Al Gore’s Good, but Incomplete, Sequel

Edd Doerr

Crammed with charts, graphics, maps, and photos, Al Gore’s 2006 book and film An Inconvenient Truth (Rodale, 327 pp.) made it abundantly clear that climate change is all too real, that it seriously threatens our whole planet, and that climate and other scientists almost unanimously agree that it is caused mainly by human activity. Only an arrogant ignoramus could fail to agree. The book and film featured the famous hockey-stick graphic showing that world population has grown from 2.3 billion in 1945 to 6.5 billion in 2006 and will reach 9.1 billion by 2050. The book and film won Gore the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

Gore’s 2017 book and film, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (Rodale, 319 pp.) updates his earlier book and adds new documentation—again with an abundance of charts, graphics, maps, and photos. What is particularly new is its demonstration that utilization of solar and wind power to replace fossil fuels has increased well beyond the expectations of 2006. What is also new is that nearly half of the book is devoted to detailed recommendations as to how everyone can get involved in activity to “hasten the solution to the climate crisis … especially on the part of the many millions of Americans who strongly oppose the policies and proposals of the Trump administration.”

Both books show clearly how climate change actually affects the lives of real people, here in America and throughout the world.

Before continuing, let me call attention to my favorable review of Gore’s excellent 2007 book The Assault on Reason (Penguin Press, 306 pp.) in the October/November 2007 issue of Free Inquiry. It strongly defended church-state separation and appropriately slammed both the “Theocratic Right” and the misadventures of the George W. Bush administration.

But no matter how good and useful the “Inconvenient” books are, they have a serious flaw, as I noted in reviewing the newer one on Amazon. While the earlier one displayed the hockey-stick graphic showing the tripling of world population from the end of World War II to 2006, it did not suggest what might be done about it, and the later one does not deal with the population problem at all. Also, the earlier one estimated the 2050 world population at 9.1 billion, but the latest estimate by experts puts the 2050 population at 9.8 billion, according to a September 2 article in the international news journal The Economist.

Who cannot see that human overpopulation has been fueling climate change? Surely not Al Gore.

But before exploring this further, let’s briefly review all or most of the concomitants of climate change, something we seldom see in popular media reports on various aspects of the problem. This is a long, complex list of causes and effects, all linked by intricate feedback loops. We’ll start with the effects: melting Antarctic and Greenland ice; retreating glaciers in Asia, Europe, and North and South America; melting permafrost and tundra ice; ocean acidification and temperature increases; coral reef deterioration; soil moisture loss; soil erosion and nutrient loss; environmental degradation; biodiversity loss; worsening hurricane strength (as in the recent Harvey, Irma, and Maria events) followed by increasing insurance rates and rebuilding costs; more tornadoes; more invasive species increases; more and more damaging wildfires (as in the western United States); red tides and algae blooms; shrinking supplies of sea foods, on which many millions of people depend; more infectious disease vectors, affecting both humans and food animals; increasing precipitation and damaging floods; food and drinking water shortages; pandemic diseases; greatly increased flows of refugees from Africa, the Middle East, and so on; rising sea levels, with 40 percent of world population living in coastal areas (think of New York, Florida, the Chesapeake Bay area, Shanghai, Hong Kong, London, Lagos, Buenos Aires, Mumbai, Kolkata, and others). All of this is related to global warming.

Now let’s look at the list of causes of climate change: atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane buildup, with consequent global warming; overuse of both renewable and nonrenewable resources (coal, oil, natural gas, forest timber, fish, cattle); deforestation (noting that tropical forest soils are far more lacking in nutrients than, say, Iowa); soil erosion and nutrient loss; toxic waste accumulation; arable land reduction; and increasing sociopolitical instability and violence, as in Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, etc. But the main cause of climate change, of course, is human activity. Not only is world population expected to quadruple from 2.3 billion in 1945 to 9.8 billion by 2050, in the meantime we humans will have been expanding our per capita use of limited and dwindling natural resources.

Scientists have researched and written about this for decades. In 1975, the Nixon/Ford administration produced the National Security Study Memorandum 200 (NSSM 200) report, which acknowledged the overpopulation problem and concluded that universal access to contraception and abortion are indispensable. Mysteriously “classified” until 1989, it did not see the light of day until published by population scientist Stephen Mumford in 1996 in his book The Life and Death of NSSM 200.

“No country has reduced its population growth without resorting to abortion,” NSSM 200 noted. When the report was completed, there were an estimated thirty million abortions worldwide annually. That figure now tops fifty-five million, and far too many of the procedures are illegal and dangerous to women. And this says nothing about the vast numbers of deaths and injuries to women due to lack of contraception and adequate medical care.

So here we are in 2017 with a buffoon in the White House who has pulled the United States out of the 2015 Paris climate accord, stopped federal support for the UN Population Fund, and reinstated the damaging Global Gag Rule issued by presidents Reagan and the two Bushes but canceled by both Clinton and Obama. Trump, the thrice-married braggart about grabbing women’s genitals, has also indicated his hostility toward women’s health, rights of conscience, and religious liberty with regard to contraception and safe legal abortion.

And now Al Gore’s otherwise very good new book ignores the overpopulation and access to contraception and abortion rights issues altogether. Gore surely knows better. Why, Al? Why?

Of course Trump and conservative politicians are afraid of the power of the Theocratic Right and the Catholic bishops (who are of course out of sync with the majority of Catholics). But the rest of us need to stand up and resist.

It goes without saying that the majority of Americans who understand the climate change crisis and who support women’s rights should take advantage of Gore’s worthwhile suggestions in both books for making our individual contributions to fighting climate change (conserve, reuse, recycle, consume less, drive better cars, eat less beef, etc.) and engaging in the political process but also throwing our weight behind Planned Parenthood, NARAL, Population Connection, and all the other groups fighting for women’s rights. The clock is ticking ever faster.

Edd Doerr

Edd Doerr is a senior editor of Free Inquiry. He headed Americans for Religious Liberty for thirty-six years and is a past president of the American Humanist Association.