Al Gore
Our Choice

 Prepared by Michael Marien, Director, Global Foresight Books


April 2010


Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis. Al Gore (Nashville TN). Emmaus PA: Rodale Press, Nov 2009/416p/$26.99pb.



An impressive sequel to An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming (Rodale, 2006/325p), arguing that the majority of climate change experts agree that “we probably still have time to avert the worst of the impacts and set the stage for a long but ultimately successful recovery of the climate balance and ecological integrity that are so crucial for the survival of our civilization.” Despair invites inaction. The solutions are available, and “we need to make our choice to act now.” Gore has organized and moderated >30 intensive “Solutions Summits,” where leading experts from around the world have shared their expertise in subjects relevant to constructing a plan. This book gathers the most effective solutions that are available now. “The good news about making a definitive choice to solve the climate crisis is that the scale of systemic transformation necessary will bring, as collateral benefits, highly effective solutions to many other long-lasting problems, e.g. extreme poverty, threatening diseases, widespread hunger, and malnutrition.” The key first step toward a solution is that we must make a choice. Chapter topics:

1 What Goes Up Must Come Down: on the six kinds of air pollution that trap heat and raise temperatures—CO2 (43.1%), methane (26.7%), black carbon or soot (11.9%), halocarbons including CFCs (7.8%), carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds such as butane (6.7%), and nitrous oxide mainly from agriculture (3.8%);

2 Where Energy Comes From and Where It Goes: the single largest source of man-made global warming pollution is production of energy from fossil fuels; carbon-based energy will get more expensive, while renewable energy will decline in price because of scale efficiencies and new technology;

3 Electricity From the Sun: on concentrated solar thermal (CST), solar photovoltaic cells, and the “exotic” proposal for space-based solar energy;

4 Harvesting the Wind: wind is the fastest-growing source of any form of energy, and the US led the world in installing new wind capacity in 2008 (followed by China and India); it is also the lowest cost of any form of renewables other than geothermal (also notes that the total number of bird deaths from US windmills each year is only 0.5% of the number of birds killed by communications towers and <0.03% of the number killed by housecats); a map indicates land and offshore wind resources in the US ranging from “fair” to “superb”;

5 Soaking Up Geothermal Energy: geothermal is potentially the largest source of energy in the US and the world today, e.g. the technically extractable portion of the US geothermal resource is about 2,000 times the annual consumption of US primary energy; unlike solar and wind, geothermal is not intermittent, and new technologies make it possible to explore deep sites with enormous amounts of heat;

6 Growing Fuel: biomass is one of the most promising ways to reduce significant amounts of CO2 from burning coal and natural gas; corn ethanol is a mistake, but new technology for creating liquid fuels from nonfood crops is close to commercialization;

7 Carbon Capture and Sequestration: in theory the world could capture all CO2 presently emitted into the atmosphere; in reality, no government or company has yet to build a single commercial-scale demonstration project; “CCS will not be available anytime soon at a scale large enough to put a dent in our CO2 emissions”; the idea of a “capture ready” coal plant is unproven and unlikely to be fruitful;

8 The Nuclear Option: at present, according to a 2009 MIT study, “nuclear power faces stagnation and decline”; the industry remains moribund in the US, and its worldwide growth has slowed dramatically; cost estimates for constructing nuclear power plants have been increasing at a rate of 15% per year, and doubts about the future of the industry have discouraged large investments;

9 Forests: some 20-23% of CO2 emissions result from destruction and burning of forests; the good news is that governments worldwide have tentatively agreed to sharply reduce deforestation and its underlying causes such as poverty and the failure of market economics to properly value living forests;

10 Soil: the soils of the earth contain more than twice as much carbon as is currently in the atmosphere; improved agricultural and land management practices (e.g., organic farming, no-till, use of biochar to replenish carbon content while regenerating soil fertility) can significantly increase the amount of CO2 pulled from the atmosphere by vegetation and left sequestered in the soil, while enhancing agricultural productivity and food security—and restoring degraded lands. Australian climate expert Tim Flannery wrote in 2008 that “biochar may represent the single most important initiative for humanity’s environmental future”—it allows us to address food security, the fuel crisis, and the climate problem all in an immensely practical manner. Gore outlines a 12-point global plan for sequestering more carbon in the soil (e.g., eat less meat, restore wetlands, plant cover crops, use biochar in a carefully managed global program, etc.);

11 Population: any plan to solve the climate crisis must stabilize global population as quickly as possible;

12 Less Is More: “efficiency improvements are far and away the most cost-effective among the solutions to the climate crisis, and can be implemented faster than any of the others”; opportunities for enormous gains can be found in every sector of the economy, e.g. through recycling wasted heat energy and better insulation and windows in buildings;

13 The Super Grid: new continent-wide unified smart grids in the US and other countries will “significantly reduce the huge and unnecessary emissions of global warming pollution caused by inefficiencies and failures in transmission, distribution, and storage of energy’; the technologies to build a super grid are all fully developed and available now (the cost to society of the outdated US grid is $206 billion/year; benefits from grid modernization will exceed costs by 4 to 1); also describes the DESERTEC super grid proposed for Europe and North Africa to collect solar power from the Sahara;

14 Changing the Way We Think: the climate crisis challenges stems from the way we think about it both individually and collectively; most of modern civilization assumes the “reasonable person” who takes in all available information and then makes a rational decision; “the climate crisis poses an unprecedented threat not only to the future livability of the planet but also to our assumptions about the ability of democracy and capitalism to recognize this threat for what it is and respond with appropriate boldness, scope, and urgency”;

15 The True Cost of Carbon: “our current system of measuring what is good for us and what is bad for us is deeply flawed”; the system of national accounts which serves as the backbone for determining today’s GDP, principally established in the 1930s, is “woefully incomplete in its assessment of value.” Several trillion dollars’ worth of “subprime carbon assets” depend for their valuation on a zero price for carbon emissions; owners of these assets will soon face a reckoning in the marketplace similar to the holders of subprime mortgages: “the amount of investment sunk into high-carbon assets whose value is likely to plummet in the foreseeable future represents a serious problem for our economy”;

16 Political Obstacles: it is crucial to understand how and why our current politics have failed us; powerful industries affected by proposed climate crisis solutions have used all the political tools at their disposal in opposition (Gore goes on to name the most vocal climate “skeptics” and their tactics, e.g. ExxonMobil has provided funding to some 40 front groups that seek to pervert public understanding of global warming science);

17 The Power of Information: rapid development of increasingly powerful information technologies creates new possibilities and tools for solving the climate crisis;

18 The Choice: an upbeat concluding scenario “not too many years from now” when we find that many of the changes were not only inexpensive but profitable; the Copenhagen agreement was a first step, leading to a grand alliance of NGOs supporting systemic transformation of agriculture, manufacturing, and business; “once the change began it picked up speed…once we began to think as a global civilization, we started solving other problems far more effectively” (e.g., by putting a price on emissions, “all of the business analyses of the future began to change”).


An extraordinary integrative “can do” book, with solid, cutting-edge ideas in every chapter, along with many photos and useful charts. The methodology of holding some 30 “Solutions Summits” and synthesizing the results could probably only be pulled off by Gore, with his visibility, money, contacts, and Nobel Prize for raising awareness of climate change. Gore’s 2006 book largely focused on the global warming problem; this book is devoted to the many solutions and their priorities. Although published six months before designation as a GFB Book of the Month, Our Choice is still highly relevant, with every chapter providing fresh perspectives from leading scientists, notably on the huge potential of geothermal (#5), soil and biochar (#10), the super grid (#13), the true cost of carbon (#15), and political obstacles (#16). Very highly recommended. For stark contrast on whether we can deal successfully with climate change, see BOOK OF THE MONTH for May 2010.]


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