America’s passing of its first ever climate legislation will prove a pivotal moment in history that will help bring to an end the era of fossil fuels, according to Al Gore, the former US vice-president.
Joe Biden is poised to sign a huge $370bn package of clean energy spending, overcoming decades of American political rancor and inaction on the climate crisis. Gore said he was now sure the fossil fuel industry and its political backers will not be able to reverse the shift to a decarbonized world, even if Republicans are able to wrest back control of Congress or the White House.
“In crossing this threshold we have changed history and will never go backwards,” Gore told the Guardian in an interview. “I’m extremely optimistic that this will be a critical turning point in our struggle to confront the climate crisis.”
While the oil and gas industry is currently making enormous profits off the back of soaring fuel prices spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Gore insisted this was “momentary compared to the big wheel that is now turning” on renewable energy.
Solar, recently described by the International Energy Agency as the cheapest source of electricity in history, and wind power have both plunged in cost in recent years and the new US bill, known as the Inflation Reduction Act, is expected to drive down these costs further.
Analysts expect the support for renewable projects, along with hefty investments to boost US manufacturing of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and other components, could help technologies become more easily available for other countries, too.
“This is momentum that I think will be unstoppable,” Gore said. “The savings to consumers will be so impressive, and so massively deflationary, that people will not support politicians who will want to take us backwards. We’re not going back again.”
The legislation narrowly passed the US Senate on Sunday and is expected to ease through the House of Representatives, controlled by Democrats, on Friday before being signed by Biden. Democrats needed all 50 of their senators to assent in the face of uniform Republican opposition, which required compromises on a deal struck with Joe Manchin, a centrist Democrat who receives more money in political donations from the fossil fuel industry than any other senator.
This fraught process, which appeared doomed at several moments over a year of negotiations, followed repeated failures over many years by the American political establishment to confront the climate crisis, despite the US expelling more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than any other country in history.
Gore was a 33-year-old member of Congress when he organized what is thought to be the first hearing on climate change to be held with lawmakers, in 1981. Despite urging action throughout the 1980s and 1990s, including his time as vice-president in Bill Clinton’s administration, Gore, who is now 74, has seen multiple attempts at legislation fail and the topic become politically toxic to conservatives, even as evidence of disastrous harm from global heating has mounted.
“I never imagined I would end up devoting my life to this,” said Gore, who authored the Inconvenient Truth on global heating in 2006. The book was turned into a documentary and resulted in Gore winning the Nobel peace prize in 2007.
“I thought, naively in retrospect, that when the facts were laid out so clearly we would be able to move much more quickly,” he said. “I did not anticipate the fossil fuel industry would spend billions of dollars on an industrial-scale program of lying and deception to prevent the body politic acting in a rational way. But here we are, we finally passed that threshold.”
Gore said the passage of the legislation through the Senate, a moment that brought several Democratic senators to tears, was a “celebratory and joyful moment” but stressed that the bill itself will not solve the climate emergency.
While it’s expected the breakthrough will help the US cut its emissions by about 40% by the end of the decade, scientists have warned that the country, like almost every other nation in the world, is still cutting emissions far too slowly to avoid disastrous levels of global heating.
“We can’t let this be a once-in-a-lifetime moment,” Gore said. “The path to net zero [emissions] requires us to move forward and a lot of the hard work lies ahead.”
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