Muckraker: Grist on Politics

In this morning’s first panel discussion at the Clinton Global Initiative, former President Bill Clinton and his VP, Al Gore, talked about how the nation’s financial situation might have played out differently if we’d dealt intelligently with energy issues years ago — a theme Clinton has sounded several times this week.

Gore said that the climate crisis and the financial meltdown are based on similar assumptions. “The current economic crisis was triggered, of course, by the sudden collapse of an assumption,” said Gore. Now another assumption is collapsing: “The world has several trillion dollars in sub-prime carbon assets, based on the assumption that it is perfectly alright to put 70 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every 24 hours.”

Gore went more into depth about the financial meltdown, climate solutions, and why the crises are related:

The current economic crisis was triggered of course by the sudden collapse of an assumption. The so-called subprime mortgages were many of them without collateral — that people weren’t expected to pay back. The assumption was that if you lumped them together and securitize them, and magically that is going to remove the risk … That assumption just went splat, and things began to unravel. And now in the midst of this frenetic effort to find a bailout, many are saying we should have prevented this. We should have realized that the short-term greed was overcoming a clear vision of what the risk was. Well, now is the time to prevent a much worse catastrophe, because the world has several trillion dollars in sub-prime carbon assets, based on the assumption that it is perfectly alright to put 70 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every 24 hours.

Since we met here last year, the world has lost ground in the climate crisis. This is a rout — we’re losing badly. The water supply is partly held in the ice packs of the mountains and the glaciers. They’re disappearing. Haiti was ravaged by four different hurricanes, and of course the devastation came after the environment had been devastated with all the trees had been cut down. There are still people in Galveston waiting for food, for water, and medicine. A half a million people were evacuated from their homes in California because of record fires. The University of Tel Aviv just published research showing that for every one degree of warming, there will be a 10 percent increase in lightning strikes all over this planet, with drier vegetation in a warmer world and more dead vegetation because beetles are no longer held back by frost.

The fires are out of control on every front — the strength of the storm, the depth of the drought, the movement of tropical diseases into areas that never experienced them before. This is the result of a dysfunctional, insane global system that we have to change. For the first time in all of human history, we as a species have to make a decision. If we make the right decision … the answer to the economic crisis can truly provide an opportunity to make the right kinds of change.

He also took coal companies to task for promoting what he called the “lie” of “clean coal”:

We should stop burning coal without sequestering the CO2. The coal and oil companies have spent in the United States alone half a billion dollars in the first 8 months of this year promoting the lie that there is such a thing as “clean coal.” “Clean coal” is like “healthy cigarettes” — it does not exist. It could theoretically exist. The only demonstration plant was canceled. How many such plants are there? Zero. How many blueprints? Zero.

He also criticized Congress for allowing the moratorium on oil-shale development to expire:

Today the U.S. Congress is talking about energy. They are, without debate and without a single hearing, preparing to lift the moratorium on the development of oil shale, which would vastly multiply the amount of CO2 from every gallon of gasoline. This is utter insanity, and it demonstrates that the wealth and power and influence of the entrenched carbon lobby, that twists policy and puts out illusory impressions, is overwhelming the free debate. We need to stop this.

Gore argued that the fossil-fuels industry is committing “stock fraud” by selling shares of their companies and continuing to deny the reality of climate change:

I believe that for a carbon company to spend money convincing the stock-buying public that there’s no risk from the global climate crisis represents a form of stock fraud, because they are misrepresenting a material fact. If you’re a carbon company and you’re going out there and trying to convince people to buy your stock and that the climate crisis isn’t that big a deal, and you’re superstitiously giving money to these phony think-tanks that go out and try to gin up phony arguments while the entire scientific community has put out five unanimous reports in the past years practically screaming from the rooftops about how we need to solve this — if you’re a carbon company doing this, in my opinion you’re guilty of a form of stock fraud, and I hope the state attorneys general around the country will try to take some action on that.

He also said that young people should be out protesting the construction of new coal plants:

And if you’re a young person looking at the future of this planet and looking at what’s being done now, I believe we’ve reached the stage where it’s time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal-fired power plants that do not have sequestration.