Al Gore Explains Why Civilization Might Not Survive the Next 100 Years
Al Gore is worried about the future. We’ve reached a point, he says, where the very survival of our civilization is at risk. But he’s optimistic that we can turn things around, too. Motherboard sat down with the United States’ most famous—and surely busiest—former vice president at this year’s Social Good Summit, where we talked about two possible futures Gore sees confronting humanity.
I asked him to describe the best and worst case scenarios for what civilization might look like 100 years from now. In one, Americans undertake an “Occupy democracy movement” to restore our political system, which Gore says has been “hacked” by money and special interests, and come together to fight climate change. In the other, the whole of human civilization lies in ruin.
The First World Is Destroying the Third World Through Climate Change
About 500 years ago, capitalism started to displace feudalism as the dominant socioeconomic system on the planet. There were about half a billion humans wandering around then, and about 80 percent of them were living hand-to-mouth existences and relying on subsistence agriculture. It wasn’t until the replacement of animate energy (biomass) with inanimate energy (fossil fuels) in the West during the 19th century that the global population started to grow exponentially, ballooning to its current level of over 7 billion. (To understand what powered this increase, consider that a teaspoon of diesel fuel contains as much energy as a human can expend in a day.) This transition from diffuse/currently available solar energy to stored/concentrated solar energy transformed every aspect of society, from manufacturing to agriculture to transportation to life expectancy. Basically, the last 200 years of exponential industrial and population growth have been subsidized by ancient, compacted sunlight.
It took about 200,000 years for the human population to reach 1 billion (~1800 CE), 130 years to reach 2 billion, 30 years for 3 billion, 15 years for 4 billion, and around 13 years each for 5, 6, and 7 billion. The UN is predicting that reaching 8 and 9 billion will take 16 and 19 years respectively, meaning the rate of population growth might have peaked around the year 2000. It’s probably not a coincidence that this growth corresponds pretty closely with the easy availability of ancient stores of fossilized energy. It has been argued that without fossil fuels, the carrying capacity of Earth would be around 1 to 2 billion humans.
To put it bluntly, we’re reaching peak everything. We’ve blown through our one-time inheritance of natural capital (fossil fuels, topsoil, groundwater, biodiversity) like the crazy, hairless apes we are.
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Kangaroo Scrotums Are the New Victims of Global Warming
Climate change is a huge concern for many, many reasons: the ice caps are melting, droughts are sweeping the world, and mega-hurricanes are striking cities that have never before had to weather such storms. But it’s only recently that climate change has threatened Australia’s hilarious but substantial kangaroo nutsack trade. The hopping marsupials’ scrotums, which are crafted into souvenir bottle-openers and key rings, have made manufacturer John Kreuger, hereby known (by me) as the King of Ballsacks, hundreds of thousands of dollars. These days, however, John’s trade is suffering due to a series of floods in Queensland—which some meteorologists believe to have been caused by climate change. The flooding has purportedly pushed kangaroos inland and away from the areas where they’re normally killed for their testicles. John told me how it feels to have his balls literally on the line.
VICE: How have the floods affected the scrote business?
John Kreuger: The older animals tend to sense weather patterns. They know it’s going to rain. They then head to the desert country away from cull areas, especially the big guys. Consequently, I’ve found it harder and harder to get people to supply me with the bigger scrotums I need.
Scientists are blaming the floods on climate change and saying that this has caused kangaroos to flee to habitats that would normally be of no interest to them. Do you believe global warming is the cause of the Great Kangaroo-Scrotum Shortage?
You’d have to be pretty dumb to not notice the signs. I’m 72, and if you talk to the older people, they say, “Oh, everything is changing, we weren’t getting these cyclones as regular as we are now.” A cyclone might have hit the coast once every seven years, but now it’s once every few. So many things are pointing to a change—scientists have been saying this for years.
Where are all the kangaroos heading now?
They head inland away from the lower-lying areas. By instinct or whatever, I don’t know, they know they can get trapped in the lowlands. The ones left behind are the younger, which are not so smart, and of course their scrotums are not big enough for what I need.
What will you do if they don’t come back?
I am stockpiling a lot of scrotums; I’ve probably got about 50,000 in storage. We process about 1,000 a week, so we have a 12-month supply there. And we’re buying them as soon as they become available. The basis of my successful business is having all products. If I haven’t got them, I’m out of business.
So you’re prepared for an environmental scrotum crisis of immense proportions?
I’m well aware of climate change. I think we create heat and it’s affecting the world. I plan ahead, but I take things one day at a time. I can afford to at my age.
Read more from our The World Hates You Issue:
The Western US is running out of water.
It didn’t have much in the first place, of course: it was a founding concern of the region. Planners overcame the arid environment early on by engineering vast networks of reservoirs and aqueducts, ensuring that nary a drop of rain or snowfall runoff makes it into an ocean without first passing through a lettuce field or human body. By the time the Colorado River, the Southwest’s main source of fresh water, reaches the Mexican border and its last stretch before the Gulf of California, it’s not much more than sun-baked dirt.
- by Michael Byrne
Climate Change Is the Real Fiscal Cliff and We’re Doomed
It’s weird to hear newscasters refer to the US budget deadlock as the “so-called fiscal cliff.” Why so-called? If they referred to it as the fiscal cliff without first letting us know it’s a made-up name, would it confuse people? They’ve been talking about it since the election, and they still need to use so-called? Why?
It’s all a conspiracy.
The name “fiscal cliff” is pretty weird in itself. I’ve fallen off a cliff before and, trust me, it’s scary as hell. Giving the budget deadlock a name that is associated with death or severe injury is a clear example of the sensationalism within our media. It’s right on par with calling a hurricane the Frankenstorm. (By the way, whatever asshole came up with that deserves a raise.)
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, however, has no problems calling it a cliff. He’s even in your face about it. “We’re going over the cliff,” he told Face the Nation, making it clear he’s all for leading us over the side like lemmings, because falling off a cliff is definitely not a bad idea, right? In Graham’s defense, he has no choice. According to the Republican version of reality, he’s got to save us from the nightmarish hell that is the welfare state.
After the brutally long election campaign, Americans are sick and tired of this nonsense. We’ve heard it all before from the GOP, especially its arguments against taxing the rich. Considering the results of the most recent election, it’s clear that most Americans think we should be hitting up the 1 percent for more tax revenue. Yet the Republicans continue to ignore the reality of public opinion and argue that raising taxes on the rich would be detrimental to the country. The Democrats refuse to put entitlement programs like Obamacare on the chopping block, which makes sense considering Obamacare and other social safety net programs are what they ran on in the past election. Deluded and despondent, the Republicans, in turn, just refuse to negotiate.
"The president’s plan when it comes to entitlement reform is, quite frankly, a joke," Graham went on to say. "I don’t think they’re serious about finding a deal."
Great, just great. Why even bother with an election if idiots are going to work as hard as they can to not work with each other? Like always, the real losers are all of us. What’s that term that the military uses for civilian casualties? Oh yeah—collateral damage. That sounds about right.
Grover Norquist, the whiney asshole that holds no political power other than forcing conservatives to sign thedumbest pledge of all time, is standing tall on this one. Based on his understanding of economics (which was shaped around trickle-down Reaganonmics), the only way the country as a whole can succeed is if the wealthiest members of the country get as much money as possible.
It’s important to understand the intellectual argument for why rich people deserve to make more than poor people. It’s the reason why the CEOs of Hostess are given executive bonuses for helping drive the company into the ground while the company’s workers are given pink slips. It goes like this: According to neo-classical economics (i.e., rich people economics), the wealthy are naturally better at using their money than poor people, hence the reason why they’re rich to begin with. Taxing the rich and redistributing it to the poor destroys the incentive to get rich in the first place, meaning nobody will do anything anymore and we’ll all be fucked, just like (as Mitt Romney tried to convince us) Greece is.
"The president’s plan does nothing but damn us to becoming Greece," Graham said, failing to mention that Greece, a small island with limited natural resources and international clout and a chronic tax-evasion problem, is nothing like the United States.
The Republican’s arguments are divisive and scripted to please their target audience. Everybody knows that, and everybody’s jaded because of it. But that’s not good for ratings. The media has to figure out a way to sensationalize something as boring as the budget deadlock in order to keep us glued to news, and because of this they call it a fiscal cliff.
The media thrives on this kind of viral shit. They love to use it with natural disasters especially. Snowpocalypse, Snowmaggedon, Snowtorious B.I.G., so on and so forth. The Frankenstorm is only the most recent of a long line of fear-inducing titles created by a media that apparently didn’t think “storm” was dramatic enough.
If you want some actual drama, consider this: The estimated cost of Hurricane Sandy is now more than $60 billion, and that doesn’t take into consideration the amount of money lost in disrupted business. Moreover, this is the second year in a row that New York has been hit by a hurricane. A number of environmental conditions were responsible for creating Sandy, and at least one of them, a warmer ocean, isn’t going away. And as the ocean gets warmer, the likelihood that these storms will become both more common and more severe gets higher. As water levels rise, coastal cities like New York, Miami, and especially New Orleans are going to be fucked, and dealing with the effects of global warming is going to cost us an unprecedented amount of money.
In other words, by not addressing climate change, we’re walking ourselves off the fiscal plank.