Mr. Vice President, welcome to Washington Post Live.
MR. GORE: Thank you, Jonathan. It's an honor to be invited and especially on Earth Day. Great to be with you.
MR. CAPEHART: Well, let's start by talking about President Biden's climate summit. You've been talking to world leaders and activists for years. How important is it to bring world leaders together on this, and why is it important that it is the American president who brought them together?
MR. GORE: Yeah, great question, and the answer is it's extremely important for a variety of reasons. Number one, even though other countries might wish it were not so, we are still in a period of history when the United States of America is the only country that can provide the kind of leadership for the global community as a whole that only the United States can provide. There is no other option.
Secondly, we are in the year following five years, five and a half years after the historic Paris agreement, when all nations that signed that agreement--and that means all 195 nations--have an obligation to reassess the original pledges they made in Paris and increase their ambition, because in the intervening five years, we've seen the plummeting price of renewable energy and electric vehicles and all manner of efficiency improvements. It's much easier to do it now, and of course, the crisis has continued to worsen much faster than we have been implementing solutions.
This summit, even before he--Joe Biden has been president for a hundred days. It is really the centerpiece of his whole-of-government approach to rally the nation and now to rally the world, and what we've already seen today is great success in securing some new pledges and generating a lot of new momentum, because at the end of this year in Glasgow, in Scotland, the Conference of the Parties, the 26th in the series, will be the place where these new commitments are formalized.
MR. CAPEHART: Let's talk about reducing emissions. What is a tangible plan to reduce emissions in the next decade? The president announced today he wants a 52 percent cut in emissions by 2030. Is that a real goal, and is it a real goal that can be achieved if not all countries take action?
MR. GORE: It is a real goal. It can be achieved, and it's most important for the 15 or 20 largest economies to follow through in a serious way, but it's important that all nations take part in this global effort.
You have heard others say that the climate crisis is an existential threat to the future of human civilization. Unfortunately, it really is. We have seen with our own eyes and felt emotionally the increasing impacts of the climate crisis. Mother Nature is the most persuasive advocate for solving this crisis, but we had the all-time record hurricane season in the U.S. last year, four of the five largest fires in the history of California last year and fires throughout the West and in other countries, Australia, Brazil, the Arctic, and the list goes on.
In the clip you showed, you had me saying some years ago the 10 hottest have been in the last 14 years. Well, now 19 of the 20 hottest have been in the last 20 years. Every year, these records are being broken. Last year was the hottest year ever measured with instruments in world history.
The oceans that are receiving more than 90 percent of all this heat energy that we're trapping with the manmade global warming pollution--the oceans are heating up especially fast, and that's disrupting the water cycle and making the ocean-based storms stronger and causing all manner of chaos. We have seen even the disruption of the northern hemisphere jet stream, which is connected to that historic freeze in Texas and the middle part of America not that long ago this year. The list goes on, droughts in the West, the extinction crisis. Unfortunately, there's a long list.
But there's also a lot of good news, and that's really one of the reasons this summit today on this Earth Day is so heartening and important.
MR. CAPEHART: Well, I was going to ask you about China, but what is some of the good news?
MR. GORE: Well, the cost of generating electricity from the sun and from the wind has come down dramatically in the last several years. It is now cheaper to make electricity from renewable sources than it is to burn gas or coal or oil.
In fact, last year, in calendar year 2020, if you look at all of the new electricity generation installed worldwide, 90 percent of it was solar and wind, 81 percent here in the U.S. If you look at the years going forward, the International Energy Agency is predicting that 95 percent of all new electricity generation is going to be solar and wind, and now batteries are getting much cheaper. And that extends the reach of renewable energy into the hours when the sun is not shining and/or the wind is not blowing.
Electric vehicles have also begun to come down in price, and within two years, they're going to be cheaper than internal combustion engines in the most significant model categories and within three, four years in all model categories.
We're seeing these economic changes really drive the solutions to the forefront, and now the electricity generation is getting so cheap that many companies have now found that it is cheaper to just shut down fossil fuel facilities, even if they have 20, 30 years of useful lifetime left, and replace them with brand-new solar and wind plus batteries because it's that much cheaper. And this is happening all around the world. Just in the last year, we've seen the cancellation of lots of new coal plants and gas plants and the retirement of many existing plants.
MR. CAPEHART: Well, okay. I'm glad you brought this up because now that's a great segue into China--
MR. GORE: Yeah.
MR. CAPEHART: --because the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, last year announced that China would be net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2060, and yet China has continued to build coal-fired power plants in the years since the Paris deal. A report out from a coalition that you are involved in says that if China were to scrap coal, they could save $1.6 trillion. Is it possible for these climate goals to be reached, whether in the United States, or the global climate goals be reached if China keeps doing what it's doing?
MR. GORE: Well, China made some new statements today. First of all, it was surprising to many when Xi Jinping made his announcement last fall that they are going to peak in this decade and reach net zero by 2060. They have a history of planning their work and then working their plan. They put out goals only when they are absolutely certain they can reach them, and they often overachieve.
I think they will overachieve that goal, and by the way, last week, President Biden's climate envoy, John Kerry, my good friend, had an extremely successful visit in Beijing and Shanghai, and I worked closely with him on that trip and gave him an advanced copy of this Climate TRACE study that you're referring to. TRACE stands for Tracking Real-Time Atmospheric Carbon Emissions. It was a groundbreaking analysis produced with artificial intelligence and satellite and internet data-stream monitoring that showed every single smokestack in China, every coal facility, every mine, et cetera.
I was able to get John Kerry 20 copies in Mandarin, which he handed over to Xie Zhenhua, the widely respected negotiator for China, pulled out of retirement for this upcoming meeting in Glasgow, and the statements this morning by President Xi Jinping may have reflected some of that analysis. I believe it did because he zeroed in on his plans between now and 2026, just five years from now, for cutting back on the planned coal construction and between 2026 and 2030 to sharply cut back. That's a change in their plan. The language needs specificity, and we will see a lot of follow-up, but the study showed that China, as you mentioned, could save $1.6 trillion over the next 20 years by shutting down its coal plant pipeline and moving much more quickly toward solar and wind.
This evidence is extremely accurate, and by the way, at the end of June, Climate TRACE will release the first ever global inventory of every significant source of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet with the amounts, who's responsible, the rate of increase or decrease, will update it regularly, and establish a new regime of radical transparency.
So that in the meetings this fall when the negotiators are talking about their commitments, they'll know they are not relying on self-reported emissions that are often a year or two out of date, often inaccurate. We're going to have real-time, highly accurate emissions data from every single country and every source within every country.
MR. CAPEHART: You've mentioned several times about how the prices for renewable energy have plummeted, the prices for renewable products has plummeted, and I'm wondering does that translate into investment? Has it been easier to find investable green companies? And by that, I mean investors in businesses.
MR. GORE: Absolutely. It's the most powerful trend in the investment marketplace, and by the way, we have seen that investments in fossil fuels have been just about the worst class of investments there are for the last 10 years or so. And we have seen a whole series of announcements from major oil and gas companies, coal companies going bankrupt, of course, and coal is still a huge problem. But it is being phased out, and the oil and gas companies are writing down the value of their assets. Many investors are disinvesting from fossil fuels.
And significantly in the investment marketplace, Jonathan, there is a brand-new alliance, the Net Zero Asset Managers Alliance. Mark Carney, former head of the Bank of England, made a statement this morning about it. There are now $37 trillion, about a third of the total, committed to having their entire portfolios net zero.
Some of the big banks are still lagging behind, and they're still chasing profits from fossil fuels, but the pension funds and large investors, even the largest investors like BlackRock and Vanguard, are now joining this alliance, and many more expect to do so.
Significantly, the green investments, often called "ESG investments"--I know you know the acronym, environment, social, governance--those investments have been outperforming non-ESG investments by a significant amount for some time now, and in the investment marketplace, people are saying, "Look, if you're not including ESG, you are failing your duty to your clients"--they call it "fiduciary duty"--because that's where a lot of the new value is being found.
We're in the early stages, Jonathan, of a sustainability revolution empowered by artificial intelligence and machine learning and the network economy, and it's giving executive teams and businesses the ability to manipulate molecules and electrons and genes and atoms with the same proficiency that the IT companies have demonstrated in managing bits. This sustainability revolution has the magnitude of the industrial revolution but the speed of the digital revolution, and it is the most significant investing and business opportunity in the entire history of the world.
MR. CAPEHART: So, as everyone can hear, the passion with which you speak about these issues is one that comes through the screen. As I said in the introduction, you've been talking about these issues for at least two decades.
Yesterday I interviewed your good friend, the former secretary of state and now the presidential special envoy on climate, John Kerry, about these issues, but you can't be the only people who are talking about this. I'm trying to merge my way into the work that you're doing to make sure that your voice is not the only voice out there.
You founded the Climate Reality Project back in 2006, and I believe today, if you haven't already done it, you will be doing it. You're going to be hosting the 46th Climate Reality Leadership Corps training. What is that training, and how is that meant to prepare the next generation of climate champions?
MR. GORE: Well, I'm very grateful to the 6,000 Americans. This is a U.S. training over the next 10 days. We have global trainings as well. This summer, we'll have a South American training in Spanish and Portuguese, and then this fall, we'll have another large global training with more than 10,000 people.
The 6,000 Americans who have agreed to go through this week-long training commit a lot of time to learning about the causes of the climate crisis, the solutions for the climate crisis, acquiring the communications and advocacy skills that can make them more effective in conveying this message and in moving the decisions of political leaders at the local, regional, state, national level, and then we track their acts of leadership and their presentations of their own version of a slide show or a speak every single week.
I don't like the metaphor of an army necessarily, but that's what we're building, a very large global army, if you will, of grassroots climate activists. This is the 46th such training, and we are in all--well, we're in 194 of the 195 countries. We're not yet in North Korea, but we're in all of the other 194 countries. These women and men and young people are extremely active, extremely passionate, and tireless in pushing this message forward, and for that and many other reasons--the work of Greta Thunberg and the generation of young people who are marching every week--for many reasons, we are seeing the world as a whole crossing the political tipping point on climate right now, right this second.
MR. CAPEHART: I want to bring you close to home in terms of climate activism. I was reading here on MLK50, you have gotten involved in--or you were talking about this pipeline. I believe it's in Memphis, Memphis, Tennessee, and you told MLK50 last month--you said, "Black communities often find themselves in a situation where there is a legacy of deprivation, where the political and economic power to resist polluting facilities is less, simply because of the legacy of racism."
Mr. Vice President, how does that cycle get broken?
MR. GORE: First of all, may I say, Jonathan, I'm not just flattering you, but I was deeply moved by the column you wrote recently in the Post on the subject of how racism is just exhausting for Black Americans. And I don't know if you saw the "60 Minutes" feature last Sunday on that same topic, but your column was very powerful.
MR. CAPEHART: Thank you.
MR. GORE: And that same kind of legacy of institutional and systemic racism shows up on the environment.
Dr. Robert Bullard down at Texas Southern is the father of this whole field of study. It really started with the Black Americans, and Black, brown, and Indigenous Americans--we saw the Standing Rock Sioux--
MR. CAPEHART: Right.
MR. GORE: --make their stand. What happens is that the location of new hazardous waste dumps or smokestacks that spew toxic air pollution are far more likely to be located just upwind or upstream from communities of color because they have been deprived of the same tools with which to defend themselves against these assaults.
So, I went to southwest Memphis. I used to represent Memphis in the U.S. Senate. A young man named Justin Pearson there, he co-founded with Kathy Robinson and Kizzy Jones, Memphis Community Against Pollution--Against the Pipeline, MCAP. They invited me to come and speak, and what I found is they have engineered a fantastic grassroots movement.
Here is the issue, and I'll do this briefly. Two big oil pipeline companies are trying to put a giant, high-pressure, crude oil pipeline right through this 97 percent Black community, which already suffers disproportionately from the toxic air pollution from the refinery operated by one of the companies, Valero--the other is called Plains All American--and multiple other toxic-polluting facilities there. Their cancer rate is four times the national average, and they want to put this pipeline directly above the Memphis sand aquifer, which is the size of Lake Michigan underground. It's the most pristine aquifer in the United States, and it's the source of 100 percent of the drinking water for the million people in Memphis. They want to put it through a so-called "well field," where the protective clay layer is already breached. It's an earthquake zone. The biggest earthquakes ever east of the Rockies have been there sometime back, but more will come. And they're taking the oil through Memphis to export terminals in Louisiana to sell it to foreign countries where it will be burned to make the climate crisis worse.
So, what part of that works? What part of that works for us? None of it. It is reckless, racist. It is a rip-off. We're trying to stop this pipeline. It's called the Byhalia pipeline. The Memphis mayor just came out against it two days ago, which gave us all some great encouragement. The two companies are trying to bully the city with threats of lawsuits. They do that everywhere, even though their legal theories are often nonsense, but Memphis is standing up because the Black citizens of Memphis and their White allies are standing up to say no more of this environmental racism.
MR. CAPEHART: We're running out of time, but I have got to get you on another issue, which does lead its way back to climate. You wrote a book called "The Assault on Reason" in 2006, and then in 2017, you issued it again with, I believe, a new preface and a new conclusion. How do we handle the climate deniers among us but also the vaccine deniers and also, writ large, the truth deniers among us these days?
MR. GORE: Yeah. Yeah. It's a very serious issue, and institutions like The Washington Post, The New York Times, the broadcast news networks, CNN, MSNBC, et cetera, are holding out a commitment to truth.
This is a complex story, Jonathan, but we have--I had to look up this word, and then I started using the phrase, an "epistemological crisis," and when I looked it up, I discovered it means the way we decide together what is true and what is not. Where do we find meaning? And we used to go through that process in the age of the printing press, where everybody was reading and discussing and debating, and then we would collectively come to a conclusion about what was more likely to be true than not.
Broadcasting really threw that aside a bit, and now in the age of the internet, still unfolding, we see institutions like Facebook just asphyxiating newspapers and giving oxygen to these deniers of the truth who are often serving some commercial agenda or some whacky nonsense ideology that is just based on fantasy, and it has really caused tremendous problems.
Foreign countries like Russia have taken advantage of this situation to treat our democracy like a chew toy, and even today, a lot of people are still convinced of the big lie that Trump actually won the election. Of course, he wasn't even close, but because of the way our information ecosystem has been distorted by these truth deniers, we have to have a concerted effort to reestablish the kind of conversation of democracy that empowers the American people to work together, despite partisan and ideological differences, at least to agree on what we can find as more likely to be true than not, and then make decisions in spite of our disagreements on what the best way forward is.
MR. CAPEHART: Mr. Vice President, I'm sure this will be the last question, and that is this. We've been through a lot in this country over the last four years and certainly this week, and having been the vice president of the United States and someone who cares deeply and truly about this country, I'm just wondering your thoughts on where we are as a nation and where we are as Americans, as the American people. Can we get through this time? Can we overcome our challenges and live more true to the ideals that are in our founding documents?
MR. GORE: Absolutely, Jonathan. There is every reason for legitimate hope, but each of us has to become involved in promoting the health of our democracy, and by the way, this effort on solving the climate crisis can be one of the ways we come together.
Seventy percent of the American people support President Biden's agenda on climate. A significant majority of Republicans support the agenda on the environment. Fifty-five college Young Republican clubs around the nation have served notice to the Republican National Committee, they've got to change their position on climate, less they lose that entire generation.
So, yes, we have the ability to come together, and by the way, the American people are telling pollsters and others, they like President Biden's approach. I think he's made the strongest start in this first 100 days of any president since FDR. I really genuinely believe that. I think they're hitting on all cylinders. They've appointed an A+ team. They are really hitting it out of the park every single week, and I think that by itself is also going to help to restore some of the trust in our government, in our institutions, and in our ability to restore the health of American democracy.
MR. CAPEHART: And then when it comes to racial justice, you talked earlier about that pipeline that is meeting stiff resistance in Memphis. Do you see the activism among people of color and, as you said, White allies that's happening there on the ground in Memphis--is that something that you see happening all over the country, especially given what we've been through this week? Is it possible?
MR. GORE: Absolutely. I think that the uprising by people of all races and backgrounds in the wake of the George Floyd murder, which, after all, was preceded by quite a number of other outrageous murders, that uprising has continued, and the spirit of that uprising was reflected in the verdict, but it needs to be reflected in new legislation.
In our climate training, we are centering environmental justice and really featuring the perspective of Black, brown, and Indigenous leaders who are helping to lead the way. Environmental justice is part of eradicating this legacy of racism.
We've joined with the Reverend William Barber II, whose new Poor People's Campaign added ecological devastation to the list of evils against which this campaign is focused.
So, yes, this is a growing movement, even more so among young people but among people of all ages. People are sick and tired of continuing this racism, the hatefulness. We want to get past this. Is it difficult? Sure, but with enough determination and resolve and solidarity, we can do it. I think we are doing it now. I predict we will succeed.
MR. CAPEHART: Al Gore, the 45th vice president of the United States. Vice President Gore, thank you very much for coming to Washington Post Live.
MR. GORE: Thank you, Jonathan.
MR. CAPEHART: And as always, thank you for tuning in. Come back in a half hour at 4:30 p.m. Eastern for another conversation in our "Protecting Our Planet" series. Lisa Jackson, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama and currently the vice president of Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives at Apple.
Until then, I'm Jonathan Capehart, opinion writer for The Washington Post. Thank you very much for watching Washington Post Live.
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