Al Gore at UC Berkeley: ‘Democracy has been hacked’

In an impassioned campus speech, former Vice President Al Gore urged nearly 400 UC Berkeley students, faculty and staff, alumni and community members to “stop tolerating the destruction of humankind” and the environment and to redouble their efforts to stop climate change.

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Gore chats onstage with Laura D’Andrea Tyson, director of the Institute for Business and Social Impact, and Rich Lyons, dean of the Berkeley-Haas School of Business. Tyson, who worked with Gore as national economic adviser during President Clinton’s first term, called Gore “a true visionary leader committed to making society a better place.” (Photo by Jim Block)

The talk, which took place Wednesday at International House, was sponsored by the Berkeley-Haas School of Business’s Dean’s Speaker Series and the Institute for Business and Social Impact.

While Gore expressed optimism that the climate change challenge would be met, he emphasized the obstacles that stand in the way — especially the breakdown of effective government in the United States.

“Democracy has been hacked,” he said. “Our political system has decayed. It’s an outrage. We are in danger of losing our democracy. We better wake up.”

“I’ve always heard as you get older you get more conservative,” he added, acknowledging an evolution in his thinking about politics since his days in the Clinton White House. “It’s been kind of the opposite for me.”

Gore opened by highlighting the importance of accounting for the “whole spectrum” — every system that supports humanity — and not just focusing on what we can see. “We need to shift our way of looking at things by finding new perspectives,” he said.

One way to do this, he said, is to recognize the value in natural resources and quality of life and not just things you can buy. “If the only tool you use to measure value is a price tag, then things that don’t have a price tag begin to look as if they have no value,” he said. “What about the cleanliness of air and water? What about a business’s treatment of its employees?”

Policymakers need to change the way they measure value, he said. Depletion of natural resources, for example, isn’t included in GDP, he said, so we’re running out of water. “California — particularly agriculture — is facing dire circumstances because of this historical drought.”

Gore said 90 percent of heat energy trapped in the earth’s atmosphere by global warming pollution is going into the oceans, “and so you get these much stronger storms” that destroy areas of the United States and other parts of the globe. He called for a decrease in our reliance on carbon, and swift adoption of cleaner, sustainable energy sources like wind power.

“Mother Nature,” said Gore, “is telling us that we have to change.”

Yet, despite the obstacles, “We are going to solve the climate crisis,” he predicted. “We are going to win this.” He encouraged students to challenge policymakers and bring innovative ideas to companies that support sustainable practices. “We are seeing the greatest business opportunity in the history of the world with the decarbonization of the economy.”

Gore, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and bestselling author on climate change, is the chairman of the Climate Reality Project, a nonprofit he founded to find solutions to the global climate crisis, and to inspire people to get involved in “making a global shift from dirty fossil fuels to clean, renewable energies like solar and wind.”

To see the entire talk, watch this video produced by Berkeley-Haas School of Business.