While the climate crisis is "as serious as it gets," climate champion and former Vice President Al Gore says he is encouraged by cities, states and businesses big and small who vow to tackle climate change – with or without Trump
President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement was more than “inconvenient” for the U.S. — it threatens jobs, our standing in the world — and most of all, our planet, says former Vice President Al Gore.
“This is as serious as it gets,” the longtime environmentalist tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.
“What the scientists told us 20 years ago has come true,” says Gore, who warned the world about the catastrophic effects of climate change in his 2006 Academy Award-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. He is following up that documentary with An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, which premieres in August.
“What they are telling us now will happen in the future if we don’t stop using the atmosphere as an open sewer includes the threat that human civilization itself will be in danger,” says Gore, who met with President Trump and his daughter, Ivanka Trump, after the election to discuss climate change.
“We are in a race against time,” says Gore.
The aim of the 2015 global agreement, which had the world cheering when it was ratified, is to reduce carbon emissions as fast as possible to prevent the earth from warming by more than 2 degrees Celsius in this century.
Temperatures that rise higher than 2 degrees Celsius could trigger catastrophic — and irreversible — environmental effects we can no longer control, such as food and water shortages, massive drought, more flooding, extreme weather, the rampant spread of disease and dangers posed by rising seas, say scientists.
The climate crisis also poses a threat to our national security — and life as we know it, say experts.
Calling the agreement a “bad deal” for the country that would cost coal miners their jobs, Trump — with the backing of 22 U.S. Senators including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — withdrew the U.S. from the international agreement.
While Trump insisted he made the right decision for the nation, his decision drew ire from major companies, world leaders and citizens around the globe.
But going green, says Gore and others, will actually boost the economy like never before. “Jobs in the solar industry are increasing 17 times faster than other jobs are increasing in the U.S.,” he says.
The fastest growing job of all? “Wind turbine technician,” he says.
“According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, that will be the fastest growing job in the next ten years,” he says.
All over the world, tens of millions of new jobs in renewable energy, new technologies and sustainability are opening up, he says.
The Sustainability Revolution, as he calls it, “is happening all over the world. It has the scope and magnitude of the industrial revolution but the speed of the digital information revolution and it’s changing everything for the better.”
Solar and wind energy, batteries and hundreds of other efficiency technologies are now becoming much cheaper, far more rapidly than anyone predicted, he says.
“It’s almost like the computer chip revolution and the mobile phone revolution where products got much cheaper, faster than anyone could have imagined, even as their quality improved by leaps and bounds.”
Not only is the U.S. losing out on economic and trade opportunities by opting out of the agreement, but it is giving up its standing as the leader of the world, leaving a void that other nations, like China, are eager to fill, says Gore.
Withdrawing our country from the pact “has isolated the U.S. in the world community,” he adds.
By leaving the agreement, the U.S. gave away any say in how the world will tackle the climate crisis in the future, he says.
“The real risk is that all of these other countries will retaliate against the U.S. by trading among themselves and concentrating new jobs in solar and wind in their countries and not the U.S.,” he says.
“They have the legal right now to put up barriers against U.S. products that don’t bear any price for carbon pollution.”
‘We Still Have a Chance’
While the world still has a lot to do to head off catastrophe, “we definitely still have a chance,” he says.
While his upcoming film, An Inconvenient Sequel, will focus on how serious this crisis is, it will also detail how “available” solutions are now, he says.
“The big change from 10 years ago is that solar, wind and other renewable technologies are now getting so cheap that it’s easy to switch over,” he says.
Also encouraging? How U.S. businesses including Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, GE and others, and individual cities and states are moving on without Trump to solve the climate crisis.
On June 1, California, New York and Washington formed the U.S. Climate Alliance, which is committed to upholding the country’s goals under the Paris Agreement and take aggressive action against the climate crisis.
Since then, 10 states including Connecticut, Hawaii and Virginia have joined the coalition.
“We’re going to meet the commitments under the climate agreement, regardless of what President Trump does,” says Gore.
“If we all make up our minds to do this, we can all solve the climate crisis.”
For more on former Vice President Gore, climate change and his take on the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord, pick up a copy of this week’s PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.