The next time Donald Trump is tempted to bemoan climate change as a hoax, the president need look no further than the “caravans” of migrants seeking refuge in the United States.
So said former U.S. Vice President Al Gore — in so many words — when he addressed a crowd of more than 1,200 Tuesday afternoon at UNLV’s Artemus Ham Hall.
“They’re not coming from Mexico. They’re coming from an area in Central America known as the Dry Corridor,” Gore said.
The United Nations, which annually ranks countries in order of vulnerability to climate change, recently ranked Honduras first, according to Gore.
Deadly hurricanes, floods, droughts — all are intensified as a result of climate change — the kind that creates refugees in search of food and a living.
“They can’t work their farms so they go to the city and run into gangs. So they say ‘let’s go north.’ Well, the real reason is they can’t farm anymore.” Gore said.
The evidence of global warming is overwhelming.
Last year was the hottest on record, says Gore, who recited a global litany of heat-related deaths and illnesses.
Carbon dioxide, the result of fossil fuel burning and lesser culprits, is “being put up there faster than any time in 66 million years,” says Gore, who compared the daily amount of extra heat and energy released into the atmosphere to the equivalent of 500,000 “Hiroshima nuclear bombs.”
The former vice-president predicted that Las Vegas, which currently has an average of 76 days a year with temperatures above 95 degrees, will have 132 days a year above that mark by the turn of the century.
“Droughts take hold more quickly. They go deeper and last longer,” he said.
Last year, 97 percent of Iran was in extreme drought.
“Iran is typical of this pattern where you have drought followed by flooding,” Gore said, noting California is enduring the same pattern.
“When you have more drought you have more fire. Increased temperatures increase lightning strikes,” Gore said. “California’s really been through it.”
Last year was the most expensive on record for California wildfires and conditions are expected to worsen.
Gore says scientists compare the climate system to a big engine designed to distribute heat from the equator by means of ocean and wind currents. A slight, one degree increase in temperature is magnified threefold when the heat reaches the Arctic ice caps, he explained, resulting in pressure change that is wreaking havoc with the polar weather system.
“What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic,” he quipped from the stage, where he was joined by friend and former Senate colleague Harry Reid.
“In the U.S., in nine years we’ve had 17 ‘once-in-a thousand-year events,’” said Gore, adding he “wasn’t an A+ student in math, but something might be off.”
Climate-related events have cost the global economy more than $650 billion in the last two years, he said.
“We need to prepare ourselves for the fact that this is getting worse,” Gore warned, noting the knowledge and know-how exist to solve the problem.
“The big push came when the Congress was putting together one of those big, so-called omnibus bills, when Senator Reid was in charge of the Senate and he dug his heels in,” Gore recalled. “He said ‘if you don’t put the right policy in here to really encourage solar, we’re not going to do anything.’ And they said ‘yes, sir, Senator Reid’ and they put it in there.”
Gore called the current administration “famously unenthusiastic about renewable energy,” but credited what Reid started with bringing down the price of green energy and battery storage.
“These costs are coming down so quickly, fossil fuel production of electricity can’t compete anymore,” he said. “There are big subsidies for burning fossil fuels which is a shame and a disgrace and we do need the right policies to move even faster, but because the cost of renewables is coming down so fast, it’s going to take over for sure.”
The unanswered question — does humankind have the will to save it from itself?
Aside from the obvious threats posed by the warming of the planet, climate change is a potentially destabilizing national security issue, illustrated by efforts such as Brexit, says Gore.
It was drought, not civil war, he says, that drove Syrians to flee their nation.
“They lost 60 percent of the farms in Syria, and 80 percent of their livestock,” he said. “All these refugees from Syria and elsewhere came in and destabilized Europe.”
A giant screen behind Gore displayed a Brexit billboard featuring an endless line of dark-skinned migrants.
On another topic of international concern, Gore noted that despite Trump’s eagerness to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, the next opportunity for the U.S. to do so is on the day following the next presidential election.
“Sure are a lot of people in it,” he said of the Democratic primary. “That could be a healthy development.”
Gore says a new CNN poll reveals climate change is the most important issue to 82 percent of Democratic voters.
“I noticed today some of the candidates are arguing about who is doing the most and who has the best plan. That’s good. That’s how democracy is supposed to operate.”