When it comes to the environment and climate change, the news isn’t all bad, according to Al Gore, former U.S. vice president and founder and chairman of The Climate Reality Project. Gore, who delivered a video keynote address at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s Energy and Sustainability Summit at Oracle’s Redwood Shores campus on June 16, 2022, says while daily news stories underscore what’s going wrong with the environment, some of the things that are going right may provide a more hopeful perspective.
“A sustainability revolution is taking hold across every sector of our economy,” says Gore, citing developments in information technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, and blockchain. “We are now managing bits of information with hyper precision in a way that was unimaginable in the past. This sustainability revolution has the magnitude of the industrial revolution coupled with the speed of the digital revolution.”
Gore pointed out five key areas of the sustainability revolution where he sees significant progress being made.
1. Renewable energy from solar and wind
Innovations taking place in Silicon Valley and other areas of the world have helped the solar energy and wind energy industries mature to the point where electricity from those sources is now cheaper than electricity generated from fossil fuels. And in 2021, 90 percent of new electricity generation facilities installed worldwide are renewable and almost all of that is from solar and wind, says Gore. Going forward, the International Energy Agency projects that solar and wind will be responsible for 95 percent of all new electricity generation.
2. The maturing EV market
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the transportation sector generates the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions (27 percent in 2020) in the United States. Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation primarily come from burning fossil fuel for cars, trucks, ships, trains, and planes. Over 90 percent of the fuel used for transportation is petroleum based, which primarily includes gasoline and diesel.
But that may all change soon as electric vehicles (EVs) are rapidly becoming more cost competitive. According to an American Lung Association report, a speedy nationwide transition to electric vehicles powered by renewable energy would lead to a 92 percent fall in greenhouse gases by 2050, generating $1.7 trillion in climate benefits by protecting ecosystems, agriculture, and infrastructure from rising sea levels and catastrophic weather events including drought and floods.
“Within the next 12 months, EV’s will be cheaper than their combustion counterparts in every category,” projects Gore.
3. Affordable green hydrogen
According to energy company Neste, advances in technology are making the process of using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, also known as electrolysis, less expensive than ever before. At the same time, electricity from wind, solar, and hydro is much more available. That means the production of “green hydrogen,” a truly carbon-free fuel unlike other varieties of hydrogen, is now a real contender to transform the energy market.
“It will take some time to scale it up,” says Gore. “But zero emissions green hydrogen is now much more economical and holds great promise for the future.”
4. Better ways to measure emissions
You can only manage what you can measure. Through his Climate Reality Project, Gore is working with a global coalition that includes technology companies, universities, and non-governmental organizations to create a platform called Climate TRACE (Tracking Realtime Atmospheric Carbon Emissions) to independently track greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Climate TRACE will use satellite imagery and other forms of remote sensing, artificial intelligence, and collective data science expertise to track human caused GHG emissions as they happen.
It’s difficult to see emissions from space,” says Gore. “This new approach uses sensors to continuously collect data from 300 existing satellites in the visible light range, the infrared range, and other wavelengths and then tests them using machine learning and artificial intelligence.”
In late October 2022, Climate TRACE will use that data to publish the world’s first ever asset level inventory of the 500 largest greenhouse gas emitting sources in every country and every sub sector of the economy.
“Until now we have not had the ability to understand exactly where greenhouse emissions are coming from. We will have that now,” says Gore. “We’re also collecting ownership data to see who’s responsible for each site. If we can measure and track those emissions, we’re more likely to be able to do something about them.”
5. The rise of sustainable capitalism
Businesses are under growing pressure and regulation to set and meet sustainability and carbon-reduction goals. According to Gore, this has helped spur a move toward “sustainable capitalism.” Sustainable capitalism is about things like reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing reliance on renewable sources of energy, but it’s also about areas like diversity and social justice.
“Businesses need to pull back from a narrow focus on short-term profits and instead seek to identify where their companies intersect with and have an impact on the environment, human rights, social justice, and more,” says Gore. “Farsighted business leaders are now focusing on making this transition and realizing how this type of leadership can ultimately make them more profitable.”
Oracle Chief Sustainability Officer Jon Chorley, who also spoke at the Energy and Sustainability Summit, agrees. Sustainable capitalism is “about transforming into an enterprise focused on the environment, social justice, sustainability, safety and security, digital ethics, diversity and inclusion, and more,” says Chorley. “Business value will increasingly be measured by these criteria, so they need to become core capabilities and value propositions when it comes to the products and services a business delivers and the way businesses operate. Those businesses that don’t make this transition are going to be left behind.”
View Gore’s keynote in its entity here.
Justine Kavanaugh-Brown is a senior writer at Oracle. She was previously a writer and editor for e.Republic’s Content Studio, where she worked with numerous enterprise technology companies.