Al Gore on TEDTalks

Al Gore, in his own words, "used to be the next President of the United States of America" but has since changed professions. This talk is a follow-up to his now-famous presentation, featured in the movie An Inconvenient Truth. In it, he outlines what we can do to avert a global climate crisis.
[Recorded February 2006 in Monterey, CA. Duration: 16:55]

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Thank you so much, Chris, and it’s truly a great honor to have the opportunity to come to this stage twice — I’m extremely grateful. I have been blown away by this conference and I want to thank all of you for the many nice comments about what I had to say the other night — and I say that sincerely partly because (mock sobs) I need that! (laughter) Put yourselves in my position! (applause) I flew on Air Force Two for eight years — now I have to take off my shoes or boots to get on an airplane! (laughter and applause)

I’ll tell you one quick story to illustrate what that’s been like for me. (laughter) It’s a true story — every bit of this is true. Soon after Tipper and I left the — (mock sobs again) White House — We were driving from our home in Nashville to a little farm we have 50 miles east of Nashville — driving ourselves- (laughter) I know it sounds like a little thing to you, but — (laughter)- I looked in the rear-view mirror and all of a sudden it just hit me. There was no motorcade back there. You’ve heard of phantom limb pain? (laughter) This was a rented Ford Taurus. It was dinnertime, and we started looking for a place to eat. We were on I-40, we got to exit 238, Lebanon Tennessee, we got off the exit, started looking for a — we found a Shoney’s restaurant — low-cost, family restaurant chain, for those of you (who) don’t know it — we went in and sat down at the booth, and the waitress came over, made a big commotion over Tipper — (laughter) — She took our order, and then went to the couple in the booth next to us, and she lowered her voice so much I had to really strain to hear what she was saying. And she said “Yes, that’s former vice president Al Gore and his wife Tipper. And the man said (deepens voice, with southern accent) “He’s come down a long way, hasn’t he?” (laughter)

There’s been kind of a series of epiphanies. The very next day, continuing a totally true story, I got on a G-5 to fly to Africa to make a speech in Nigeria, in the city of Lagos, on the topic of energy. And I began the speech by telling them the story of what had just happened the day before in Nashville. And I told it pretty much the same way I’ve just shared it with you, Tipper and I were driving ourselves, Shoney’s, low-cost family restaurant chain, what the man said — they laughed, I gave my speech, then went back out to the airport to fly back home. I fell asleep on the plane, until during the middle of the night, we landed on the Azores Islands for refueling. I woke up, they opened the door, I went out to get some fresh air, and I looked and there was a man running across the runway. And he was waving a piece of paper, and he was yelling “Call Washington! Call Washington!” And I thought to myself, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the Atlantic, what in the world could be wrong in Washington? Then I remembered it could be a bunch of things — (laughter) — and — but what it turned out to be was that my staff was extremely upset because a — one of the wire services, in Nigeria, had already written a story about my speech, and it had already been printed in cities all across the United States of America — it was printed in Monterey, I checked. And the story began “Former vice president Al Gore announced in Nigeria yesterday,” quote, “My wife Tipper and I have opened a low-cost family restaurant, named Shoney’s, and we are running it ourselves.” (laughter) Before I could get back to U.S. soil, David Letterman and Jay Leno had already started in on — one of them had me in a big white chef’s hat, Tipper was saying “One more burger, with fries!” Three days later, I got a nice, long, handwritten letter from my friend and partner and colleague Bill Clinton saying “Congratulations on the new restaurant, Al!” (laughter). (sighs) – We like to celebrate each other’s successes in life.

(I) was going to talk about information ecology. But I was thinking that since I planned to make a life-long habit of coming back to TED that maybe I could talk about that — (loud applause and cheers) — another time.

(Chris Anderson: It’s a deal!)

I want to focus on what many of you have said you would like me to elaborate on. What can you do about the climate crisis? I want to start with a couple of — I’m gonna show some new images, and I’m gonna recapitulate just 4 or 5 — now, oh, the slide show. I update the slide show — every time I give it, I add new images, because I learn more about it every time I give it. It’s like beach-combing, you know? Every time the tide comes in and out, you find some more shells. Just in the last two days, we got the new temperature records in January- this is just for the United States of America.

(slide: “Record U.S. Heat, January 2006″, illustrating statistic below)

Historical average for January’s is 31 degrees, last month was 39.5 degrees. Now, I know that you wanted some more bad news about the environment- I’m kidding- but these are the recapitulation slides, and then I’m gonna go into new material about what you can do. But I wanted to elaborate on a couple of these.

First of all, this is where we’re projected to go, with the US contribution to global warming, under business as usual.

(slide: “U.S. Emissions, Other End-use Efficiency”, showing projection compared with what could be saved by efficiency)

Efficiency, in end-use electricity and end-use of all energy, is the low-hanging fruit. Efficiency and conservation, it’s not a cost, it’s a profit. The sign is wrong. It’s not negative, it’s positive. These are investments that pay for themselves. But they are also very effective in deflecting our path. Cars and trucks- I talked about that in the slideshow- but I want you to put it in perspective.

(slide: “U.S. Emissions, Vehicle Efficiency”, showing similar story to last graph)

It’s an easy, visible target of concern, and it should be, but there is more global warming pollution that comes from buildings than from cars and trucks. Cars and trucks are very significant, and we have the lowest standards in the world, and so we should address that. But it’s part of the puzzle.

Other transportation efficiency is as important as cars and trucks! Renewables at the current levels of technological efficiency can make this much difference (slide changes to show increase of efficiency with use of renewables), and with what Vinod (Khosla), and John Doerr and others, many of you here, a lot of people directly involved in this- this wedge is gonna grow much more rapidly than the current projection shows it. Carbon capture and sequestration- that’s what CCS stands for- is likely to become the ‘killer app’ that will enable us to continue to use fossil fuels in a way that is safe. Not quite there yet.

OK. Now- What can you do? Reduce emissions in your home.

Most of these expenditures are also profitable. Insulation, better design, buy green electricity where you can.

I mentioned automobiles- buy a hybrid. (second slide, not shown, mentioning non-auto options below) Use light rail. Figure out some of the other options that are much better. It’s important.

(slide: “3. Buy the most energy-efficient appliances and other products. Be a green consumer”).

Be a green consumer. You have choices, with everything you buy, between things that have a harsh effect, or a much less harsh effect on the global climate crisis.

(sllide: “4. Live a ‘carbon neutral’ life. It’s easier than you think. Reduce: then offset the rest.”)

Consider this. Make a decision to live a “carbon neutral” life. Those of you who are good at branding, I’d love to get your advice and help on how to say this in a way that connects with the most people. It is easier than you think. It really is. A lot of us in here have made that decision and it is really pretty easy. It means reduce your carbon dioxide emissions with the
full range of choices that you make and then purchase or acquire offsets for the remainder that you have not completely reduced. And what it means is elaborated at climatecrisis.net.

(slide: “5. to find out how, go to: http://www.climatecrisis.net. Use the Carbon Calculator.”)

There is a carbon calculator. Participant Productions convened, with my active involvement, the leading software writers in the world on this arcane science of carbon calculation to construct a consumer-friendly carbon calculator. You can very precisely calculate what your CO2 emissions are, and then you will be given options to reduce, and in- by the time the movie comes out in May, this will be updated to 2.0 and we will have click-through purchases of offsets.

Next, consider making your business carbon neutral.

Again, some of us have done that, and it’s not as hard as you think.

(slide: “7. Then, whether you work in T, E, or D– INTEGRATE climate solutions into all your innovations.”)

Integrate climate solutions into all of your innovations, whether you are from the technology, or entertainment, or design and architecture community.

(slide: “8. Invest sustainably — in companies and funds that are part of the solution.”)

Invest sustainably. Majora mentioned this. Listen, if you have invested money with managers who you compensate on the basis of their annual performance, don’t ever again complain about quarterly report CEO management. Over time, people do what you pay them to do. And if they judge how much they’re going to get paid on your capital that they’ve invested, based on the short term returns, you’re gonna get short term decisions. A lot more to be said about that.

(slide: “9. Become a catalyst for change in your community. Teach others about the Climate Crisis.”)

Become a catalyst of change. Teach others, learn about it, talk about it.

The movie comes out- the movie is a movie version of the slideshow I gave two nights ago, except it’s a lot more entertaining. And it comes out in May. Many of you here have the opportunity to insure that a lot of people see it.

(two slides pass without being shown)

Consider sending somebody to Nashville- pick well- and I am personally gonna train people to give this slideshow- repurposed with some of the personal stories, obviously replaced with a generic approach, and- it’s not just the slides, it’s what they mean. And it’s how they link together. And so- I’m going to be conducting a course this summer for a group of people that are nominated by different folks to come and then give it, in mass, in communities all across the country, and we’re going to update the slideshow for all of them every single week to keep it right on the cutting edge.

Working with Larry Lessig, it will be, somewhere in that process, posted with tools and limited use copyrights so that young people can ‘remix’ it and do it in their own way. (applause)

(slide: “12. Become politically active- Speak up! Contact your elected officials! Make our Democracy work!”)

Where did anybody get the idea that you ought to stay arm’s length from politics? It doesn’t mean that I’m trying to- if you are a Republican that I’m trying to convince you to be a Democrat. We need Republicans as well- this used to be a bipartisan issue- and I know that in this group it really is. Become politically active. Make our Democracy work the way it’s supposed to work.

(slide: “13. Urge the U.S. to join the rest of the world community in capping and trading carbon emissions.”)

Support the idea of capping carbon dioxide emissions, global warming pollution, and trading it. Here’s why. As long as the United States is out of the world system, it’s not a closed system. Once it becomes a closed system, with U.S. participation, then everybody who’s on a board of directors- how many people here serve on the board of directors of a corporation? Once it’s a closed system, you will have legal liability if you do not urge your CEO to get the maximum income from reducing and trading the carbon emissions that can be avoided. The market will work to solve this problem if we can accomplish this.

(slide: “14. Help with the mass persuasion campaign when it is launched this Spring.”)

Help with the mass persuasion campaign that will start this spring. We have to change the minds of the American people. Because presently the politicians do not have permission to do what needs to be done. And in our modern country, the role of logic and reason no longer includes mediating between wealth and power the way it once did. It’s now repetition of short, hot button, 30 second- 28 second television ads. We have to buy a lot of those ads.

(slide: “15. Let’s call it the ‘Climate Crisis’ (,) it really is a ‘Planetary Emergency'”)

Let’s re-brand global warming, as many of you have suggested. I like ‘climate crisis’ instead of ‘climate collapse’, but again those of you who are good at branding- I need your help on this.

Somebody said the test we’re facing now- a scientist told me- is whether the combination of an opposable thumb and a neocortex is a viable combination. That’s really true.

I said the other night, and I’ll repeat now- this is not a political issue. Again, the Republicans here- this shouldn’t be partisan. You have more influence than some of us who are Democrats do. This is an opportunity- not just this- but connected to the ideas that are here, to bring more coherence to them. We are one. Thank you very much, I appreciate it.

[Transcription by Robert Thomas Carter]