Al Gore Did Not Invent the Green New Deal, but He Likes It

But what are these technologies that will sharply reduce carbon emissions?
The success stories are to be found in the revolution in electricity. First, we have a huge trend toward the electrification of most things. The sun and the wind now produce electricity more cheaply in most geographies than the burning of fossil fuels. Secondly, we are seeing huge cost reductions in energy storage—principally batteries, but other technologies as well—which complement the alternative generation of electricity. Finally, you have the electrification of transportation: Every automobile manufacturer in the world is moving as quickly as they can to electricity. Those are the success stories, but that still leaves manufacturing and the need for industry to move as quickly as possible to a carbon-free economy.

We’ve been talking about technological supply. If you could wave a wand and transform demand, what would you change?

To solve the larger ecological crisis, we have to solve the crisis in democracy. I spoke earlier about the interplay between Earth, Inc. and the Global Mind. You could rephrase that in the context of the United States as a discussion of the interplay between capitalism and democracy. Democratic capitalism, this dual ideology, has been hegemonic in the world—especially since 1989. Yet the fissures between the two halves of the ideology are growing.

I’m unapologetically a capitalist, but we need reforms in capitalism. We have to measure and capture what have been conveniently labeled as negative externalities—like global warming pollution, which now captures as much extra heat energy in the Earth’s system every day as would be released by 500,000 Hiroshima-class atomic bombs exploding every 24 hours. But we also need to measure and capture positive externalities, so that we end the chronic underinvestment in education and health care. To heal the relationship between capitalism and democracy we need better tools. We need, for example, a direct or indirect price on carbon pollution.

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To accomplish that and make all the other changes that are critically necessary, we have to heal the operations of our democracy and get the toxic influence of big money out of the ability of people to think together collectively and make intelligent choices about our future. Right now, democracy is not working. It is failing us. Luckily, the rising generation is demanding a better world. I’m optimistic that we will see the emergence of new ways to facilitate collective thinking that will enable people to use the tools of democracy to fix the serious problems in the marketplace.

Does that mean you applaud the spirit behind the Green New Deal, without necessarily approving its specifics?

Absolutely. Absolutely, that’s right. I know you’ve been critical about it and others have as well. But I am strongly in favor of what’s described as the Green New Deal. When you peel back the first layer and look at the specifics, sure: You’re going to find some things that you disagree with, or I disagree with.

Let me give you an analogy. Back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, in addition to working on the climate crisis, I spent a lot of time on nuclear arms control. In those days, there was a popular movement called the Nuclear Freeze Movement. It spread rapidly across the United States, and people like me, experts in the field, looked at the details and said “Oh my God, that’s crazy. We can’t just freeze everything. We need to do it much more thoughtfully.” But the people generally said “No, you experts, you people who’ve been managing this. The hell with you. You’re not doing very well. We’re scared.” Something like 75 to 80 percent of Americans told pollsters they were in favor of a nuclear freeze. Well, it didn’t come to pass, but it created such enormous political pressure that, among other things, it led President Reagan, after he became president, to completely change his approach to disarmament. Some of us legislators ended up working with him. We got a brand-new approach that sharply reduced nuclear weapons. The label, “a nuclear freeze,” was criticized as simplistic, but it was a very powerful expression of the American people that changed history.

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