On March 1, to kick off and celebrate the launch of the new Center for Global Sustainability, the University of Maryland and the School of Public Policy hosted former Vice President Al Gore for a conversation on the future of climate action. His visit to campus was spurred by a conversation he had with School of Public Policy Dean Robert Orr while they both attended the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.
University of Maryland President Wallace Loh welcomed the audience and introduced the night’s distinguished guest. “Thank you for being here to launch the Center for Global Sustainability,” he said. “The Center for Global Sustainability brings together our assets in the sciences and brings them together with policy. UMD is greatly honored to have Vice President Gore here today.”
Before beginning his talk, Gore took time to give a special mention to Dean Orr for his efforts in the fight for climate action. “As special advisor on climate change and the under secretary-general for the United Nations, he was the point person for the entire world,” he said. “What Bob has done behind the scenes has been a great service to mankind.”
During his speech, Gore gave the audience a taste of the devastating events that have been caused by the effects of climate change, as well as his optimistic view of the future. Following up on the Paris Agreement reached in December 2015, Gore suggested the next steps necessary to implement the agreement.
Gore mentioned the Apollo mission that allowed the first astronauts to land on the moon as a metaphor for climate action, saying that the United States is doing what previous generations had once deemed impossible. “In going to the moon, we gained a new view on the Earth and a new understanding of how we relate to one another on Earth,” he said.
His talk centered around three critical questions about the climate crisis: Do we really have to change? Can we change? Will we change?
To make his point answering the first question about whether or not we have to change, Gore showed the audience photos and videos from multiple severe weather events that have damaged areas all over the world. Mentioning the dramatic rise in extreme temperature events over the past ten years, he said, “93 percent of extra heat is trapped by global warming pollution in the ocean. Ocean temps have been going up quite dramatically.”
Gore noted that the increase in ocean temperature means ocean-based storms have become stronger. “The warmer the oceans get, the more water vapor is evaporated into the sky; they create atmosphere rivers and where storm conditions are present, they present historic downpours,” he said. “These storms and floods get bigger. All over the world these events are occurring. The climate-related weather events are occurring more frequently.”
He also mentioned that the rise in temperature is giving rise to a larger spread of tropical diseases, including the recent outbreaks of the Zika virus.
When discussing whether or not we can change, Gore began sharing the optimistic news about climate action. In several charts, he showed the audience evidence that we are beating the projections made for the growth of the solar energy market. “We are seeing the unleashing of a breakthrough,” he said. “This is the beginning to change everything. We can change and we are beginning to change.”
Will we change? This was Gore’s final question to the audience. Noting the recent 2015 Paris Agreement where nearly every nation in the world agreed to work together to reduce emissions, Gore said the younger generation is poised and ready to take action to create the change needed in the world. “It’s a very exciting time,” he said. “Today’s students are eager for the kind of challenge the world now faces. The will to change is itself a renewable resource.”