Former vice present and climate change activist Al Gore is still pointing out inconvenient truths — this time criticizing President Barack Obama’s recent controversial decision that green-lighted Royal Dutch Shell’s oil-drilling plan in the Arctic Ocean’s Chukchi Sea.
In an interview this month with U.K. newspaper the Guardian, Gore called the conditional approval of Shell’s exploratory drilling plan “insane” and also called for a ban on all oil and gas activity in the polar region.
Shell plans to begin drilling in the oil-rich Chukchi Sea very soon now that the 400-foot Polar Pioneer has reached the Arctic, after leaving its Seattle berth last month. Gore said in the interview with the Guardian that Obama was wrong to ever allow drilling in the Arctic.
It was the only major point of contention from Gore on Obama’s efforts to fight climate change, at home and through a global deal to be negotiated in Paris at the end of the year, but it's significant nonetheless.
“I think Arctic drilling is insane,” he said in Toronto, where he was passing on his techniques for talking about the climate crisis to 500 recruits from his Climate Reality Project. “I think that countries around the world would be very well advised to put restrictions on drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean.”
As conventional oil fields decline, the Arctic is the last frontier of the oil era, containing more than 20 percent of the world’s undiscovered, recoverable oil and gas. But after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill five years ago, the risks of offshore oil drilling are clear: Gore said, “I think the Deepwater Horizon spill was warning enough. The conditions are so hostile for human activity [in the Arctic].”
For the most part, Gore gives Obama high marks on climate change policies, although he still says the White House has gone too far to accommodate the oil and gas industry. “I think he is doing essentially a very good job, but on the fossil fuel side I would certainly be happier if he was not allowing so much activity like the Arctic drilling permit and the large amounts of coal extracted from public lands,” Gore said.
A critical negotiating round on climate change in Paris is only five months away; but it is the president and the pope who are the most visible campaigners for climate action, not Gore.
Unlike the pope – who used an encyclical on climate change to deliver a scathing indictment of the prevailing economic order – Gore believes that “reformed capitalism” will eventually solve the climate campaign.
“I think that some form of market capitalism is at the base of every successful economy in the world today,” he said in the interview. “I think that reforms including putting a price on pollution to discourage more pollution is definitely a part of the solution.”
As the Paris summit approaches, Gore said he is the most optimistic he has ever been about finding a solution to the climate crisis. The time is ripe, he continued. Like same-sex marriage, like civil rights, he believes public opinion is about to make a massive shift in favor of action.
“Climate is now on that matrix,” Gore said. “The change is inevitable because [when] any great cause that becomes resolved into a binary choice between what’s right’s what and what’s wrong, the outcome becomes inevitable.”
He is confident there will be some sort of agreement coming out of Paris. “Even if it falls a little bit short of the 2-degree threshold, it will definitely lend a tremendous amount of momentum to an historic transition that is now well underway, away from carbon-based energy and towards renewables efficiency, battery storage and sustainable agriculture and forestry.
“My optimism is focused on primarily on the larger goal of making this transition and finding a solution for the climate crisis.”
Optimism from the man-who-should-have-been-president 15 years ago is refreshing given where we are with climate change today and the uncertainties surrounding where we are going with it.
Image: Al Gore at Web 2.0 Summit by Dan Farber via Flickr CC