Gore: Climate fix can be economic boon

Al Gore speaks at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, Calif.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: If you had to pick one person in this country most closely associated with the fight against global warming, Al Gore is probably gonna come to mind. Ever since "An Inconvenient Truth" came out, he has painted a fairly scary picture of what could happen to our planet if we don't do more to control climate change and do it more quickly. His latest book, "Our Choice," is what you might call an instruction manual to fight global warming. He will be in Copenhagen next week. And he says he is confident that delegates will come to an agreement. Mr. Gore, welcome to the program.

AL GORE: Thank you. Good to be on Marketplace.

Ryssdal: You know, one of the things you pick up on in this book and that you mention quite a bit is this idea of efficiency. That there are large gains to be made if we just, you know, seal our windows and be smart about how we use energy. Is it true that anything we do has to be cheap and easy for it to take effect?

GORE: Well, sometimes it does seem that way. But it's actually a happy coincidence that so many of the things that are needed to solve the climate crisis do actually end up saving us money. It doesn't mean that they're all easy. Some of them are, like changing the light bulbs. But changing the windows, which saves even more money, is not easy. It takes a decision. These are, taken together, solutions that require us to think about it ahead of time and make a conscious choice to save money while we're saving the planet.

Ryssdal: You know, I've been trying to think of a metaphor for the whole discussion of climate change and why it's so hard. And the one I've come up with is this, and bear with me for a second. Remember when your kids were young, and they were acting up and they were misbehaving, and you kept saying, "You guys cut it out. I really mean it this time, cut it out." That seems to me to be where we are with climate change. That you have to keep saying these things, and yet nobody ever listens.

GORE: Well, it's an interesting analogy, but the stakes are so high. If your kid is playing with an electric plug, you use a different tone of voice. And whatever strategy you use, you make sure it succeeds. We're putting 90 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every day. And the accumulations have now reached levels that are unprecedented going back as far as they can measure in the ice records and most of the other records. So we really have to make a conscious choice to solve this problem.

Ryssdal: You spend some time in your book talking about the political issues about global warming and climate change and some of the problems. Let me see if I can turn that on its head for a second, though, and ask you to address the economic issues. When this meeting in Copenhagen gets down to it, and the richer countries are told by the developing countries, "Hey now, you had your run, we want our run." Do you think it's possible for rich countries to just pay these poorer countries to fight climate change and say, "Listen, we understand, here's some money, help us with the problem."

GORE: Well the disparity in the levels of income between countries like the United States, compared to many of these low-income, poor countries is so great that, of course, there will be an international fund established to help these poor countries with the adjustments they won't be able to make. The argument will be over the size of that fund. But the other thing that's changed the way the world looks at that particular dispute is that a lot of these poor countries have come to grips with the impacts that global warming are beginning to have on them. I was in Egypt a few weeks ago, and they're just now recognizing that almost half of their agriculture in is the Nile Delta, less than 1 meter above the level of the Mediterranean Sea. These developing countries are discovering fresh and urgent reasons why they need to work with the rest of the world to get a comprehensive, global solution because they've got so much at stake.

Ryssdal: Kind of speaks to the denial of the whole thing, right? The Egyptians just now realizing that the Nile Delta is a meter above sea level?

GORE: Well, the old cliche, "Denial ain't just a river in Egypt" is now fully complete. It is also a river in Egypt.

Ryssdal: You'd think I'd set you up for that, wouldn't you?

GORE: Well, could be, could be.

Ryssdal: Listen, on the theory that there is a limit to the public purse for even spending on this issue. Is there room for the private sector to step in? As a guy who I imagine invests in green technology -- and who is conversant in these kinds of things -- what do you think has to come out of Copenhagen that's going to make this viable as an investment and as an economic opportunity?

GORE: Well, that's not my principal business, but I have made some investments. And I want to be part of the change that I want to see in the world, to quote a famous man. But a recognition of the artificial subsidies that are now going to the burning of coal and oil is really the single most important thing. And putting a price on C02 emissions is the way to introduce a level of reality into the measuring of the choices that we make. We're pretending now that it's perfectly OK to dump 90 million tons of this stuff into the thin shell of atmosphere around our planet every single day, as if it's an open sewer. And it's not OK. And the sooner we recognize the reality of the situation and start having rules of the road that let investors and business people and everybody get a clearer picture of the real value of the choices we're making, the better it's going to be for our economy, the better it's going to be for our children.

Ryssdal: Quantify this for me for a second, would you? On the scale of railroads and computers, what kind of economic transformation are we looking at here with a low-carbon, green energy, save-the-planet economy?

GORE: Think about what happened after the Internet was introduced to the world of personal computers, and personal digital assistants, and now iPhones, and in the same way the development of these smart grids with much more efficient energy generation, storage, transmission, distribution and consumption will trigger a giant, global marketplace. We're moving to what they call a widely-distributed model, meaning of course that instead of relying on large central station, thousand mega-watt generating plants, people are going to have rooftop photovoltaic cells and smart batteries and all kinds of devices. Some of them, again, haven't even been invented yet. But there's going to be a giant new family of industries coming out of this transition to a low-carbon economy.

Ryssdal: Al Gore. His most recent book is called "Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis." Mr. Gore, thanks a lot for your time.

GORE: Thank you very much, Kai.

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