Al Gore makes an impressive, but flawed presentation.
For one thing, he does not make the point that reaching Kyoto targets would be impossible without a reduction in the population. You cannot feed such an unsustainably high population without chemical fertilizers and large-scale energy-hungry agriculture.
Secondly, he completely neglects the fact that in all likelihood peak oil has already occurred globally and natural gas supplies will be exhausted sooner than gasoline becomes practically available. I think he should give more thought to the implications of this on climate change considering what types of energy are most likely to be exploited next (nuclear, burning wood for electricity, corn/sugar cane for ethanol, coal) and what is the capacity of these energies to meet present usage levels. Imagine the deforestation and acid rain caused by using wood and coal for electricity after oil and natural gas are extremely scarce. Or all the nuclear waste from trying to power electric cars. Obviously there are no technological fixes that can allow economic growth to occur much longer. I think Gore needed to make the point that the population is growing faster than conservation technology could ever grow and since all people must consume in order to survive—I haven’t met an economist who would dispute that—no technology will allow for perpetual human population growth on earth.
Thirdly, what about habitat loss? Is climate change all we care about? Most biodiversity is near the equator, not the poles. How many species’ extinctions have so far been due to climate change compared to how many have been due to wild habitat loss caused by the growing human population? Biodiversity performs about 33 trillion dollars in free and vital services to the human race annually, from cleaning our air and water, replenishing our aquifers, creating our topsoil, cycling nutrients, pollinating flora, isolating atmospheric carbon, preventing erosion, and providing genetic diversity. Without these services our “economy” would die. The blatantly evident manifestations of global warming are surely startling, dramatic and frightening, but habitat loss caused by human impact will be, as biologist Neil Dawe of the Qualicum Institute puts it, “the final nail in our coffin.”
Lastly, Gore loses credibility in his contention that we can reduce our impact to zero if we individually opt for greener alternatives. His exact words: “We have the ability to do this. Each one of us is a cause of global warming, but each of us can make choices to change that with the things we buy, with the electricity we use, the cars we drive. We can make choices to bring our individual carbon emissions to zero. The solutions are in our hands. We just have to have the determination to make them happen.” This is absurd, since it implies that a human doesn’t need to consume in order to survive. No matter how “green” a human is, he will still convert potable water to waste water, consume biomass (harvest plants and/or animals), produce waste, etc. You can be a vegetarian with “a diet for a small planet” but if you checked out the January 07 issue of National Geographic you would realize that vegetarian consumers are causing vast areas of precious Amazonian rainforests to be mowed down for soybean farming. Enjoy your tofu. Or you can buy into Jack Layton’s plan and drive a “green” car, retro-fit your house, recycle your garbage or erect solar panels(made of plastic) and windmills (lots of material involved there too). But you are still going to be a consumer. And while you are doing your part as a “green” citizen and cutting back your consumption in accord with their prescriptions, Jack and his Green Party rival Elizabeth May want to add 300-400,000 new consumers—immigrants-annually to build up Canada’s population to 40 million. Reduce our ecological footprint as individuals, but increase our numbers so that aggregate consumption remains high. Make sense?
The real “inconvenient truth” is that our religion of Economic Growth, which is predicated on population growth, will negate any efforts to stop climate change or solve any other environmental problem. Economic growth and Kyoto don’t mix. Economic growth and biodiversity don’t mix. And to graft a “Green” agenda onto a political party that is committed to Economic Growth is an exercise in self-delusion, contradiction and futility. Neither Gore, nor Layton, nor May, nor anyone leading any major environmental organization will speak about this truth.