The sound of dripping water was meant to send shivers down the spines of Santa Monicans Saturday.
The eerie plops of the drops weren’t a preview to this week’s rain but rather the beginning montage of Vice President Al Gore’s latest documentary “An Inconvenient Sequel.” About 125 of the city’s most climate-concerned citizens filled the Aero Theater’s cupholders with glass water bottles they brought from home, as they attended a screening of the film followed by a Q and A by Gore himself.
As talks of Climate Change often do, the conversation waffled between encouraging and cataclysmic.
Let’s start with the good news.
“The world is in the early stages of a ‘sustainability revolution’ that has the magnitude and scope of the industrial revolution but the speed of the digital revolution,” Gore told moderator Daniel Hinerfeld, an Emmy-award-winning documentary filmmaker with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “I truly believe it’s unstoppable; but the pace of it is still something we have to choose.”
In the documentary, even the conservative mayor of Georgetown, Texas, has recognized there is money to be saved in renewable energy like solar and wind. The CPA is on the way to converting his town to 100 percent renewable energy. Cost is his primary concern, not climate change.
In fact, affordability is driving demand for renewable energy around the world. The cost of a new solar power system has gone down by 70 percent, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). That translated to big investments, as solar capacity grew more than any other form of power generation in 2016.
“Renewable sources of energy meet 40 percent of the increase in primary demand and their explosive growth in the power sector marks the end of the boom years for coal,” according to the IEA’s 2017 World Energy Outlook. In the United States, jobs in solar are growing 17 times the rate of jobs in other industries, according to Gore.
But even as market forces drive renewable energy, the United States continues to subsidize fossil fuels with about $20 billion each year, according to October estimates by Oil Change International. In the year since President Donald Trump took over the Oval Office, there has been a cascade of regulatory and policy changes that concern climate activists. Just last week the Interior Department announced plans to open most federal waters to oil leases.
When it comes to International policy however, Gore says the United States still has time to undo some of Trump’s decisions, including his announcement the country would back out of the landmark Climate Accord. Because of timing issues, Gore said he believes whoever is elected (or reelected) in 2020 will make the ultimate decision on whether the United States withdraws from the Paris agreement.
Despite the positive developments in the renewable energy sector, Gore says the effects of climate change can be seen all around us.
“It’s worse. It has been happening faster than they predicted,” Gore said. “It is an existential threat to the future of human civilization.”
In fact, in 2017 the cost of climate related disasters exceeded $300 billion for the first time in history, according to a report released Monday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The astronomic amount included wildfires in California, flooding caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Maria, and severe weather in the Midwest, as well as other disasters. Gore says several cities on the East Coast, particularly Miami, are at the greatest risk from sea level rise.
“We will have to manage an orderly retreat from some low lying coastal areas,” Gore said.
Despite the tough talk from the former vice president, it was perhaps Santa Monica’s Director of the Office of Sustainability and the Environment, Dean Kubani, who had the most inconvenient truth for the audience at the bike valeted, ‘zero waste’ event.
“We’ve done all the easy parts,” Kubani said, when it comes to local initiatives to increase sustainability. “Our lives are going to have to change significantly.”