Former Vice President Al Gore warned Tuesday that rapid flooding events — like in Houston this spring and southern Louisiana right now — are exacerbated by climate change and could continue to worsen without taking action.
Gore came to Houston — the world’s energy capital — to launch The Climate Reality Project’s three-day leadership training conference to push for more grassroots activism and community engagement.
“Texas has really been hit hard by the climate crisis and, for the last 35 years, has had more billion-dollar-plus climate disasters than any other state,” Gore said. “Houston in particular has been hard hit.”
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He said his heart is with those struggling with flooding in many parts of Louisiana. The National Weather Service reported, for instance, the community of Watson’s 31.39 inches of rain during the downpour exceeded the total amount of rain in five years for some parts of the Los Angeles area.
“These kinds of record downpours — that’s one of the manifestations of the climate crisis,” said Gore.
He emphasized the importance of slowing climate change, which scientists say is accelerated by burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas.
“It is central to the prospects for our future, for the futures of our families and our communities, and the future of human civilization,” he said. “That sounds overly expansive but that really and truly is the case.”
Gore, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, founded the climate project a decade ago. He recently endorsed Hillary Clinton for president over Jill Stein, the candidate for the Green Party, which held its convention in Houston earlier this month.
Gore has long supported Congress adopting a carbon tax to put a financial price on each ton of carbon emitted from fossil fuels. The idea is to raise the cost as an incentive for industries and individuals to use less.
Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP and some other energy giants have come out in favor of a revenue-neutral carbon tax — lowering some other taxes to offset any increase — although environmentalists and industry often disagree on how such a tax would be implemented. Any carbon tax proposal is considered dead on arrival in the current, GOP-controlled Congress.
But U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, said the energy capital is the right place to make the climate activism push to encourage energy companies to develop solutions for the future.
“We are the first witnesses to climate change,” she said about the residents of the Houston area, citing the “tax day floods” in April, more flooding in May, and concerns of “stronger and more powerful hurricanes.”
Ken Berlin, president and CEO of The Climate Reality Project, said the effort has trained more than 10,000 people globally to speak about climate change and make presentations. The goal is to inform communities about the threat one neighbor at a time, he said.
“Our country is so divided. People tend to listen to people from their own community,” Berlin said, noting that about 600 people are participating in this week’s training.
He specifically highlighted Georgetown — “a red city in the reddest part of the country” — for planning to get all of its electricity from wind and solar by the end of 2017. Georgetown is about 30 miles north of Austin.
Berlin also praised the Paris climate agreement reached in December that’s supported by nearly 200 countries. But he said it’s goal will only be realized throughout grassroots activism in each and every country.
“That agreement is enforceable only in the country that did it,” Berlin said. “It’s not enforceable on the international level. Every country is critical.”