Environment

Al Gore: More equal economy needed to achieve climate goals

Former US vice president Al Gore told The Big Issue we must fix a crisis in democracy and build a more equal society to tackle climate change.

Al Gore at COP26

Al Gore onstage at the NYT Climate Hub, part of COP26 in Glasgow. Photo: Laura Kelly

A more equal economy is essential if we want to achieve our climate goals, former US Vice President Al Gore has told The Big Issue.

Speaking at the New York Times Climate Hub, part of COP26 in Glasgow, on Wednesday, Gore said: “To solve the climate crisis, we’ve got to solve the democracy crisis, and we’ve got to reform the terms of the current version of capitalism.

“Hyper inequality is only one of the real problems with our current version of capitalism, and we need to reform it.”

“Literally insane” policy decisions are being made because those who benefit from the status quo are using “lobbyists and campaign contributions” to maintain their position, he added.

“You see the use of economic wealth and political power to twist the tax laws,” said Gore. “Here we are in this climate crisis, and the tax laws are subsidising the production and burning of more and more fossil fuels.

“For all the pledges on climate finance for renewables, the financial institutions and governments are giving way more money, still, to explore for, find, produce, develop and burn more and more fossil fuels. It is quite literally insane.”

Gore was vice president of the US from 1993 to 2001, serving under Bill Clinton. In a controversial tight race, he lost the 2000 presidential election to Republican George W Bush.

Since his period in office he has been best known as a passionate environmentalist.

In 2006, the documentary An Inconvenient Truth shone a light on the former Tennessee senator’s tireless efforts to educate a global audience about climate change. Following the film, Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on climate change.

His latest project Climate Trace aims to enable “radical transparency” on climate data, making independently verified, detailed data on emissions broadly available. He said that more information would help governments and campaigners to hold polluters to account.

However, these efforts are undermined by hyper-inequality in the global system. Gore said he supported capitalism as the best way to organise societies “if it’s done with integrity” but our current version needs serious reform.

“The hegemonic ideology in our world, particularly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, was a compound ideology: democratic capitalism,” he explained. “But both are now under stress. Our democracy has been upended by algorithms on social media and agenda-driven broadcasters. That bleeds over into the design of our current market economics.”

Gore blasted the recent ruling of the Federal Election Commission in the United States which allows foreign donors to finance US referendum campaigns, opening the door to foreign spending on fights over high-profile policy issues.

“Do we want our democracy to be used as a chew toy for whoever wants to cripple the United States of America?” he asked. “More often than not, what’s behind the manipulation is the relentless desire for those who have the wealth and power to keep it. And to stop any effort to have a more equal distribution.

“If our ability as free citizens, to modify and change and adapt the policies that we use to govern ourselves is crippled, and if that remains in control of the people who benefit from the current inequitable result, then what you get is a violation.”

Gore admitted that fixing the problems with democracy, economics and the environment was a “big agenda” but he said he had faith in the young people protesting in Glasgow this week.

“I look at the young people out in the streets here and I have a feeling that there’s a good appetite for some big changes,” he said.

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