Climate | Environment | Emissions Reduction

Our world is now in the early stages of a sustainability revolution: Al Gore

Our world is now in the early stages of a sustainability revolution, said former Vice President of the United States and Founder and Chairman of the Climate Reality Project, Al Gore at CEDA’s climate change and economics event.

Speaking at CEDA’s event as part of Climate Week QLD 2019, Mr Gore discussed the opportunities of the renewable energy space while providing a warning on inaction.

“It's clear that our world is now in the early stages of a sustainability revolution, based in part on new digital capacities and tools like machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT),” he said.  

“It is empowering the executive teams of many businesses and industries to manage electrons and molecules and atoms and genes…with the same skill and precision that the information technology companies have demonstrated in managing bits of information.”

Mr Gore provided an example where Google has applied AI to their server farms, resulting in the reduction of energy consumption by 60 per cent.

“With more intelligent management of the electrons and the British Thermal Units (BTUs)…inefficiencies that we've always accepted and taken for granted, can now be identified precisely and pushed away, so energy demand is being reduced quite significantly – even as the new sources of energy in solar and wind are rising to be a part of this sustainability revolution.”

Mr Gore discussed other trends that were contributing to the “sustainability revolution.”

“India just announced recently that it is going to require the legal phasing out of all internal combustion engines by 2030,” he said.

“There are many, many jurisdictions around the world, many countries and sub-national governments that are now prospectively banning internal combustion engines – even in Germany the birthplace of diesel, their largest cities, many of them are banning diesel's from inside their cities,” he said.

“I don't know of an exception; I think now every large automobile manufacturer in the world is shifting to electric vehicles.

“Within less than two years the cost of the powertrain – the central most expensive part of a vehicle for electric vehicles – is going to fall lower in price than the powertrain for internal combustion engines.

“One of the largest utilities (in Florida) just announced it is closing two huge natural gas burning electric generating plants, replacing it with a solar farm coupled with a new battery that's four times larger than the world-record-holding battery in South Australia.

“LEDs within three years are going to account for 95 per cent of all of the new lighting purchased in the world.

“Within five years more than 50 per cent of all of the buses in the world are going to be electric buses.”

Discussing employment opportunities in the renewable space, Mr Gore said the US Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report consistent with results in 2018 which showed the fastest growing job in the US is a Solar Installer, which is growing six times faster than average job growth, while the second fastest growing job is a Wind Turbine Technician.

“The jobs in retrofitting buildings in improving efficiency, in reducing energy demand, in installing LEDs, these jobs are the ones that are growing,” he said.

Mr Gore said that with Australia being the most “sun-blessed nation” out of 195 countries, and in the top five for wind, Australia could become a renewable energy superpower.

“The exponential growth of renewable energy at the global level is really at a tipping point,” he said.

“This revolution is still growing in speed and magnitude, and of course the dangers that we face from the climate crisis are also growing.

“Worldwide emissions are going back up again. You know the sky is not a vast and limitless expanse it's a very thin shell surrounding the planet.

“We're using that thin shell of atmosphere as an open sewer for the gaseous waste of our civilization.

“We're spewing a 110 million tons every day of this gaseous waste into that thin shell of atmosphere.

“It stays there for a thousand years on average and the cumulative amount that's there today – to which we're continually adding – but the amount today now traps as much extra heat energy from the sun as would be released by 500,000 Hiroshima sized atomic bombs exploding every 24 hours.

“Hard to imagine, but that's the reality that we're facing.

“It is raising the temperature of the ocean so significantly…causing the release of so much additional water vapor to start the water cycle, that it feeds these ‘atmospheric rivers’.

“The average atmospheric river has 25 times as much moisture as the Mississippi River…and when that comes over the land and encounters the conditions that release a down pour, what you get is not a gentle rain, you get a rain bomb, as the scientists now refer to them.

“You've had some this year in Queensland...500,000 cattle drowned, and the other examples are quite numerous.

“If we did not act, the consequences that would ensue are unthinkable, they're unacceptable.

“I refuse to believe that we as human beings are destined to preside over our own destruction.

“There are only three questions left about the climate crisis: do we really have to change? The evidence is pretty clear.

“Second question: can we change?

“We can change…we have the tools available.

“The third and final question, the most important, is will we change?

“Sometimes in life we have to change, we can change and then we don't change. I don't think that's the situation we're facing either, but…the jury is still out.

“I know there are sceptics but…if anybody doubts for one moment, that we as human beings have the will to change, just remember that the will to change is itself a renewable resource.”

Also speaking at the event was Queensland Premier, the Hon. Annastacia Palaszczuk who discussed the recent challenges the state has experienced from events including fires and floods, as well as how the state is harnessing natural advantages to further economic development in renewables.

“Queenslanders understand climate change, and my government understands climate change, and that is why we specifically set a target to generate 50 per cent of our energy from renewables by 2030,” she said.

“It is our strengths in renewables that ensure Queensland will be a national and potentially global energy powerhouse into the future.

“When we came into government four years ago there were no large-scale renewable energy projects in this state.

“Today because of certainty that is being provided by our clear policy settings and our direct support of the renewable energy sector, 21 large scale renewable energy projects have commenced operations in this state.

“Our governments renewable energy policy provides certainty for business and has seen $5 billion worth of renewable energy projects under construction with another $15 billion on the books to commence construction in the years to come.

“That’s a $20 billion pipeline of investment in renewables.

“So far, this renewable energy boom has created some 4000 jobs, and where are these jobs? Mainly in regional Queensland. And we have done all of this without any clear energy policy at a federal level.

“What industry is crying out for is certainty at a federal level.

“Business and industry understand the need to plan for the future, that is why they are already factoring in the potential impacts of climate change and taking action to address it on everything from insurance policy to energy needs.”

Ms Palaszczuk said, “large scale business is taking action.”

“Far from the decline in heavy industry as renewable energy ramps up there is an increasing recognition that North Queensland is ideally placed to be home to more advanced manufacturing and heavy industry,” she said. 

“There is no better example than Sun Metals in Townsville.

“They decided to take its energy requirements into its own hands investing $200 million to build one of the largest industrial solar farms in Australia – 1.3 million panels generating 125 megawatts and reducing Sun Metals power bill by one third.

“Excess generation from sun metals goes into our very own national energy grid.

“What we have seen happen at Sun Metals in Townsville can be a blueprint for Queensland future industrial use – sustainable regional development harnessing our natural advantages.”

Ms Palaszczuk also spoke on the resources sector and how resources contribute to renewable energy.

“Queensland will continue to be a resource state for as far into the future as any of us can see here today,” she said.

“Long-term deposits of the minerals (are) needed to be able to build the batteries that are an essential component of the renewable energy sector – batteries for cars, for homes, for phones, and many more applications.”