Well, kids, the good news is that KUOW did squeeze in one of the questions I had for Al Gore today.
The bad news is that it was my least-favorite question for the VP-turned-green-crusader. But still, it’s apparently the one on many journalists’ minds, as my friends and colleagues Tim Wheeler of the Baltimore Sun and Matt Preusch of The Oregonian both wondered about it. Here’s what I asked Gore in a pre-recorded question for his live appearace on The Conversation with Ross Reynolds:
Polls recently have shown increases in the number of Americans who don’t climate change is a problem, and those who don’t think it’s a serious problem. Could you be partly at fault? What do you say about the criticism that by becoming such a lightning rod for criticism from the industries that seek to downplay the threat of climate change, you may be doing more harm than good to your cause?
I thought my other proposed questions were more important, but this one made the cut. Here’s a slightly shortened version of Gore’s really, really long answer:
Well I hope not… My last book on this subject was “An Inconvenient Truth” and the truth about the climate crisis is (that) it is seen as inconvenient by the big carbon polluters.
I think the net benefit of telling the truth as best I can and arousing public concern and raising public awareness of what is at stake, it is a useful way for me to spend my time and I am doing the best job I can at it…
I do think that the recent poll you talked about may be something of an outlier and it does depend on how you ask the question.
This is a topic we could spend a lot of time on and we don’t have enought time to do it justice. But very briefly, Ross, if you ask people about the climate crisis — Are you concerned about it? Do you think it’s real (and) manmade? Should we do something about it? — very solid majorities, approaching two-thirds, always respond yes.
But if you turn the question on its side and offer people a list of 20 problems and ask them to rank them in priority order, it’s true that the climate crisis settles down near the bottom of that list. Now, why?
I think the answer is in part because this crisis is unpruecendeted. It is on a global scale. Its effects are already unfolding but they’re distributed globally so it masquerades as an abstraction.
The length of time between the cause and conquesences stretch out over a longer period of time than we’re used to dealing with. Moreover, the solutions are of such a scale that it naturally challenges people to defend the current system in its entirety, and garden-variety denial kicks in. If something’s unpleasant, we don’t want to think about it.
There was much more on the show, including Gore’s thoughts on:
- How the business cycle complicates solutions because of intense short-term business-cycle pressure on businesses. He cited research showing that Americans used to hold stocks for more than six years, while the average has now dropped to less than six months.
- Modern industrial agriculture is “strip-mining the carbon out of the topsoil.” (A fun fact left out on today’s program: Deforestation accounts for about 20 percent of our climate problem.)
- Although nuclear power advocates are pushing nukes as the answer, the potential problems with the current sort are too horrible to allow them because they’re so big. Said Gore: “They only come in one size: extra large.” A new generation of smaller and therefore inherently safer nuke plants might help, but they’re still under development and won’t be ready for maybe two or three decades, Gore says.
— Robert McClure