Below is a full transcription of Al Gore's keynote speech at the 2017 Ashden Awards Ceremony in London, UK
Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen. I want to thank Krishan Guru-Murthy for his introduction and of course I want to first of all acknowledge Sarah Butler-Sloss who has done a magnificent job in running this organisation. Thank you so much.
As the Founder and Director and a judge as well, and to you and all of your team, to the Chair of the Ashden Board of Trustees, Diana Fox-Carney, to my partner and co-founder of Generation Investment Management, David Blood, who was here, and one other personal acknowledgment. There are some members of the Climate Reality Project here. Charles Perry and other Climate Reality attendees are here and I wanted to acknowledge them as well. Thank you very much.
I want to thank all of the donors and those who have supported the Ashden Awards in multiple ways. I want to congratulate the staff and the team that helps Sarah make this such an amazing organisation. And most of all I want to offer my congratulations to the award winners.
Watching the videos and hearing the presentations, looking at some of the exhibits that were set up in the other room, I have to say I’m extremely inspired by the work that has been done and is ongoing. These are extremely important projects, not only because of the good they do for the individuals and the families, the communities and the businesses that you have seen are already benefiting, but also because these award winners are examples that inspire others in their communities, in their nations and people like us who are learning about their amazing work.
This is an example. This movement is an example of growing from the bottom up and not from the top down. These are also examples that can inspire policy makers, governmental officials, community leaders, to multiply the success stories that are on such vivid display. And it’s not just a display. It is tangible help to improve the quality of life and to improve the quality of the environment and it all adds up to improve our chances as the human race to solve the climate crisis in time.
I want to echo the words of one of the award winners here who was emboldened to ask for more monetary help. That’s a pretty good idea, but these investors and donors have already done fantastic work. But some of you know that these projects, after receiving an Ashden award, are then not only recognised and honoured, they instantly become more successful. More people know about what they can do. More people are encouraged to help them reach more customers and families and communities. So the impact of these awards is larger still and there are amazing success stories over the ten years since I was last here. Last year I have looked at some of the statistics and it’s quite impressive. Many of the award winners end up doubling the number of people they can help, and are helping, in the year following their receipt of the award. So we should all look at this as an opportunity to help them do what they have already proven they can do and do it successfully with more people.
Ashden, as you can see, is committed to championing our much needed transition to a clean energy economy by recognising innovation and leadership that is successful in accelerating that transition. This select group of now more than 200 people and organisations are collectively impacting the lives of more than 80 million people around the world with the support of this organisation. That is a remarkable record. Fantastic.
Tonight’s recipients are providing access to energy. They’re providing jobs. They’re providing light for girls and boys to study at night. They’re reducing the carbon footprint of cities through more efficient infrastructure, including buildings, innovative transportation successes, energy distribution and data analysis. So it really covers the gamut.
Before I close, I want to add some words about why this issue is so urgent. There are really only three questions remaining where the climate crisis is concerned.
The first, for some still, is do we really have to change? Must we change?
The second question is can we change?
And the third question, perhaps the most important, is will we change?
First of all, we must change not only because the global scientific community has been virtually unanimous in telling us that the science is crystal clear, but also because there is a new advocate, more persuasive than all the scientists put together. Mother nature is telling us we must change.
A year ago December, the United Kingdom had the heaviest rainfalls in recorded history with flooding that caused a great deal of suffering. In some of the developing countries that have been represented on this stage tonight, we’ve already heard about the changes in the timing of rain falls, the periodicity of rain falls. For generations running back till the memory of man cannot track it further, generations have been able to rely on a rainy season, dry season pattern to decide when to plan and when to harvest. But all of those well known patterns are being disrupted because more of the precipitation falls in one time large downpours at odd times of the year, out of season. And then during the periods between the rain falls, the extra heat in the atmosphere pulls the soil moisture more quickly out of the ground, makes the droughts appear more readily, last longer and have a deeper impact.
The entire water cycle of the earth is being disrupted because we put 110 million tonnes of man made global warming pollution into the atmosphere every day and the accumulated amount that now is up there traps as much extra heat energy in the earth’s system each day than would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima class atomic bombs exploding every 24 hours. It’s a big planet but that is an enormous amount of energy.
The air temperatures are going up. You know well that 16 of the 17 hotitures ever measured have been since 2001. You know the ice is melting and in places like Bangladesh and the Maldives, Miami Beach, Florida, there are now fish from the ocean swimming in streets that are not intended for fishing. Ninety per cent of that heat is going into the oceans and that is what is disrupting the water cycle. We’re seeing the spread of diseases to latitudes where people are not familiar with them. We’re seeing the storms get stronger.
So the answer to the first question – must we change - is increasingly clear and obvious. Yes, we must change. And by the way, the scientists, many of them here in the UK, who predicted these consequences long ago, have already been proven right. So because their record has been validated we should listen very carefully to what they tell us would happen if we did not make these changes to prevent the most catastrophic outcomes that would occur if we did not change. So, yes, we must change.
The answer to the second question – can we change – was visible on this stage this evening. Yes, we can change. There is now in our world a sustainability revolution and it’s best understood in my view by placing it in the context of other great global transformations – the agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution, the digital revolution. This sustainability revolution has the breadth and magnitude of the industrial revolution, but it has the speed of the digital revolution. And instead of beginning in a corner of the United Kingdom in a world of 1.5 billion people and then slowly spreading to western Europe and North America, the sustainability revolution is being jump started in rich and poor countries alike, in every corner of this world of 7.4 billion people.
We heard a lot about solar for example this evening. The earth gets more energy from the sun in one hour than all of the energy used by the entire global economy over the course of an entire year. So as we learn how to more effectively and profitably harvest a larger fraction of that energy and put it to use improving people’s lives, the examples thus provided are imitated by neighbours and by other communities and that is spreading all over the world.
This sustainability revolution is growing in speed and magnitude, but it is not yet growing as fast as it must because we have not yet reached the point where the emissions of global warming pollution are starting to come down. We have, over the last three years, seen for the first time in the absence of a depression or great recession, the first time we’ve seen a stabilising of global warming pollution worldwide and the first hint that it is beginning to decline. Looks like an inflection point.
The great economist, the late Rudi Dombusch, once said – “Things take longer to happen than you think they will and then they happen much faster than you thought they could.”
We heard about mobile phones and mobile payments, so common now in East Africa and now West Africa, South Asia. I remember very well in the year 1980 I was an early adopter of one of those first large mobile phones. I thought it looked so cool I couldn’t wait to show my friends. Now I look at the pictures of me carrying that huge bulky device and I think it looks ridiculous. But at about that time one of the great communications companies of the planet, in my country, asked one of the great global research institutions “How many of these can we sell by the year 2000?” And they did voluminous research and reported back the good news they could sell 900,000 of them by the year 2000 and there was great excitement. And they went to work and when the year 2000 arrived, sure enough they did sell 900,000 of them in the first three days of the year. By the end of the year 120 million. The bulk of those mobile phone sales were in developing countries that did not have land line telephone grids. They were able to leapfrog the old technologies that wealthy countries had invested in for a century and they now have mobile payments on telephones to a much greater extent than we do in the United States or in the United Kingdom. The same thing is happening with solar energy and with a lot of the new sustainability revolution technologies that are now spreading quickly around the world.
So this is an exciting time and I want to comment since you mentioned the Paris Agreement. I had worried when the President of my country, [coughs]… What did I mean? I meant another country. I meant no disrespect, but when the President of my country was preparing to make his announcement about the Paris Agreement and we did not know what it would be, I was very worried that if he pulled the US out of the agreement then other countries, perhaps those not entirely enthusiastic about the Paris Agreement, would use it as an excuse for pulling out themselves.
I can tell you that in the aftermath of that decision there has been no such cascade of other countries following the decision announced by President Trump. To the contrary, what I have seen and heard is an expression of solidarity not only in all of the other countries of the world, but also on the part of governors of states and mayors of cities and leaders of businesses in the United States of America. No one person can stop the climate movement or the sustainability revolution. We are going to win no matter what President Donald Trump tries to do.
The Paris Agreement, I believe, is actually stronger today. I say that with all sincerity and conviction. Since the Paris Agreement was reached, many hundreds of co-plants have been cancelled in China and India and in quite a few other places. We saw just two days ago the announcement that the sales of coal fell in the year just measured by a larger amount than ever in history. We have seen the beginning of construction of large utility scale solar farms and wind farms and the introduction of many other new sustainability technologies. India just announced a major switch from its plans for a lot more coal fired plants to a stunning increase in solar farms, and India just announced three weeks ago that within 13 years, 100 per cent of the vehicles in India must be electric vehicles. That is a dramatic and inspiring announcement.
We can change, we must change and we can change. So what about that final question – will we change? Just as the sustainability revolution should be understood in the context of the technological revolutions that came before it, the climate movement should be seen in the context of the great moral causes that have transformed and improved the outlook for humanity. In every one of the great moral movements there has been discouragement. There has been despair. There have been advocates who ask “How long will this take? Is it ever going to succeed?”
The Abolition Movement which began more than 200 years ago here in this country, met with such ferocious opposition, many felt it’s a lost cause. But it prevailed. The Womens’ Suffrage Movement in this country and my country and around the world was met with no, no, no after no, but it prevailed. The Civil Rights Movement in my country, the Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa, more recently the Gay Rights Movement in so many parts of the world, what all of these transformative movements have had in common is that they met with the same kind of ferocious resistance that led to despair on the part of many advocates. The late Nelson Mandela once said – “It’s always impossible until it’s done.” We have seen people continue in spite of their concern that it might be impossible. During some of the bleakest days of the Civil Rights Movement in my country, Dr Martin Luther King Jnr was asked by one of his fellow advocates “How long is this going to take?” And he famously answered, “How long? Not long, because no lie can live for ever.” How long? Not long because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. And in every single case, when the obfuscations and the side issues and the distractions were cleared away, what was left was a very simple and clear choice, a binary choice, between what is right and what is wrong. It was wrong to allow slavery to continue. It was wrong to deny women the right to vote. It was wrong to discriminate on the basis of skin colour or who you fell in love with. It was wrong to allow apartheid to continue and when the central issue was thus framed in stark relief because of who we are as human beings, the outcome became fore ordained. We chose what was right and now in this case it is clearly wrong to destroy the prospects of living prosperously and sustainably on a clean earth when we bequeath it to our children. It is wrong to use the sky as an open sewer. It is wrong to condemn future generations to a life time haunted by continual declines in their standard of living and give them a world with political disruption and all the chaos that the scientists have warned us about.
It is right to give them hope. It is right to give them a clean future and a sustainable and prosperous future, and for those who say “We may not have the will to change,” always remember that the will to change is itself a renewable resource.
You can watch the video of his speech here
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