Apr 22, 2020
Joe Biden & Al Gore Earth Day Town Hall Transcript
Joe Biden was joined by another former Vice President and climate activist Al Gore for an Earth Day town hall. Read the full transcript of their video conference event.
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Joe Biden: (00:00)
… and the whole world with it. This issue is personal to me. When I was a kid, when we moved from Scranton, Pennsylvania out to Delaware, I moved to a little steel town called Claymont, Delaware, and you’re very familiar with this because we’ve talked about it. Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania has more oil refineries along the Delaware River for the Delaware Valley of 10 million people then even down in Houston.
Joe Biden: (00:24)
When we first moved there, we went to a little school about, I guess, it was about 20 blocks as you’d walk it and up what they call the Philadelphia Pike, but the Philadelphia Pike was before I-95 and it was kind of busy so we couldn’t walk as kids. I was going into third grade and so my mother used to drive us up and when it got to be a little colder in the first frost, you’d get in a car in the apartments we lived in, turn on the windshield wipers, there’d actually be an oil slick in the windows.
Al Gore: (00:58)
Joe Biden: (00:59)
Literally, not a joke. Delaware on average is only three feet above sea level. This is personal to me from a time I’m a kid to now. Look, going to fight for … This is all about our grandkids. We just talking about our grandkids for our families and hammered by superstorms and pollution and the upside of this is there’s good jobs out there. We’re going to be able to create a lot of good jobs. But I should stop talking, Al, because I want to ask you a question. You’ve been working on this issue for a long time. Why is climate change so important in this election?
Al Gore: (01:36)
Well, first of all, thank you, Joe, for this conversation today and for the dialogue we’ve been having on climate. I’m really excited about your campaign. To answer your question, I never realized when I was young that this issue of the climate crisis would take over my life the way it has.
Al Gore: (01:59)
I didn’t even major in science, but like a lot of students these days, I had the freedom to sample some courses in other disciplines and I walked into a course taught by a great climate scientist named Roger Revelle back in the ’60s and he was the first scientist to chart out the measurement of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere and that’s what really opened my eyes to this 50 something years ago. I kept in touch with my professor and asked him to be the first witness in that first congressional hearing on climate.
Al Gore: (02:34)
I started to try to figure out how to translate what he was saying in scientific language into the kind of words that I could understand and therefore could communicate with others.
Joe Biden: (02:47)
Al Gore: (02:48)
I’ve watched all these years, Joe, since the crisis has grown exactly as Professor Revelle predicted that it would. The study just came out yesterday that this year of 2020 is, more likely than not, 75% chance of being the hottest year ever measured in world history. Already, 19 of the 20 hottest have been in the last 19 years. We’re seeing so much heat trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere by the global warming pollution.
Al Gore: (03:24)
We’re putting another 152 million tons up there every day worldwide, and it stays there on average about 100 years. The scientists will tell you the math is complicated, but they say that figure is good to use. Every day it traps as much extra heat as would be released by 500,000 Hiroshima-class atomic bombs exploding in the Earth’s atmosphere [crosstalk 00:03:50].
Joe Biden: (03:49)
Al Gore: (03:51)
It’s incredible and it’s disrupting the water cycle, causing rain bombs. 20 million acres couldn’t be planted in the Midwest last year because of all of the rain bombs and downpours and floods. We’re seeing sea level rise and the big drought specially in the Southwest and in many places around the world, stronger storms. The oceans are the hottest they’ve ever been this year and many scientists are worried the hurricanes will be stronger still.
Al Gore: (04:23)
The list of disasters has been accumulating and yet there is good news and we’ll have a chance to get into that, I’m sure, with renewable energy and electric vehicles and batteries and efficiency and regenerative agriculture and all that, but we need policy changes and that means we need to change some of the policy makers, particularly the one in the White House right now. That’s why I am so proud to endorse your candidacy, Joe.
Al Gore: (04:53)
I was saying earlier today, if I was talking to one person who had not yet decided who to vote for in this upcoming election, I would just say plainly and simply, “This is not complicated. If you care about the climate crisis, if you want to start solving the climate crisis, this is not rocket science. This is the most consequential choice in a presidential election that we’ve ever had in American history. Donald Trump is the face of climate denial globally. He is lifting the constraints on polluters, putting more pollution into the atmosphere, making all these changes to all of the protections that we do now have and we need more.”
Al Gore: (05:42)
Your election is absolutely crucial, Joe, and I want to do everything I can to convince everybody that cares about the climate crisis, particularly those people, that this is a no-brainer. This is a real simple choice and if anybody has any doubt about that, come talk to me.
Joe Biden: (06:06)
Wow, Al. Thanks so much. It means a lot to me. I often say beating Trump won’t end climate change, but it’s a critical first step. Last week, Trump reversed the rule requiring power plants to reduce the amount of mercury and other pollutions that are pumping into the air. Pollution that is bad for human health, to state the obvious, and it’s wrong. It’s a step backwards.
Joe Biden: (06:32)
As we see, as we try to seek some progress he’s eviscerating the EPA and everything that’s out there. But particularly dangerous is now, I believe, for communities of color, communities suffered disproportionately during this global health crisis. We’re seeing it happen now and one reason for this portion of impact is air pollution linked up to 15% increase in COVID-19 mortality in those most vulnerable. People of color are more likely to live in communities with air pollution.
Joe Biden: (07:05)
Just one example of the environmental injustice in Delaware, as I said, we get it and we can identify it. That’s why we have one of the highest cancer rates. Anyway, I don’t want to get into too much about Delaware, but the United States of America, you shouldn’t be poisoned by the air you breathe, the water you drink, the walls in your homes or your school. That’s why we need to invest in infrastructure to make sure that every city, every home, every school has clean water. It shouldn’t be more likely to breathe poisoned air and drink poison water based on your zip code or the color of your skin.
Joe Biden: (07:40)
My question, Al, is we need to act on climate, we need to address the environmental injustices that hold back too many communities of color across the country, what’s the top action we should be doing to address this environmental injustice, not just dealing overall of the environment, the injustice the way it falls on certain communities?
Al Gore: (08:03)
Well, I’m so glad to hear you talking about that as eloquently as you do, Joe. It’s crucially important. You mentioned that study that came out 10 days ago. There was another one three months ago that went back and looked at the great flu in 1918, 1919 and they found that there was a 20% to 25% increase in the death rate in counties that had even a moderately higher coal burning rate.
Al Gore: (08:32)
Right now during this pandemic, counties that are majority African American have a three times higher infection rate with COVID-19 than counties with a majority white population. They have a six times higher death rate from COVID-19. Now, as you know, there are many factors, unequal access to healthcare, sometimes the housing conditions that contribute, the kinds of jobs that many African Americans have aren’t friendly with-
Al Gore: (09:03)
… African-Americans aren’t friendly with Zoom in from home. There are a lot of factors. But the environmental injustice of factors are really key to this because, as Dr. Robert Bullard down at Texas Southern has showed in his pioneering studies and Reverend William Barber II has campaigned against, African-American communities, also Hispanic and native communities, are way more likely to live downwind from the smoke stacks and downstream from the hazardous waste flows and adjacent to the coal ash sites and the hazardous chemical waste sites. This has a huge effect.
Al Gore: (09:42)
One other statistic that’s really shocking to me, Joe, if you look at the death rate for African-American children from asthma, it’s 10 times higher than the death rate from asthma for Caucasian children. Now, some of that was true well before this current set of circumstances, but we have to realize that the burning of fossil fuels and the air pollution that results is a precondition for a higher death rate from COVID-19. Worldwide, even before this 9 million people being killed every year by fossil fuel burning air pollution. So we have got to fix that as we also address the need for better access to healthcare and fix the other inequities that are also contributing to this injustice.
Joe Biden: (10:34)
Oh, by the way, I don’t want to get off on it now, but one of the things, the Navajo Nation is being devastated right now. I met with the president, and we know him. They’re getting virtually no help, but that’s another issue maybe. A gigantic issue, but it goes to this whole … One of the things I’m hoping, Al, is I’m hoping that it’s kind of like the way this administration has dealt with the COVID pandemic as well as the environment has sort of taking the blinders off of people.
Joe Biden: (11:08)
People now are looking to say, my Lord, you mean that same person who kept my sewer open and my basement not flooding, the same person that made sure that I got pulled out of that car crash, you mean the same person who when I have trouble comes to take care of my home when it’s burning down, you mean those people? They’re the ones who in fact are getting screwed?
Joe Biden: (11:29)
Well, I think here’s the question. Look, I think this resonates with an awful lot of people now, many of whom it didn’t resonate before, not because they didn’t care, but they didn’t focus on it. They didn’t realize the consequence. My question is and as often relates to climate change, you hear politicians talk about, this is one of the questions, addressing climate change and that they can create real jobs and that we can turn this from a very big negative into a potential positive. Is that true, you think?
Al Gore: (12:01)
Oh, there’s no question in my mind, Joe. I’ve seen it in the business and investing world. It’s happening all over. Let me frame it up this way. We’ve had a lot of discussion about the similarities between this coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis, and the biggest similarity is, we see with the pandemic the danger of ignoring the scientists’ warnings until it’s almost too late. That’s the exact parallel with the climate crisis.
Joe Biden: (12:33)
Al Gore: (12:33)
But there are some differences also. Secretary General of the US, Antonio Gutierrez, said just a few days ago, the consequences of the climate crisis won’t last six months, one year or two years, but for centuries. It’s just unbearable to imagine that years from now future generations will ask themselves, why didn’t they act back in the year 2020? And you’re determined to do it.
Al Gore: (13:01)
But now here’s one of the big differences. In order to solve this pandemic, we’ve had to see these social distancing measures and other things that have shut down some economic activity, and that’s what the doctors and scientists say have flattened the curve, as they say, and helped us get on the road out of this. But it’s exactly the opposite where the climate crisis is concerned. Because in order to solve the climate crisis, we don’t have to shut down the economy. We need to turn the valves wide open on jobs, installing solar panels and wind farms and building electric vehicles and batteries and introducing regenerative agriculture to help farmers and sequester carbon in the soil and planting trees and retrofitting all these buildings, which is a win-win-win proposition.
Al Gore: (13:53)
We are in the early stages of a sustainability revolution in our world right now, empowered by some of the new digital technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence, that are giving executive teams and business the ability to manipulate the protons and electrons and atoms and molecules with the same proficiency that the IT companies have demonstrated in managing bits of information. The companies that are making commitments to sustainability and becoming far more efficient and reducing their global warming pollution are turning out to be way more profitable and creating new jobs.
Joe Biden: (14:32)
Al Gore: (14:32)
The number one fastest growing job in the US economy for the last five years has been solar panel installer, growing five times faster than the average job rate growth. Second fastest growing job is wind turbine technician, and there are many others that are coming in on that list as well. We can retrofit the buildings, commercial, industrial homes all across in every community in the country, create tens of millions of new jobs, and it can be paid for with the lower energy bills that start coming in right after the retrofit has been finished. So this is the biggest job creating opportunity-
Joe Biden: (15:14)
Al Gore: (15:14)
… in the history of the country, history of the world. It happens to come right at the time when we need, when your term as president, God willing, begins, we will need to really supercharge sustainable growth by creating tens of millions of these new jobs, and there they are to be created.
Joe Biden: (15:33)
They are. I’ll tell you what, Al, in large part because you opened everybody’s eyes worldwide to this awhile ago. Look, climate change is a threat, but I think it’s a gigantic opportunity. Everybody has different proposals. I asked you to take a look at mine. But the $1.7 trillion plan, I have to invest $1 trillion in green infrastructure right off the bat. We can transform the country. Just imagine 500,000 new charging stations on every highway that exists or every new highway built. We can own the electric power, and we can own the electric vehicle market. We can create millions of good … By the way, the jobs we’re talking about are not minimum wage jobs. They’re jobs that pay 30, 40, 50, 60 bucks an hour with benefits. These are real jobs. They’re union jobs in many cases. We have to improve energy efficiency.
Joe Biden: (16:21)
We can cut the carbon footprint of US buildings in half by 2035, and you know the numbers better than I do. Offer one, we had this big fight about tax credits for renewable energy, solar and wind, new battery technologies, modernizing the electric grid, which I really need your help on. But when we’re working on, that’s a gigantic potential breakthrough if that happens and when it happens. We’re investing $400 billion in new energy research and development. That’s more than we took to send a man to the moon. Almost every expert starting with you points out that creates 10 million good-paying jobs. The fastest growing jobs, as you said, are solar installers and wind turbine engineers.
Joe Biden: (17:06)
By the way, Donald Trump is really the stable genius indicated that windmills cause cancer. That was news to me and everybody in Iowa and everywhere else around the country that’s doing this. But, I mean, come on. I visited a solar, and you’ve done this all around the world, in [Techin 00:17:27] solar plant outside of Las Vegas. The IBW workers at Techin are making 60,000 bucks a year.
Joe Biden: (17:35)
Clean energy was the engine of recovery from the great recession. When the president asked me to get engaged in dealing with the recovery act, it’s going to be even bigger now, a bigger engine in terms of recovery from this economic storm that we’re going through right now. It’s logical, and it’s rational. So one of the things that I think is happening now, you pointed out that American business is realizing-
Joe Biden: (18:02)
You pointed out that American business is realizing they have to price in the price of carbon in the way that… They are looking at their bottom line and reduce carbon. Well, you got the major unions in the country who’ve endorsed me, they now realize this transition is going to happen. It’s happening anyway and they should own it. They should be the people who in fact have the access to these new good paying union jobs. And so look, I’m getting too excited about this, but look.
Al Gore: (18:36)
That’s the program, man.
Joe Biden: (18:37)
Look, other major countries around the world are polluters as well. We make up 15% of the problem and 85%’s quote over there. How would you make sure addressing climate change is a global priority? Because this presidents obviously walked away from what’s going on.
Al Gore: (18:58)
Yeah. First of all, let me make a quick comment on the jobs, the figures that you used you’re right on. The great Wayne Gretzky is famous for saying, “I don’t skate to where the puck is. I skate to where the puck is going to be.”
Joe Biden: (19:13)
Al Gore: (19:14)
And that saying applies to this process of change that’s underway right now. We got used to what the business people call a cost reduction curve when the era of computer chips have began and flat screen TVs and LED lights. Well, that cost reduction curve is happening with solar and wind and EVs and batteries and so many other technologies. Five years ago, Joe, electricity from solar and wind was cheaper than electricity from burning fossil fuels in only 1% of the world. A short five years later, now electricity from renewables is cheaper than electricity from fossil fuels in two thirds of the world.
Joe Biden: (20:02)
Al Gore: (20:03)
And five years from now, after the end of your first term, again, God willing, it will be cheaper in 100% of the world. Last year, calendar year 2019, if you look at all of the new electricity generation built and installed in the world as a whole, 72% of it was renewables. Now, it is in many places, it’s cheaper to take the fossil fuel plants, even if they’d been fully depreciated and just shut them down and replace them with new wind and solar. EVs already are growing in popularity. And the business statistics show within two years, they’re going to be significantly cheaper than the internal combustion engine vehicles.
Al Gore: (20:49)
The nation of India has already announced that they’re going to make it illegal to sell internal combustion engines within within 10 year., Many countries are taking similar steps. We need to make sure the jobs of the future with making these EVs and the other technologies are here in the US. So it takes US leadership and to your question, yes, the United States is still the indispensable nation. We are still in a period of history in spite of China and India growing and all of that, the US is the only nation that can really provide policy leadership in the world. And our country has abdicated that in the last three and a half years as you know, the restoration of that leadership is essential. A lot of people don’t realize that when Donald Trump said he wanted to pull out of the international agreement on climate, the Paris Agreement, he can’t do that until one day after this upcoming presidential election.
Al Gore: (21:53)
And then you, again, God willing, when you’re inaugurated 30 days later, you can put us right back in the Paris Agreement and you can rally the other nations of the world to once again follow US leadership and the benefits of doing so are ever more obvious with the job creation opportunities we’ve talked about, reducing pollution so that they don’t have to wait for a pandemic to see the blue sky, so that they can get rid of these health consequences of all the fossil fuel pollution. The world is ready to move. It just requires us leadership of the kind you’re promising to bring.
Joe Biden: (22:36)
Well, Al, one of the things you and I worked on, we served in the Senate was arms control and nuclear proliferation. One of the things that I would do, and again, I’m not being solicitous when I say this, but hopefully if I get elected with your help, is I would call within a hundred days of being… At first, I would immediately rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and I’d hold there. And secondly, I would make sure that we end up in a situation where we become, we call, the major polluters in the world to a meeting in Washington, DC immediately, within the first 100 days, just like we did on dealing with nuclear proliferation. And directly engage these leaders in a major carbon emitting nations that to persuade them to have to make them bigger. One section of that agreement says that after five years, we’re going to take a look and see when we have to up the ante on the commitments we’ve all made.
Joe Biden: (23:33)
And so we have to up the ante now. And there’s a lot of major polluters out there now that we walked away. Donald Trump talks about America first. He’s made America alone. We used to lead by example. And by passing a climate plan and the targets and mechanisms in this to make sure we hold other people accountable to the standard we have, one thing you would have done if you had been president a long time ago. But look what’s happening now. We have a circumstance where the Chinese have their Belt and Road Initiative, but they’re outsourcing pollution all over the world. Coal, more coal. And they’re saying, “We’re not doing it at home.” Right? That doesn’t work. But flip it another way. Look what’s going on in Brazil. I’ve been there a bunch.
Joe Biden: (24:22)
You have, too. The entire… They’re burning the Amazon. Why? Because they need agricultural space, they want to grow, et cetera. And when I’ve talked to them in the past, they say, “You guys did it. Why can’t we do it?” Well, one of the things you were one of the leaders on, along with a couple other people, Dick Lugar and others, remember we passed that bill saying, “We’re going to forgive debt for forest.” If you in fact don’t cut down your forest, we’ll forgive the debt. Well, if you were president or I were president, or Barack was still president, what he’d be doing is he’d be calling the president of Brazil, organizing the rest of the world and say, “We’re going to give you $20 billion to stop burning it. Stop burning.” And if you do that, you can find other avenues to grow your economy because that’s the largest carbon sink in the world.
Joe Biden: (25:11)
As you’ve pointed out before, and I don’t know all the facts, all the numbers as well as you would, my recollection is more carbon is absorbed from the atmosphere in the Amazon locked into the ground than all the carbon emitted, the pollution emitted in the United States on a daily basis. It’s a gigantic carbon sink. It absorbs, it does more to help the environment than if we stopped every single bit of carbon going in the air. And look what’s happening. We’re not organizing. If we don’t organize the world, who organizes it? And so there’s so much I think… Anyway, look. One more question here. Is it too late to aggress the climate change in a meaningful way? By that I mean, can we still make the kind of impact in time to save the environment and to make sure that our kids and our grandkids and our great grandkids are going to see blue skies, breathe clean air, and in fact be in a situation that is fundamentally different than the direction it’s going now?
Al Gore: (26:23)
Well, the short answer that I get from the scientists who I rely on the most and who I trust the most, the short answer is yes. The more textured answer, Joe, is that we have to be honest that some damage has been done. And enough heat has been absorbed now that some of the big ice sheets are going to continue to melt. And we’re going to have to adapt to sea level rise in a number of areas in the US as well as low-lying impoverished countries as well. And there’s other damage that’s been done, but it’s nothing compared…
Al Gore: (27:03)
And there’s other damage that’s been done but it’s nothing compared to what we would have to deal with if we don’t get this under control in short order. And yes, we now have the opportunity to turn the corner and for anybody who is discouraged about the possibility that we can still solve this, remember that the will to act is itself a renewable resource and the late Nelson Mandela, you think about what he faced in a prison cell in Robin Island during apartheid and he kept hope alive and Jesse Jackson’s phrase. And he wants said, “It is always impossible until it’s done,” and you think back on the women’s suffrage movement before that the abolition movement, the civil rights movement in our country. More recently the gay and lesbian rights movement and thank you Joe, for your leadership position on marriage equality, back when it was a tough stance to take.
Al Gore: (28:06)
You look at all of those social revolutions and they all have one thing in common. They seemed impossible and the advocates at times face to dark feelings that maybe it might not ever happen but they kept on going and they crossed a threshold where finally the majority of people said, “Okay, I get it. This is about justice. This is about fairness. This is about a bright future.”
Al Gore: (28:33)
We are right now at that tipping point on the climate crisis. I see it all over the world. I see it with Greta Thunberg and the young people who are marching. I see it with the activists and communities all across this country. You talked to the young people. By the way, without regard to party, that there are 65 young Republicans clubs on college campuses that have served notice to the RNC, that if they don’t change their position on climate, they’re going to lose that whole generation.
Al Gore: (29:07)
This is now a movement that is unstoppable but what we need is a president who believes in it and who understands it and who is committed to it. I’m so inspired by the dialogue we’ve been having on climate and I’m so excited and optimistic about this campaign, Joe, and I’m going to do everything I can to help.
Al Gore: (29:29)
Let me just close by saying no one more time, if there is anyone out there who has any doubt whatsoever about the choice to be made in this election, it is simple. It is not complicated. It is clear cut. Vote for Joe Biden. Vote against Donald Trump. Put us on the road to solving the climate crisis and creating a brighter future.
Joe Biden: (29:59)
I really appreciated it. You have you been a great friend for many years and look how far you brought us along. This is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which helped launch the entire environmental movement and fundamentally changed this country, made our air and water a little bit cleaner.
Joe Biden: (30:15)
We got so much more to do though. We still have such a long way to go but today, most Americans now get the challenge we’re facing. They believe in science. The issue is important to them and they want their leaders to act on climate, particularly young people, as you said, inspired by the activism of Greta and so many young Americans as well, who are leading on climate.
Joe Biden: (30:39)
You know, JFK said refused to postpone. You know that one line in his speech we all had to learn when we were kids about going to the moon and he talked about the one thing that the line that meant the most to manage to drive our colleagues crazy was his phrase, I refuse. We’re doing this because we refused to postpone. Well, we should say as a nation, I refuse to postpone. As president, I refuse to postpone taking immediate action. And look, I’m confident. I’m confident. Not only can we address the crisis, we can make most of the opportunity and create 10 million good jobs, make the US the world’s clean energy exporter and more optimistic than I have been since I’ve been a 29 year old kid about what we can do.
Joe Biden: (31:27)
The last question I asked you about are the things that we’re going to be able to restore everything what it was before. The answer is not everything but we can go a long way. That’s why we have to build to what reality is today, not get worse. America, there’s not a single thing we’ve been unable to do. Al, as you pointed out, not a single thing we’re not able to do as a nation. We’ve done it together.
Joe Biden: (31:50)
So I want to thank you Al, for joining me today. Your support means a great deal to me. Your lifelong leadership in this issue in so many others has made a great deal to… You’re known around the world and people, when they talk about the future of the planet, they talk about you. I appreciate your taking the time and this important discussion and I look forward to being able to work with you because Al, you’ve like I said, you have turned Earth Day into a movement that is taking hard, concrete, specific action, not just here but worldwide. I think we can do this, Al. I think it should be an exciting time for our grandchildren. An exciting time.
Al Gore: (32:37)
Definitely Joe, it’s been a privilege to play a small role and I just give the credit to all of those grassroots activists who are out there. And again, especially the young people.
Al Gore: (32:49)
If I could tell you one more story, I remember as you do when President John F. Kennedy put out his inspiring challenge to put a person on the moon and return him safely in 10 years and I remember the adults at that day in time, many of them saying that’s a reckless, expensive, unwise venture. But eight years and two months later, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon and in NASA’s mission control in Houston, a great cheer went up. And little known fact, if you’re look at the average age of the systems engineers in that room that day, it was 26 years old.
Joe Biden: (33:30)
You’re kidding. I didn’t know it was that young.
Al Gore: (33:32)
The systems engineers and that means their average age when they heard that speech was 18 and they changed their lives and they got the knowledge and the learning to be a part of that mission.
Al Gore: (33:44)
That’s what I feel from the young people in this country today where the climate crisis is concerned. When companies go out to hire the best and brightest, these young people want to know that they’re committed on climate and sustainability and your administration gives me so much hope because I think it’s going to unleash a wave of optimism and energy and creativity to really build a bright future.
Al Gore: (34:10)
Thank you Joe, for running. Thank you for letting me help you in this campaign. Godspeed.
Joe Biden: (34:16)
Thanks an awful lot, Al. Look forward to talking to you soon. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.