A new website backed by Al Gore tracks big polluters by name The online tool tracks power plants, oil refineries, large ships and other sources of greenhouse gases. Gore plans to expand the tracker to observe every major source of emissions.

Al Gore helped launch a global emissions tracker that keeps big polluters honest

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Disasters that seem ripped from the pages of the Bible fill the news. The most vulnerable countries take the brunt. Still, global emissions reached their highest levels last year, while Russia's invasion of Ukraine throws energy supplies worldwide into turmoil. Amid all of that, another U.N. climate conference - COP27 - is taking place. Leaders from around the world have gathered in Egypt to try, once again, to commit to plans to address the climate crisis. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who has been urging the world to take the climate crisis seriously for decades now, spoke at the opening ceremony with yet another blunt warning.

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AL GORE: We are all here today because we continue to use the thin blue shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet as an open sewer.

MARTIN: The former vice president is just back from Egypt, and he was kind enough to come by our studios in Washington, D.C., to talk about the conference, the outlook for climate action, as well as a new organization he's helped launch that says it can trace emissions to individual power plants and oil and gas fields around the globe. And he's with us now. Welcome, Mr. Vice President. Thank you for coming.

GORE: Well, thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: So we just heard you speaking at the opening ceremony of COP27 in Egypt. You painted a pretty grim picture of what we face. Well, it's hard to imagine somebody else with your credibility on this issue. You spoke at the 1992 Rio climate summit. You made it a defining issue as a senator and as vice president and your 2000 presidential campaign. Your film, "An Inconvenient Truth," I think it's fair to say, shifted the conversation still, as I think you know better than anybody. And as you just alluded to in your opening remarks, we just don't seem to be moving the needle and slashing emissions. We're burning more fossil fuels than ever. Is there anything you're seeing that gives you hope that we aren't going to just keep kicking the can down the road?

GORE: In all my presentations, I try to maintain a balance between the dire warning that's absolutely essential. But there's also a lot of hope, and I try to always have that presented prominently. I'll give you some examples. Of course, we can start with the passage of the biggest climate legislation in the history of the world, the Inflation Reduction Act, in August, which is the genuine item. It's amazing. And then one month later, Australia's voters turned Australia in a completely new direction - off of coal and toward leadership on renewable energy. And then a month after that, Brazil's voters voted to stop destroying the Amazon. And all the while, there are technological advances that have made it easier to solve this crisis if we'll just act.

MARTIN: So one of the points you made in the speech is actually something we're going to talk about later on this program, which is the way that so many of the crises that beleaguer governments around the world are, in fact, connected to each other and they're connected to climate. I'm just going to play a short clip from your speech at the conference. Here it is.

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GORE: Experts are predicting as many as 1 billion climate migrants crossing international borders in the balance of this century. Think of the millions that are crossing borders now and the xenophobia and authoritarian populism that is caused by a large surge of refugees. And then imagine, if you will, what a billion climate refugees would do. It would end the possibilities of self-governance. We have to act.

MARTIN: So, Mr. Vice President, you have access to a lot of people that the rest of us don't. Is that message resonating? Do people - do kind of the leaders that you interact with around the world see these connections in the way that you just described?

GORE: In the main, yes. We have seen a tremendous amount of movement in the right direction. I have to caution that the fossil fuel industry and their financial supporters have built up a legacy of political and economic power and influence over the last century that has given them effective control over the policymaking process. In some countries, even at times in our country, that control was broken with the legislation passed last summer here. But they still control many governments.

And yet, in spite of that, the people of countries around the world are besieged by these climate-related extreme events. Every night on the television news is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation and the floods, the downpours, the droughts, the rising sea level, the tropical diseases spreading poleward and so many - and the refugee crises that are very real. There are many specific examples related to climate already. And I think that is now beginning to overtake the political inertia that the big polluters try to keep in place.

MARTIN: Let's talk about Russia's attack on Ukraine. I mean, it sent rich countries scrambling for natural gas and other fossil fuels. We've already talked about the fact that fossil fuel emissions last year are as high as they've ever been. What impact do you think this has had on all the discussions that we're having on the - I mean, people seem to act as if it's just a choice between, you know, doing the right thing. But in some countries, you know, doing the right thing means leaving, at risk of freezing to death over the winter.

GORE: Yeah.

MARTIN: And so isn't it a little more complicated than that? And how do you think about that in the current moment?

GORE: The short-term impact, particularly in Europe, is that the withdrawal of Russian fossil fuel supplies from Europe put them in grave danger of people freezing to death in the winter. And so obviously they have a moral imperative to replace those fuels in order to avoid catastrophe. But there is a longer-term impact, which is this blackmail by Russia has awakened the European countries to what Ronald Reagan and every president since has warned against, and that is if they become too dependent on an autocratic petrostate, they're going to lose their independence of thought and action. And I think that on balance, it's going to be a spur to a faster transition.

However, the influence of the fossil fuel industry, which I mentioned earlier, is now being put to use in trying to get them to sign long-term contracts for more new pipelines that would create a risk of even more dependency on fossil fuels over a longer period of time, which, of course, would mean more emissions and a much higher risk of climate catastrophe.

MARTIN: And along those lines, you launched a nonprofit, Climate TRACE, that says it's zeroed in on the world's largest greenhouse gas emitters. Could you just tell me a little bit more about that?

GORE: We introduced this global inventory in Egypt at the COP, and it uses artificial intelligence. And here is why that's necessary. Using satellites - we use more than 300 different satellites from half a dozen different countries - you can look directly at methane emissions and measure them. But if you're trying to look directly at CO2 emissions, the so-called signal-to-noise ratio makes it almost impossible because the air is so saturated with CO2 now. We've been emitting so much of it.

But if you look at the same sites in multiple wavelengths - you look at the smoke plumes, you look at the infrared heat signature, you can measure the ripples of water in the cooling pond, how many of the fan blades are turning, the internet data streams - and you combine all of that into these machine-learning algorithms, you can get an extremely accurate measurement. We have measured all of the power plants in the entire world - oil and gas production in the entire world, virtually every large ship in the world, every large plane in the world, every single one of the significant emitting sites - and we can tell you how to change suppliers if you're an industry, how to reduce your scope 3, scope 1 and 2...

MARTIN: Yeah, see that's what I was going to ask you. What are we supposed to do with this? Like, you get this information. What are you hoping people will do with it?

GORE: Well, there are - well, first of all, 75% of all the emissions in the world are coming from countries that have made a net-zero pledge. Now that they have the information, now that they know exactly where it's coming from, they have tools that will enable them to reduce their emissions. There are lots of companies that have made net-zero commitments. And when they analyze their supply chains, they can pick suppliers and subcontractors that have a fraction of the emissions of others that they are now using.

MARTIN: Are any corporate entities or governments using this technology right now? Do you have...

GORE: Yes.

MARTIN: ...Can you tell us how they're using it?

GORE: Yes. We have actually already entered into working agreements with six subnational governments in Mexico, in Europe and in Africa. And they are using it extensively now. We started with the 72,000 largest. But by the end of next year, we will have essentially all of them - many millions of them. And as the secretary general of the United Nations said last Wednesday when he introduced our program, he said this will make it impossible for people to cheat. And he's right about that because cheating is impossible with this...

MARTIN: You sound really excited about it.

GORE: I am excited about it because in the 30 years since the world has been negotiating how to deal with the climate crisis, nobody has ever known where all this global warming pollution is coming from. And we know the general sectors where it's coming from, but now we know, with precision, exactly where it's coming from. And we know that some sectors have been vastly underreporting oil and - the oil and gas industry, we found their emissions are three times higher than they have been telling the United Nations. And there are a few other examples of where - I'm not saying that they purposely cheating. Maybe it was an oversight. Maybe it was an accident. But all of the accidents have been in the same direction, and they've all been consistent with some of those companies intentionally lying to publics to try to prevent the formation of a political consensus necessary to reduce the emissions.

MARTIN: I can argue that the 2000 election, which had to have been a disappointment to you, kind of - sort of started the era of questioning the election apparatus. Would you agree? I mean, I - the fact that we're still debating about whether elections in the United States are done correctly, the fact that people - we have people refusing to concede if they don't like the outcome, I just have to ask, does this bring anything up for you? What are your thoughts about it?

GORE: Well, you know, in 2000, after the Supreme Court decision, I made the public statement that I disagree with the Supreme Court's decision, but I accept it. And I called then-Governor Bush and offered my concession. I just think that's the right thing to do. I will tell you what inspires me. In this election just held, there were a lot of candidates for state offices - such as secretary of state, which typically will give that individual the responsibility to handle elections - who were election deniers. Every single one of them was defeated by the American voters. I think the American voters redeemed the dignity of American democracy in this election.

MARTIN: Let's just be clear. Not all election deniers were defeated. Election deniers who were seeking to - positions that would have allowed them to administer elections were defeated. Statewide candidates, secretaries of state - they were defeated.

GORE: I think there is a pattern that really stands out when you look at these election results. And these results were really in stark contrast to the historical trend for a first midterm election for an incumbent president's party. The antidote for despair is action. If you're worried about it, become an election official. Help register people to vote. Defend the integrity of our democracy. I have always felt that American democracy is more resilient than we sometimes give it credit for being. And I think the American people stood up and spoke very clearly in this election. And they said, we don't want to go down that road toward chaos and the denial of the truth.

You know, climate denial and election denial are really first cousins. It's - they're both an example of people believing that they can create their own reality if the one we all share is somehow inconvenient for them. If the truth of our circumstances is not to their liking, they just want to have a triumph of the will. They want to be able to say, OK, I want it to be this way, and I declare it so. But there is a shared reality, and we do debate and discuss with one another and we refine our understanding of the best available truth by testing it in dialogue and democratic discourse. And it's sometimes messy, and it's almost always difficult. But as Churchill said, it's the best system - it's the worst system except for any other that's ever been created.

MARTIN: That's the former vice president of the United States, Al Gore. He's a founding partner and chairman of Generation Investment Management and the founder and chairman of the Climate Reality Project. Former Vice President Gore, thank you so much for joining us.

GORE: Thank you.

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