Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis
By Al Gore
Melcher Media, 2009; 416 pp.
The Al Gore who sat glumly by while the presidency of the United States was stolen out from under him by a conservative-leaning Supreme Court appears to be dead. Good riddance I say, because that guy was kind of a dud.
The new Al Gore is still hopelessly diplomatic in his choice of language but there is a definite shift in his latest global warming book, Our Choice. He shows a willingness to lock horns with his opponents that was lacking in the past, reminding us in the process how intense, intelligent and sincere he can be.
He rips on the media for undercutting the climate change message by still treating the issue as a scientific theory rather than a scientific fact, as well as the use of global warming deniers to balance stories, making it seem like there's still a 50/50 debate on climate change when in fact the weight of scientific consensus is firmly on Gore's side.
He rips on the Republicans under George W. Bush for editing scientific reports and for America's lack of progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as for turning what Gore sees as a matter of human survival into a dowdy political punchline like "Drill Baby Drill."
He rips on lobbyists and the money spent by corporations - primarily petroleum companies - to undercut the climate change message through a massive effort that includes ad campaigns and political contributions. One of the most profound images in the book - and it's chock-full of amazing pictures and graphics - is the striking similarities between cigarette company executives testifying to Congress in 1994 that nicotine is not addictive and a panel of oil executives testifying to congress in 2008 that oil prices are set by the market. Both sets of old, white and wealthy executives put up their hands to take an oath to tell the truth and both were less than honest.
Although Gore does spend some time at the beginning of the book making a case for climate change science, Our Choice is really about what to do next and the different technologies that are being proposed as a solution to the climate change crisis.
Gore is honest about the successes, failures and potentials of each technology, while also making it clear that any global solution will likely involve all of them. In his opinion wind is good and solar is getting better, while storing carbon in biochar is an amazingly easy and cheap way to store carbon with the power to combat soil erosion on agricultural farmlands. Gore really likes co-generation - using waste heat from power generation - as well as the "smart grid" concept for distributing energy. He loves geothermal power, which is almost completely untapped. He's not a big fan of hydrogen, the Alberta tar sands, plans to sequester carbon, clean coal, biofuels or nuclear power, although he acknowledges that all of these things have potential to be part of a bigger solution once the bugs are worked out.
He tackles issues that are usually non-starters, like population, consumerism, deforestation, the battle between cap and trade systems and a carbon tax and so on. He takes on the economics of climate change and the misconception that the solution is all cost and no benefit, a tax that will stifle innovations and drag down the west.
Gore makes a real effort to keep the book moving. His writing is crisp and dense with facts and observations, while bigger scientific concepts are simplified for the layperson in a way that's long overdue. While Gore's dry prose will never win a literary award, overall it's a competent and authoritative work. I'll even go as far as to say "definitive," in that there's no other book that accomplishes as much in so few pages. It weighs in at 416 pages with indexes, but at least half of the space is given over to images and graphics. You can read it in a weekend.
Our Choice is also remarkably upbeat given the seriousness of the situation and the stakes involved - nothing less than the fate of the planet and the human race. While some climate scientists are saying it's too late to reverse climate change, Gore is more optimistic and believes this generation is up to the challenge - once governments and industries stop dithering over whether global warming is real or not and get on with it.
I hope Stephen Harper got a copy.