I’ve met Al Gore a few times now over the years and have heard him speak about a dozen times, maybe more, particularly since he became so entrenched with technology while he was in office and after the fact. It should be no surprise that he was in full form at South by Southwest (SXSW) this year on the main stage in Austin in a fireside chat with WSJ’s Walt Mossberg.
Those of us who know his agenda and his passion for climate change were waiting for him to dive full force into his ‘green’ agenda, which he did towards the end of his talk.
They started with the digital revolution, appropriate given the “Southby audience.” Print media are devastated he said, which is a very old discussion in the world of social media, where SXSW is the Queen Bee conference that takes such discussions to the next level…and this one started eight or so years ago. That said, mainstream consumers in small towns are still reading newspapers and while they all may have a cell phone, they don’t necessarily all use it to get their news.
He refers to the ‘now’ economy as a ‘stalker one,’ where kids are even wearing ‘chips’ and being tracked by governments. “I hope this stalker economy will create a gag reaction,” he said. Gore suggests that we’re seeing a shift in power that is bigger than what we’ve seen in 500 years.
He also brought up Asia and how China will quickly surpass the U.S. as the largest economic power in the world…..because of that concentration and shift of power, 93% of extra income has gone to the 1% who are in power. He added, “that’s an economic fact,” and then went onto say, “while our country is in serious trouble, it doesn’t mean I’m not optimistic,” but in order to take that power back, he suggested that “we as a country need to TAKE democracy back.”
Democracy as we know it he asserted, has been hacked. Said Gore, “Our OS (operating system) for the U.S. is our constitution.” He noted that earlier in this career when he was part of the ‘system,’ they’d spend about 1% of their time raising money versus the 5 or so hours a day today.
While modern democracy has never been perfect, the will of the people did drive policy he believes. He said, “Congress is incapable of passing any reform of any significance unless its passed through special interest groups.” Mossberg referenced Shapiro’s The Last Great Senate at this juncture, reaffirming just how much has changed between the mid 1960s and the 2013 Congress of today.
While the world knows about his hunger to educate the world about the negative impact of global warming, it’s not as if Gore wasn’t convicted and passionate about a number of other topics and issues, including healthcare and the NRA. On healthcare, he reminded us that the federal government is the biggest purchaser of medicare and medicaid and if that’s the case, then “why can’t government negotiate like big corporates can to bring the costs down for American citizens?” That received a huge applause from the audience, no surprise given how many of us have been and continue to be screwed by insurance company premiums, wopping high deductibles and taxes.
It would be impossible for guns not come up given the random and shocking killings this year in schools, small towns and beyond, and so when it did, Gore was not shy about how he felt. He scratched his head. “C’mon, the NRA is a complete fraud. A lot of people belong to it, I used to belong. It is financed by the gun manufacturers and the organization has puppet strings. Same thing with the Smoker’s Alliance.”
I wish they spent more time there frankly.
On overall growth, Gore suggested that we should no longer use DGP as a guide for economic policy since it doesn’t take externalities into account, like a negative one such as pollution or a positive one such as investment into a city in core areas such as mental health, music, culture, education, all of which counts as an ‘expense,’ not an investment. “They don’t take into account future benefits of that investment in a city or region,” said Gore.
He threw out a few stats demonstrating just how far behind the U.S. is in so many areas including social and economic growth. He said, “We have worse upward social mobility than Tunisia and Egypt. Inequality is growing in the U.S. and so much of it is because our tax code is ridiculous.” Hear hear Gore, go go go, not that these kinds of pep talks ever change anything back in Washington. People I know who were Middle Class are now in a struggling Working Class and those who were Working Class are either now working 100 hour weeks destroying their family life and health or on the streets. And then there’s a wealthy Silicon Valley which seems to be numb and oblivious to how the rest of Americans actually live and think. I know – I live there.
Gore asserted that we need to find ways to communicate with other and more effectively in a way that restores democracy. “We need to TAKE BACK AMERICAN DEMOCRACY,” he said firmly to a packed room in the main SXSW auditorium.
And, since he couldn’t wait to get to climate change, he finally migrated there but softly starting with garbage suggesting that we toss garbage into our ‘country’ as if its an open sewer, filling up the ‘sewer’ of gaseous unhealthy waste that is equivalent to 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs.
With 53% of the country in drought, he also suggested that this shift we’ve been seeing is also related to global warming. Like garbage, like open sewers, like car fumes and everything else we’ve leaked into this environment without a care for the consequences, he threw out another alarming stat: we’ve seen $110 billion in climate disasters alone.
On the upside, he claimed that the investment in solar and wind is rising and the more we invest here and use it, the cheaper it will become, making it more inexpensive for us to rely on solar than coal, gas and oil over time. In order to get there however, he said that we need to reverse organizations, not people. Yes, organizations AND government Al.
Photos by Renee Blodgett.