Al Gore Comes to Iowa

Earthrise 1968

Earthrise 1968

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa– Al Gore held up a T-shirt presented by a youth group from Indiana that said, “Ask me about my future.” The context can be political, even if the presenters intended the question be about the environment.

Gore joked about wearing the T-shirt in Iowa and what it might mean during the run up to the 2016 Iowa Caucuses. During the 28th training of climate activists for The Climate Reality Project, he made clear he was a “recovering politician” and had no plans to run for president again.

Why did Gore pick Cedar Rapids for his first North American training since 2013? Five reasons.

It is partly about influencing the presidential selection process related to Iowa’s first in the nation political caucuses. By training Iowa activists, he hopes to make the voice for climate action heard by candidates for president.

It’s about extreme weather events including the 2008 Iowa flooding and recovery. The conference used space that was under water during the flood and heard from Mayor Ron Corbett about what the city did to repair the damage of the flood.

It’s about bringing a focus on the impact of climate change on agricultural issues in the breadbasket of the world.

It’s about Iowa’s success in development of renewable sources of electricity, wind energy in particular, but solar as well.

It’s about advocating for world governments, including the U.S. government, to make meaningful commitments to climate action at the United Nations 21st conference of the parties in Paris, France this December.

There was a lot to discuss and Gore was generous with his time, speaking multiple times each day of the conference. The significance of its 350 attendees from around the world, 75 of whom were from Iowa, is hard to miss. The movement for meaningful governmental action to mitigate the causes of global warming and related climate change is gaining momentum worldwide.

Here are some takeaways from the conference:

The people at my table, and attendees generally, are already doing a lot to raise awareness of the need for climate action. They are possessed of a high level of energy and are really smart people devoted to taking climate action.

The price of solar electricity is plummeting and installation of photovoltaic arrays is growing exponentially. In some parts of the world solar reached grid parity, and this, coupled with other sources of renewable energy, will drive the end of the era of fossil fuels.

The Iowa Soybean Association had a seat at the table, which a few years ago would not have happened. Christopher Jones, an environmental specialist for the group, said they had begun to change their thinking about global warming during the last year. If this is borne out by their actions, it would be a tidal shift for the big agricultural organizations.

Gore added information about Iowa to his already encyclopedic knowledge of global warming and related climate change. He spoke about everything from extreme floods and droughts that have hit Iowa, solutions implemented here—particularly wind and solar electricity generation, and current political issues, including the eminent domain legislation working its way through the last days of this Iowa legislative session.

A member of Citizen’s Climate Lobby asked Gore why he hasn’t endorsed the fee and dividend scheme they propose. Gore responded he favors putting a price on carbon, there are multiple mechanisms to do so, and he hasn’t finished research to determine which one(s) to endorse.

The political will to take climate action is building worldwide. The election this week of Rachel Notley as provincial premier in Alberta, Canada, where the long ruling Progressive Conservative party was oustered by her New Democratic Party is a prime example. “During the campaign, Notley promised to withdraw provincial support for the (Keystone XL pipeline) project, raise corporate taxes and also potentially to raise royalties on a regional oil industry already reeling from the collapse in world prices,” according to the Guardian.

Finally, there is hope. The solutions to the climate crisis are working. Renewable energy is beginning to take off, gain broader acceptance, and reach toward grid parity. Almost no new coal-fired electricity generating stations are planned for North America and old ones are being shuttered. We are not there yet, but Gore’s training and inspiration made the journey easier for us, and encouraged us to tell our own story about why it is important to take climate action before it is too late.

There is no planet B.

“We couldn’t even evacuate New Orleans as hurricane Katrina approached,” Gore said.

Earth is our only home, and is hanging in the balance. It’s up to us to protect it.

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