2017 was an eventful year politically, environmentally and socially. Excitingly, it also marked the 10th anniversary of the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London’s global institute on climate change and the environment. In 2016, we heard from Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as she delivered the Grantham Annual Lecture 2016.
Last December, the annual lecture was held by the former U.S. Vice President; Al Gore. Amongst his many other remarkable roles, he is a chairman of The Climate Reality Project, a non-profit devoted to solving the climate crisis. With this is mind, and as one of the world’s best-known environmental activists, he shared some compelling, concerning and exciting thoughts on the climate crisis and its solutions.
For the cleantech specialists at Edelman, there were some topics Al Gore discussed that were of particular interest:
The role of the media
What is the role of the media in climate change? They are many. Firstly, Al Gore stated that there will be a billion climate refugees within the decade. This may one of the biggest humanitarian crises of the century. The media has been known as the Fourth Estate of our government, and plays important roles in shaping our culture, creating public awareness and acting as a watchdog for our society and democracy.
As Al Gore pointed out, as the media landscape has changed, so has the way we make decisions. Facts may no longer be persuasive as there is a lack of trust in government, media, NGOs and businesses. When you combine fake news with the fact that climate change is rarely covered in the media – this will signal to the public that climate change is in fact not as pressing or urgent as science says, further supporting climate deniers – the actual fake news. The media has a responsibility to accurately and fairly cover climate change. Not only as a doomsday phenomenon, but highlighting that we do in fact, have the solutions, and there is room for optimism about the future.
The role of technology
This leads to the role of technology, and clean technology especially. Our society and environment are changing, and technologies are changing at an even faster rate. While the public has been fearing artificial intelligence, seeing the technology as a threat to job security, it is also a cornerstone of what Al Gore refers to as the Sustainability Revolution. He referred to IoT, AI and other innovative technologies to be powering this revolution. Across these technologies, he mentioned that there have been significant cost reductions – especially within battery storage which has seen a cost reduction of 26% in the last year alone. Further cleantech cost reductions are expected, which could fundamentally change our reality and how we relate to our current global challenges.
Another issue Al Gore addressed was the Single Solution Bias: the idea that the solution to our challenges is just around the corner, and that the next cleantech innovation will be our saviour. To keep the global temperature within a 1.5 degrees Celsius increase on pre-industrial revolution temperatures, we must keep innovating to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. We do not yet have a viable solution. However, the sun produces more energy in one hour than the global economy uses in one year. We already have the technologies, the capabilities and the knowledge to change. But, will we?
That is up to us, and many shrivel at the idea of our coming doomsday, or the impacts of climate change. The Mayans’ predicted that our final day was to come in 2012. We have now just entered 2018, and we are still around. So what should we do? According to Al Gore, we can either crawl into foetal position, or we can expand our horizon and see what is politically and commercially possible. I am voting for the latter.