threshold, below which renewable electricity is cheaper than electricity from burning fossil fuels,” he explained.
Gore wondered if there is a precedent for such a rapid adoption of a new technology. “Let’s look at cell phones,” he said, “In 1980, AT&T (…) commissioned McKinsey to do a global market survey of those clunky new mobile phones that appeared then. ‘How many can we sell by the year 2000?’ they asked. McKinsey came back and said, ‘900,000.’”
“And sure enough, when the year 2000 arrived, they did sell 900,000 — in the first three days,” said Gore to laughter in the audience.
He also spoke about Europe, “Some countries — take Germany, an industrial powerhouse with a climate not that different from Vancouver’s, by the way — one day last December, got 81 percent of all its energy from renewable resources, mainly solar and wind,” he said.
“Paris really was a breakthrough, some of the provisions are binding and the regular reviews will matter a lot. But nations aren’t waiting, they’re going ahead. China has already announced that starting next year, they’re adopting a nationwide cap and trade system. They will likely link up with the European Union,” Gore said.
Gore finished with a story to highlight that it may not be his generation that will have most impact on the solutions to climate change. “When I was 13 years old, I heard that proposal by President Kennedy to land a person on the Moon and bring him back safely in 10 years. And I heard adults of that day and time say,’That’s reckless, expensive, may well fail.'”
“But eight years and two months later, in the moment that Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon, there was great cheer that went up in NASA’s mission control in Houston. Here’s a little-known fact about that: the average age of the systems engineers, the controllers in the room that day, was 26, which means, among other things, their age, when they heard that challenge, was 18,” he said.
“Some still doubt that we have the will to act, but I say the will to act is itself a renewable resource,” Gore concluded.
Did watching Al Gore’s lecture get you excited about working in the low carbon economy? Have a look at Climate-KIC’s start-up accelerator, business idea contest – or its exchange programme for professionals.