Al Gore Calls Climate Change a 'Life or Death Battle' — But Feels 'Good' About New Youth Leaders

The former vice president said he believes students and young people have "caught on" to the importance of fighting climate change

Former Vice President Al Gore speaks on climate change at Vanderbilt University as part of a worldwide event called 24 Hours of Reality: Truth in Action, in Nashville, Tenn Gore Climate Change, Nashville, USA - 20 Nov 2019
Photo: Mark Humphrey/AP/Shutterstock

Former Vice President Al Gore kicked off the global “24 Hours of Reality: Truth in Action” event on Wednesday with a talk to more than 1,000 people at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, his alma mater.

In his ninth year leading the effort, Gore, 71, told the crowd he sees action on climate change picking up momentum.

“This is our generation’s life or death battle,” he said in an impassioned speech. “Here’s the good news: We have had an absolutely spectacular emergence of new technologies that don’t pollute and can replace most of the heavily polluting technologies that have gotten us into this.”

The Democrat talked about rain bombs, floods and mudslides, which are all effects of a hotter ocean temperature.

When he started giving his talks about climate change, Gore said he had to go back five, 10, or even 20 years to find examples. And now?

“I go to last week. Or yesterday. Because they’re getting worse and they’re becoming more frequent,” he warned.

Al Gore, Susan Wente. Former Vice President Al Gore speaks with Susan Wente, Vanderbilt University interim provost and chancellor, in Nashville, Tenn. Earlier Gore spoke on climate change as part of a worldwide event called 24 Hours of Reality: Truth in Action Gore Climate Change, Nashville, USA - 20 Nov 2019
(L-R) Al Gore, biologist and Vanderbilt University’s Interim Chancellor and Provost Susan Wente. Mark Humphrey/AP/Shutterstock

Gore called the climate crisis a “global health emergency and a global political threat,” citing predictions that there will be 1 billion climate migrants in this century.

“Every night on the TV news is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation,” he told reporters. “For goodness sake, we’re using the sky as an open sewer for all this heat-trapping pollution.”

Still, Gore is optimistic that the will to change is building.

“There are two different kinds of tipping points. One is the environmental tipping point where it gets too hot, all that frozen methane and greenhouse gas, CO2 in the Arctic will be released, that’s a serious problem. There are others like that,” he said. “But there’s a second tipping point. That’s the political tipping point. That’s the line we cross after which people in both political parties say, ‘Okay, we’ve got to move on this. Some of it looks like it might be hard, but it would be a lot harder if we don’t do it, so let’s get with the program.’ I think we’re really close to that political threshold, where it is not as partisan, where people start competing to offer the best solutions.”

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He continued, “The solutions are now cheaper than burning dirty fossil fuels.”

In a 24-hour period, presenters across the United States and nearly 80 other countries organized more than 1,600 events that discussed the urgent need for climate action.

Property Brothers stars Jonathan and Drew Scott presented in Toronto, while others gathered in places like Los Angeles, New York, Brazil, Uganda, New Delhi, and at the Lamborghini headquarters in Italy to listen to the call for change.

Andy Ridley, CEO of the collaborative movement Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, spoke underwater in full scuba gear to showcase the baby corals regenerating at the outer Moore Reef.

Andy Ridley and colleagues at the Great Barrier Reef
Andy Ridley. The Climate Reality Project Australia and Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef

“These are new recruits about the size of my hand … and have come since this whole part of the reef was hammered by the bleaching in 2017,” he said through air bubbles in a pre-recorded video. “What it shows you is that nature can come back if it’s given a chance. And of course, the great challenge for these creatures is as long as there isn’t another bleaching or a major storm that comes through here, these guys will flourish. And that’s the great risk of climate, the frequency of those challenges.”

He later added, “The threats are massive but we must not give up on one of the most amazing marine icons on the planet. The outlook is very poor if we do not combat climate change urgently.”

In the heart of Poland’s coal mining, Patryk Białas, a climate activist, gave a talk more than 1,000 feet underground in a coal mine that has been closed and turned into a museum.

Patryk Białas "Green future and fair transition of Silesia" during 24 Hours of Reality: Truth Into Action Old coal mine Museum Guido Zabrze, Poland
Patryk Białas. Marzena Bugala & Żaby Studio

More than 20 mines in Poland are still operable, providing most of Poland’s energy, and though Białas believes many people “are ready for change,” he has heard from locals about their fears of losing jobs and losing the industry that finances local schools, health care centers and the culture of villages.

“People believe the future of this region is still coal,” he said.

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Białas hopes the global event shows that a complete transition to renewable energy is a possible and worthy goal. He said politicians are afraid that closing more mines — the country has already closed 20 over the past two decades — would cause riots and jeopardize their own political futures. He also noted that the event convinced him that local people need to participate in policy-making.

Linh Do, the branch manager for Climate Reality Project for Australia and the Pacific, spoke in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, as she and others trained by Gore’s group led 100 women scientists from 35 countries.

With this year’s 24 Hours of Reality coming to a close, I want to extend my deepest thanks to the @ClimateReality
Linh Do (third from left). Al Gore/Twitter

Among those was a conservationist who works with lions in East Africa, a fire ecologist, an aerospace engineer and a marine biologist currently on a ship headed for Antarctica.

“Just because they’re scientists doesn’t mean they have an understanding of climate change and what they can do about it,” Do said.

Gore, who has been speaking about climate change for decades, appeared pleased that the world seems to be listening, and that students and young people are leading the charge.

“They double oversold the tickets here and they’ve got overflow rooms. That makes me feel good,” he told reporters outside his talk. “They’re going to be the ones to live with the worst of consequences unless we act really quickly, and I think they’ve caught on to that.”

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