On 26 June 2015 Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, interviewed Al Gore, the former Vice President of the United States of America, at the 2015 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
Since Mr Gore left office, he has been busy. He co-founded, and is the chairman of, Generation Investment Management, he is a senior partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a member of Apple, Inc.’s board of directors, and the chairman of The Climate Reality Project, a non-profit organisation devoted to solving the climate crisis.
Mr Gore and Sir Sorrell discussed a range of issues, including climate change, technology, business, renewable energy, investing, sustainability and politics.
In the course of the discussion Mr Gore did not mince his words when he was asked about those who still question the validity of mainstream climate science:
… there is a very large cottage industry financed by many of the carbon polluters, abetted by an ideological group that fears that any serious effort to deal with the climate crisis might involve a larger role for governments and … it’s exactly what the tobacco industry did when the scientists linked lung cancer to smoking cigarettes and they hired actors and dressed them up as doctors and put them in front of cameras with teleprompters to say ‘Hello, I’m a doctor, there is no health problem at all from smoking cigarettes’. It was deeply unethical, immoral, destructive, really evil. And that is exactly what the climate denial industry is doing now.
Mr Gore is convinced climate change will become a serious electoral issue in coming years, regardless of the climate denial efforts. Although tangible action is now starting to happen, from the Pope’s climate encyclical to the G7 climate proposals, Mr Gore believes it’s not happening fast enough because a lot of damage is being done by climate change deniers. I can relate to that statement here in Australia, where our Prime Minister fights wind turbines.
Mr Gore disputed the assertion that coal is ‘cheaper’ than renewable energy sources, such as solar. He noted we need to consider the ‘true cost’ of coal, including pollution and related healthcare costs. Pollution is becoming an increasingly serious concern in places such as China and India. In some parts of China pollution is considered responsible for a drop in life-expectancy. Pollution is becoming the subject of public concern in the third-world. In China it’s even seen as a potential catalyst for public unrest.
He also highlighted that in recent years there has been a significant drop in the cost of producing solar energy, around 15% per year, so much so that in some places it is now cheaper than energy from coal-fired power production. Mr Gore also sees a huge growth potential for renewable energy in the third world, for example in Africa, where villages have never been connected to the electricity grid and are now leapfrogging directly to solar technology:
The age of fossil fuels is beginning to come to an end. Years ago one of the Saudi oil ministers famously said ‘the stone age didn’t end because a shortage of stones’. The coal age is ending while we still have a lot of coal, and oil and gas are not far behind.
The message Mr Gore is sending in respect of renewable energy is similar to the sentiments expressed by David Attenborough, in his recent interview by Barack Obama at The White House. Mr Gore also called for further investment, research and development into renewable energy sources.
In discussing the energy needs of third-world nations, and the costs involved in setting up renewable energy projects, Mr Gore noted there is no reason for them to repeat the mistakes of the developed world, when they have an opportunity to leapfrog over dated, polluting technologies and move directly to clean, renewable sources. In this context he also briefly advocated for a ‘Green Bank’ to finance renewable energy projects.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the current state of American politics also came in for criticism:
The most serious disfunction in American democracy is now in the legislative branch, in the Congress, because they spend most of their time begging rich people and special interest for money, because their reelection campaigns no longer depend primarily on their constituents reacting favourably to their advocacy of the public interest. It depends on how many cocktail parties and telephone calls they can use to raise massive amounts of money to buy 30 second TV commercials …
Last, but not least, Mr Gore attacked the argument that addressing climate change and economic development and growth are mutually exclusive concepts. He highlighted the worldwide economic potential of renewable energy projects, and the number of jobs a renewable energy industry could create from investment, research, design, manufacture, installation and maintenance.
The entire interview runs for over an hour but it is an informative and fascinating discussion, and an hour well spent.
As Sir Sorrell put it during the talk, there are countless people worldwide who wish Mr Gore won that election – if he did, the world could be a very different place today. And not just environmentally …