MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
A P: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis." At the end of the book, Gore writes a hypothetical, optimistic history of an upcoming event. In December of 2009, as he describes it, all the nations of the world gathered in Copenhagen, Denmark to negotiate a global treaty that many even then thought was impossible. Later it was strengthened. And in 2010, an idealistic new generation took the initiative and changed the political tone in nation after nation.
Al Gore joins us now from Philadelphia. Welcome back to the program.
AL GORE: Well, thank you. Good to be back.
SIEGEL: And let's begin by contrasting your hopeful reflection from the future back on December 2009 with what's in the news every day, which is one warning after another that next month's Copenhagen conference will fail to achieve any meaningful agreement on climate change. What are we missing?
GORE: Well, I think that we are on track with somewhat lowered expectations to achieve, nonetheless, a binding political agreement. Much depends on the amount of progress that can be made in the Senate between now and in the middle of December, when the heads of delegations and heads of state will be in Copenhagen. But the consensus legislation now being prepared in the Senate does have a prospect of attracting 60 votes.
And I think that President Obama will have a strengthened hand having already passed legislation in the House and having the clear prospect of legislation in the Senate and a binding regulation on the books from EPA this year requiring reductions in CO2, even if legislation were not to pass.
SIEGEL: Do you assume that President Obama will go to Copenhagen?
GORE: I hope that he will.
SIEGEL: Why? What's important about him going there?
GORE: Well, the United States is still the acknowledged leader of the world, and we have the largest economy in the world and we are one of two largest emitters of global warming pollution. And unless the United States plays its customary leadership role, it would be impossible for the world to resolve this crisis. But with the United States leading in a responsible way, we can.
SIEGEL: Your personal finances recently made front page of The New York Times. You've been criticized for investing in companies that say would bid on contracts in the cap and trade system. You stand accused of doing well by doing good. Would you benefit financially from, say, the creation of a cap and trade system?
GORE: Well, I've given away everything and more. That's attributable to anything of that sort. The majority of my business career over the last nine years since I left public service has been focused on other areas - Internet, information technology, media and the like. But I have made some investments in the things that I believe in. If I were not to do so, I would be accused by these same people of being a hypocrite. I have donated all of that and more to the Alliance for Climate Protection, a non-profit that focuses on raising awareness of the climate crisis and the solutions to the same.
SIEGEL: Now, you start "Our Choice" by addressing a very basic problem, which is population growth. And you've spoken and written about how population growth is projected to stabilize as women gain more autonomy, more control over childbearing. And indeed they stop having very large families. I can't get over this contradiction in my mind, though, that doesn't that very process - as revolutionary change of going from big, typically rural families to much smaller, often urban families, typically come from the very carbon producing and emitting economic growth that you're trying to curtail?
GORE: Well, no, the scientists used to think that, the social scientists did. But they discovered after decades of study that actually that was masking the true factors that are bringing about this change. The factors that are producing that change in every nation in the world are the education of girls, the empowerment of women to participate in decisions, the ability to manage the number of children and the spacing of children, and most importantly, higher child survival rates. Because when parents have a high level of confidence that their children will survive, the natural preference for smaller families takes hold. We've gone through that transition in the United States, Western Europe, Japan, but the developing countries are now well along that journey.
SIEGEL: But I was thinking, for example, a couple I met in Cheng-du in Sichuan Province in China last year, these are no incidental players in the entire question of climate change. They're moving into a modern, urban two-bedroom apartment with all the modern appliances. They will have only one kid, as it's national policy. But I couldn't get over the thought that they'll probably consume more and have a bigger carbon footprint than a dozen rural Chinese rice farmers. They're so much more engaged in the developed economy now.
GORE: Well, that is sometimes the case, but in developed countries and elsewhere in many other places, actually, an urban lifestyle can be much more energy efficient. But it depends upon the technologies we use. It depends upon the design of our cities. By shifting toward electric cars and efficient and enjoyable mass transit and much more energy efficient appliances and equipment, we can squeeze a huge percentage of the energy we think we're using now, but is actually wasted, out of that waste category and improve our standard of living as we reduce the global warming pollution and the wasted energy.
SIEGEL: I'm reminded of when we spoke on this program, when you wrote "Earth in the Balance," which must've been, I assume, 1992.
GORE: January of 1992. That's right.
SIEGEL: And I think back at what has happened since - the global environmental movement has grown phenomenally, public consciousness has grown incredibly. But apart from our arresting ozone depletion, we don't seem to put a dent in global warming. We don't seem to have actually moved forward during the very time that millions and millions more people have taken onboard an ideal of environmental action.
GORE: Well, we have made some progress, but the burning of fossil fuels and the rapid deforestation underway in many countries, particularly tropical countries, has moved ahead much faster.
We're now at the point where we have to make a choice, hence the title "Our Choice," in a determined way, shift to renewable sources of energy, much higher levels of efficiency and sustainable forestry and sustainable agriculture. In writing this book over the last three-and-a-half years, I came to the conclusion that we have all the tools we need to solve three or four climate crises. And we only have to solve one, but we have to choose to do it.
SIEGEL: Al Gore, thank you very much for talking with us once again.
GORE: Well, thank you, Robert.
SIEGEL: Al Gore's latest book is called "Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis."
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