Sign of the Times


Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis

By: Albert Gore

Albert Arnold Gore Jr. was a prominent political figure during the 1990’s and he is a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. He strived to help the world return from an environmental crisis and thus wrote numerous environmental books warning the present generation.

Better Late than Never

By: Caroline Hong

An African proverb wisely states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”1 Albert (Al) Arnold Gore Junior’s Our Choice: How We Can Solve the Climate Crisis provides an overview on all the major and minor environmental problems persisting in the world at the moment and how it will affect the generations to come. Al Gore, the former vice president of the United States, provides his view of the current environmental situation of the Earth and how it is not too late to save it.

Al Gore leads his book by urging people to work together because “the fate of [the] civilization depends on effective, cooperative, global measures to save the habitability of the earth…”2 In his first chapter, titled “What Goes Up Must Come Down”, Al Gore specifies the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere because of anthropogenic causes. The extent and speed of global warming increases at an exponential rate due to deforestation, agricultural practices, mining practices, and the burning of fossil fuels; “if [humans] stopped producing excess CO2 tomorrow, about half of the manmade CO2 would fall out of the atmosphere.”3 Al Gore urges people to feel the importance of acting quickly. Humans have exploited natural resources and discovered more efficient but not environmentally friendly sources of energy, destroying the Earth more in the last 100 years than the hundreds of billions of years in which the Earth has existed. Other natural and renewable sources such as solar and wind energy would help the Earth last longer for the generations to come. Utilizing renewable sources will ultimately be cheaper in the long run even though the investment and time to find an efficient way to harness power could take a while. With the technological advancements humans have, the job of experimenting different methods becomes easier and “there is a positive feedback loop that continues to drive exciting new breakthroughs.”4 Technology always advances. Therefore, new ways of gaining efficient energy advance along with it. Incentives also encourage companies to take advantage of the renewable resources through ideas such as net metering which “allows home… and business owners to install photovoltaic cells on their rooftops and sell electricity back into the grid at times when they don’t need it.”5 Unstable oil prices force countries to find stable prices by resorting to different energy sources. Solar energy is gaining attraction and, in order to rein in the power, “high-technology transmission lines that connect to a smart grid distribution system” are installed.6 For example, the harnessing of wind power increased in popularity over the years because wind power could “provide five times the total energy consumed by the entire world from all sources” while being available widely.7 Disadvantages such as the sacrifice of aesthetics come into play in regards to windmills but it does not require any water and utilizes the least amount of land, proving to be a reliable energy source. Geothermal energy, another renewable source of energy, is “roughly 280,000 times the annual consumption of primary energy in the world,”8 but it is best available “where tectonic plates come together [such as the Ring of Fire] and where active volcanoes are… found.”9 Once a geothermal plant runs, it constantly harnesses energy; at most geothermal reservoirs, there is a lack of water which means it is difficult to cool down the hot plant. As “advances are currently being sought… in drilling technology [and] in the exploration processes used to locate the best hot rock resources,” the exercise of geothermal energy will increase.10

Biomass energy harnesses power through the burning of trees, food and energy crops, municipal waste, and industrial waste. Almost 100 percent of the biomass generated produces thermal energy and electricity, but in order to create an independence on other countries’ oils, procedures should be taken to “ensure that biomass feedstocks are produced in a truly sustainable manner”: therefore, any type of land should not be demolished, carbon dioxide emissions and the use of food crops for energy should decrease, the soil needs balancing of fertilizers and people should encourage the sustainable use of water.11 The negative feeling towards corn based ethanol emerged from the fact that “the significant increase in world food prices during 2007-08 was partly blamed on the diversion of cultivated land at the margins from the growing of food to the growing of crops for ethanol [and]... each gallon of corn ethanol requires four gallons of water.”12 Al Gore feels disappointed from being apart of the cast in favor of ethanol because first generation ethanol has failed to improve the environmental status of the world, but the industry continuously researches other ways to sustainably gain the energy from biomass fuels. Excess carbon dioxide is also detrimental to the Earth and the technology for “capturing, compressing, transporting and sequestering CO2 have been developed and tested on a small scale” but it is not enough for what is necessary in the world.13 Even if carbon sequestration works, coal production needs to increase by 25-35 percent, and many experts still feel doubtful about this idea. Coal companies deceive people into thinking they support carbon capture and sequestration (CCS: the act of capturing carbon dioxide and storing it at a site), but in reality, the companies do not fund any research organizations that could actually start CCS; currently, people practice CCS on a low scale and in areas where the circumstances fit, such as in Alberta, Canada, because tar sands encompass Alberta. Another source of energy, nuclear energy, used to be very popular due to the “idea of using controlled nuclear fission as a source of heat to turn electric turbines.”14 Unfortunately, danger follows the use of nuclear energy. First, an “unresolved dispute over what to do about long term storage of radioactive waste that remains dangerous for many thousands of years” remains.15 Second, nuclear reactors can be a threat used by countries around the world because they can destroy thousands of miles of land and kill millions of people. Until people discover a way for nuclear reactors to not be a worldwide threat or an unstable energy source, more research needs to be operated in the field of nuclear energy. Another threat remains; deforestation causes the carbon dioxide levels to vastly increase due to “the slash-and-burn technique used to rapidly clear forests for subsistence farming, plantation agriculture, and cattle ranches…”16 Before addressing deforestation, Al Gore listed the basic causes of deforestation that need to be fixed: poverty, the failure of economics and the world community to agree on a carbon price, the failure of the world to acknowledge the precious price of forests and the corruptive laws with loopholes. For every second that passes, an acre of land in the forest is destroyed, eventually outweighing the planting of new trees. Any solution to solve global warming cannot be found because “every cause of the crisis is deeply ingrained in patterns of behavior, commerce, and culture that have built up over long periods of time.”17 Scientists believe the total impact of the destruction across the planet will bring upon the Sixth Great Extinction. Since forests balance the hydrological cycle and absorb the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, deforestation slowly destroys the world and the world “has an incentive to place a sufficient value on carbon to encourage the preservation of the earth’s ability to more quickly reabsorb the man-made CO2 put into the atmosphere…”18 In China, they stopped destroying trees and enacted a tree planting program- so the trees can absorb the CO2—where citizens above 11 years old need to plant at least three trees each year. Al Gore urges people to plant trees as well, because “if every person on Earth planted and cared for at least two tree seedlings each year, the world could make up for the loss of trees to deforestation over the previous 10 years in the next ten years.”19 In order for trees and other plants to grow, the soil has to be fertile. The carbon contents give the soil its black, rich color; since the soil is the ‘skin’ of the earth, “alive, in the sense that it is filled with microbes, fungi, worms, minerals and nutrients,” humans need to protect the soil as it makes all the growing of food crops possible.20 The soil remains susceptible to erosion, making humans vulnerable to food shortage, and with the increasing population of the Earth, humans cannot afford to have degraded soils. Agricultural soils need to be rotated in order to bring back the nutrients that make the soil fertile and habitable by helpful organisms. Producing food for the world population uses land, water, nutrients, labor, and time. To make one pound of beef, “it takes more than seven pounds of plant protein… and more than 6,000 gallons of water.”21 More people eat meat today than one or two generations ago so in order to keep the agricultural land, the soil needs management. If biochar- the charcoal stored in the soil, made in plants- mixes with the soil, it restores the carbon content, protects the living organisms, and contains the nutrients.

The entire global climate crisis can be kept at bay or possibly decreased if population growth does not increase. With population growth comes a spread of new technologies and increases the use of oil and coal in the world. To stabilize the growth of the world population, four factors can be taken: the increased education of girls, the encouragement of women to participate in social and political events, high child survival rates, and planned parenthood. The communications revolution quickened the education and empowerment of women and allowed the worldwide population to stabilize along with the use of fossil fuels and the act of deforestation. Energy savings can be found through the recycling of products from electricity generation, the substitution of inefficient windows and motors, having good insulation of buildings and better fuel standards for transportation vehicles. Through the replacement of inefficient objects with efficient objects, steel mills, fluid handling, and oil refineries, the world can reach a more efficient outcome. Since “65 percent of all the energy consumed to generate electricity in the United States each year is lost,” ways to save the lost energy need to be found.22 Technological advancements have come so far and now the world has the tools to build a super grid but “the only missing ingredient is political will.”23 A smart grid-a network of electricity keeping track of local changes- allows people to possess some control over their bills; for example, if a family does not use a certain amount of energy, they can sell it back to the company. A smart grid requires less reliance, does not have power outages, provides accurate statistics and stands as less vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Government incentives will work to increase the awareness of the usage of energy. For example, the shedding load is the negotiation of “electricity supply contracts with large users that require them to shut off power for a few hours at a time when peak usage strains the generating capacity of the system.”24 Because of the new technologies, Al Gore stresses the need for a “complete revision of the national rules and regulations that have guided the electricity industry for more than a century.”25 Changing the world to efficient sources of energy relies on the way people think. Since word spreads quickly than ever before, the issue of global warming can be spread quickly. Decisions for the safety of the world need to be made quickly because the world cannot continuously be exploited and treated “as if it a business in liquidation.”26 Agreements are being made to help the Earth and to make the Earth habitable for further generations since the choice of helping the world or not is “in the hand of the present generation.”27

Al Gore states that the present generation has the job of protecting future generations to come. Global climate change is a real, worldwide matter and nothing will change unless the humans work together. He states that changes are possible and in fact, “many of the changes were not only inexpensive but actually profitable.”28 Awareness can be raised because news is spread quickly and the young generation can bring “incredible passion and commitment to meeting the challenge.”29 Since humans gained the knowledge to destroy and save the Earth, humans should have the wisdom to avoid a negative outcome because humans have what it takes to stop global climate change.

Al Gore, an Emmy Award, Nobel Peace Prize Award winning 45th Vice President of the United States, is an environmentalist trying to persuade people of the reality of global climate change. Since global climate change is more apparent to the world now, his intention is to urge people to change the fate of the Earth. As a Democrat, Al Gore strongly believes in global climate change compared to Republicans who do not believe in it. As a government-majoring Harvard Graduate, Al Gore could lead the world in helping the Earth and advocate the fixing of environmental issues.

Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis was written in 2009 during the Obama administration. Obama enacted the Clean Power Plan and improved the National Environmental Policy Act. During this time, the reality of the global climate change was becoming known to people and especially more to Al Gore, making him realize he needed to let the world know what everyone was doing to the Earth, writing Our Choice to make people aware of the state of the Earth and what they could do to fix it. He concludes with the idea that saving the Earth remains the responsibility of the present generation.

Joe Romm, the founding editor of Climate Progress- an informative blog—reviewed Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis and stated that the book reviewed the “full range of climate solutions from efficiency to biochar.”30 Romm stated that the book was very informative and the electronic version was the most interactive cyber-book ever. Another critical review from Nina Nesseth, a professional communicator of sciences to the public, stated the cons of Al Gore’s book: asserting that “the book couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be a textbook or a coffee table book” with pictures and data distracting from the important information.31

It is known now that there are actual ways to solve the global climate crisis and the choice to solve the global climate crisis lies in the hands of this generation; the decisions established will seriously affect the rest of the generations to come. All the materials available to fix the crisis exist within reach. Overall, all the pictures, graphs and explanations Al Gore integrated into his book allows people to fully understand the status of the Earth right now and how to repair the Earth.

Our Choice reflects the social and economic changes that have come to America since the Cold War and the rise of fears of terrorism because it talks about the energy sources that countries like America rely on. If America becomes more independent on energy sources, terrorists could attack important power plants. Since the Cold War, America has grown in the manufacturing industry as well as the business industry, increasing overall production and the output of pollution because America mostly uses nonrenewable energy sources. The book addresses the social impact of technology: technological advances have made people aware of the Earth’s status. Scientists researched all the information addressed in this book due to the advanced technology that has made a social impact on the world.

Through Al Gore’s Our Choice, he informed the former and future generations of how the world would end up if something did not happen to fix the environmental issues. Switching from inefficient nonrenewable sources to renewable sources will help the Earth. By providing initial steps to solve the climate crisis, Al Gore accomplished his goal of informing the younger generation and provided acts to resolve the global climate crisis.

[1] Gore, Albert. Our Choice. Emmaus: Rodale Press, 2009. 15.
[2] Gore, Albert. 15.
[3] Gore, Albert. 36.
[4] Gore, Albert. 58.
[5] Gore, Albert. 68.
[6] Gore, Albert. 64.
[7] Gore, Albert. 78.
[8] Gore, Albert. 94.
[9] Gore, Albert. 95.
[10] Gore, Albert. 109.
[11] Gore, Albert. 116.
[12] Gore, Albert. 120.
[13] Gore, Albert. 136.
[14] Gore, Albert. 152.
[15] Gore, Albert. 155.
[16] Gore, Albert. 172.
[17] Gore, Albert. 181.
[18] Gore, Albert. 191.
[19] Gore, Albert. 194.
[20] Gore, Albert. 198.
[21] Gore, Albert. 215.
[22] Gore, Albert. 257.
[23] Gore, Albert. 275.
[24] Gore, Albert. 287.
[25] Gore, Albert. 295.
[26] Gore, Albert. 329.
[27] Gore, Albert. 405.
[28] Gore, Albert. 396.
[29] Gore, Albert. 402.
[30] Romm, Joe. https://thinkprogress.org/al-gores-our-choice-is-a-spectacular-must-have-interactive-digital-book-on-climate-solutions-86cf5c5fe5f1
[31] Nesseth, Nina. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6989790-our-choice