San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Al Gore talks climate change in Costa Rica

Al Gore, former U.S. vice president and a leading voice in combating global climate change, brought his message to Costa Rica on Wednesday night as the keynote speaker at the first Sustainability and Environment Business Forum, held at the Marriot Hotel in San Antonio de Belén, west of San José.

Gore, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 on the heels of his 2006 Academy Award-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” gave an hour-long presentation in which he cited evidence of global climate change and environmental impact of continuous release of carbon-based emissions into the atmosphere. According to Gore, in 2010, the world produced and released into the atmosphere 90 million tons of global-warming pollution. He said people are treating the sky as if it is an “open sewer.” 

“I want to begin by asking, ‘Why has it been so difficult for us as a people and a civilization to come to grips with the climate change issue?’

“Some of you have studied it and know how incredibly serious and threatening it is. Others of you, especially in the business community, have begun to find that there are opportunities to make profits and put people to work in doing the things that need to be done to fix climate change. But governments around the world, with the exception of Costa Rica and a few others, are yet to acknowledge this issue as they should,” the former vice president said.

Throughout his presentation, which included a photo slide show and several graphs detailing the world’s increase in temperature and erratic change in weather patterns, Gore was exceedingly complimentary of Costa Rica’s effort to curb climate change and its efforts to be a carbon neutral nation by 2021. Early in his speech, Gore referred to Costa Rica as a “hero among nations.”

“I am filled with admiration for your country and I hope that you know I am not saying so just to flatter my hosts or all of you here,” he said to the crowd of about 400 people. “But I hope you fully understand and accept that the rest of the world has an image of this country as a true leader in the community of nations. It is in pursuit of peace and peacemaking, the elevation of universal human values, the prioritization of education over violence and warfare, and the commitment to sustainable development and the Earth’s ecological system. Costa Rica truly is a hero among nations.”

The presentation also included a picture of the November 2010 landslide in San Antonio de Escazú, west of San José, which killed 27 people. Gore attributed many of the heavy rains that occurred throughout the world last year to the effects of global warming and increased international temperatures. He also showed photos of heavy rains in Colombia, Mexico, India, Pakistan and his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. He said that the rains that occurred in Nashville were considered by scientists to be a “once in a thousand year rainfall.” Gore then quipped that “once in a thousand year rainfalls” have recently been occurring once every few years.

In the closing minutes of his talk, Gore urged the countries of the world to “put a price on carbon.” He said that, because carbon dioxide is tasteless, odorless, invisible, and carries no price tag, people around the world ignore it. In order to reduce climate change, countries should put a price tag on carbon emissions, which Gore considers to be “destroying our planet.” 

“We are at a moment in history when we can change our thinking and change our future,” he said. “It is now up to us to take responsibility for what happens in the future. We need to get our act together. If we don’t, not too many years from now the next generation will look around the world where they live and they will be justified in asking us, ‘What were you thinking?’”

Gore on Nuclear Power

Over the past week, a worldwide nuclear scare has hung in the air in the wake of the disastrous earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Several Japanese nuclear power plants were damaged March 11 by a one-two punch of a 9.0-magnitude earthquake followed by powerful tsunamis. The natural disaster led to several explosions at nuclear energy sites (see story on Page 9). Dangerous overheating in several core reactors could result in a nuclear meltdown that would be the second worst nuclear energy mishap in history, behind the accident at Chernobyl.

Throughout the week, Japanese scientists have been working to cool the reactors and thousands of citizens have fled the area on alert of possible radiation poisoning, which  left their villages a potential wasteland. As of Thursday, Japanese military helicopters were dumping seawater over the plants in a desperate attempt to prevent a meltdown of the core reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi and Fukushima Daini plants in northern Japan.

On Wednesday night, Gore responded to a question by The Tico Times about the ongoing nuclear disaster in Japan and its impact on future global production of nuclear energy.

“Many are asking what will be the impact on the way we think about our energy for the future and what role will nuclear power play,” he said. “I always believed that nuclear power will play only a somewhat limited role. I did not foresee this terrible safety crisis, although there have been some in the past, such as Chernobyl. But there is no doubt that many are already asking serious questions about the future of nuclear power. My guess is that, with renewed attention to the plants, nations in the future will not choose to put nuclear plants near faults lines or oceans. However, I do think that some nations will continue to choose to use nuclear reactors. I think it will only play a small role compared to what it plays now.”

Gore also said that in 15 to 20 years, smaller and safer nuclear reactors could be available and result in more reliance on nuclear power. He followed the comment by saying that more nations need to rely on wind and solar power, including Costa Rica.

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