Al Gore visits Playa Vista to praise technology’s transformative power

By Shanee Edwards

The YouTube Space LA panel focused on reasons to be hopeful
Photo by Maria Martin

There was no politicking as Al Gore and the directors of “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” spoke before a live audience at YouTube Space LA in Playa Vista on July 28, the day of the film’s release.

Instead, the former vice president turned climate change crusader spoke calmly and firmly about truth and hope.

It’s been 11 years since “An Inconvenient Truth” set off alarm bells around the world with its call for immediate action to put the brakes on global warming. Since then, “climate-related extreme weather events are a lot more numerous and more destructive,” said Gore — but there’s also good news.

“We have the solutions now. Solar and wind electricity have come down incredibly fast in price. Electric cars are becoming more available — the new consumer version of Tesla is about to come out, and all the major [car] manufacturers are about to introduce them. Batteries are coming down [in price], so we have the ability to solve this now,” Gore said. “I think it’s important to convey that message. It’s one of the reasons why people come away from watching Bonni [Cohen] and Jon [Shenk]’s film feeling hopeful but also feeling a great sense of urgency.”

Billed as a “fireside chat,” the panel also included Joe Hanson, founder of the science-focused YouTube channel “It’s Okay to Be Smart,” and was moderated by Kate Brandt, head of Google’s global sustainability program.

YouTube has its own role to play in increasing global awareness of climate change, panelists said. For one, people being able to capture video evidence of extreme weather and instantly share it with the world puts a giant wrench in the agenda of climate change deniers.

“People are noticing the climate is changing very quickly. People are looking on the computer in their daily lives and are seeing evidence of something they are being told doesn’t exist. The two things aren’t jiving. It’s becoming clearer to people … that now is the time to act, especially since the solutions are here,” Shenk said.

But there’s another, more obvious connection between YouTube and “An Inconvenient Sequel.” In the first film, Gore takes audiences through a slideshow of mostly still photos and graphs. But the new film relies heavily on dramatic video footage, much of it generated from YouTube videos.

“Some of it, from a visual perspective, looks like computer-generated material,” said Cohen. “The best example came from a helicopter pilot in Greenland who is flying over the Jakobshavn Glacier. … He noticed that not only was it extremely hotter than normal, but the glaciers were exploding and just falling down in all these different places. So he pulled out his iPhone and he just recorded it out the window. You’ll see it in the film. … It looks like something out of the most beautifully directed sci-fi film you’ve ever seen, and it’s actually our world.”

While this footage of exploding glaciers stands as a frightening example of the accelerating impacts of climate change, Gore said they are not cause for despair.

“I have come to the conclusion, and others have as well, that we are in the early stages of a global sustainability revolution. This has the magnitude of the industrial revolution, but the speed of the digital revolution,” he said. “And, instead of starting in a little corner of England in a world with 1.5 billion people and slowly spreading outward, this Sustainability Revolution is being jumpstarted in rich and poor countries alike in every part of the world.”

Gore argued that digital tools are not only enhancing productivity, but also giving mankind the ability to treat atoms and molecules like data.

“We’re seeing incredible improvements in efficiency of all kinds,” he said. “Global warming pollution has actually stabilized and has come down a little bit over the last three years. It’s coming down in the U.S., in Europe and China. In India, they’ve done a U-turn since the Paris Agreement. … They’re expanding solar, closing lots of coal plants, and they just announced that in only 13 years 100% of cars and trucks sold in India are going to have to be electric vehicles.

“We ought to make a commitment like that here.”


Shanee Edwards is managing editor of Playa Vista Direct, a sister publication of The Argonaut, where a version of this story also appears.