Since leaving office in 2001, former Vice President Al Gore has spent much of the 21st century studying and fighting against climate change. In addition to being a corecipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his political efforts to push the climate crisis, Gore is the founder and chairman of The Climate Reality Project (formerly called the Alliance for Climate Protection), author of topical books like An Inconvenient Truth (Rodale Books, 2006) and subject of a two Netflix documentaries on the issue.
All of these credentials made him a good choice to be the keynote speaker for Climate Change Leadership Porto Summit—Solutions for the Wine Industry, which was held in Portugal this past March. The three-day conference provided an opportunity for industry leaders to share experiences and both short- and long-terms plans for dealing with the changing climate. We caught up with him to learn more about the speech and his relationship with wine.
“Nearly every person I met at that conference had a first-hand experience of how this crisis is affecting their wine and how they are having to get creative about the future of their wineries and production as a result.”
What general message about the state of our planet’s climate did you share at the summit?
The climate crisis is the most important challenge humanity faces. And Mother Nature is speaking loudly and clearly. We continue to spew 110 million tons of global warming pollution into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet as if it were an open sewer. It builds up and lingers in the atmosphere for about 1,000 years on average, and the cumulative amount is trapping as much extra heat energy every day as would be released by 500,000 Hiroshima size atomic bombs exploding on earth every single day.
…More then 90% of all that extra heat energy is going into the oceans, evaporating much more water vapor into the sky and disrupting the water cycle, causing massive historic downpours—“rain bombs” as many scientists now call them—and causing massive floods and mudslides, interspersed with deeper and longer droughts, because the same extra heat that disrupts the water cycle also sucks moisture out of the soil more quickly. This increases crop failures and threatens both food shortages and shortages of fresh potable water. These impacts have dramatic consequences for the wine industry.
What industry specific messages did you share with the audience?
As global temperatures increase, we are seeing the climate zones suitable for wine production shift poleward. For example, temperatures in the Bordeaux region have increased two degrees Celsius since 1950. Some parts of southern Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East where families have produced wine for generations have become unsuitable for wine production. Some of these regions, which have long been ideal for viticulture, are not only facing increased wildfires and droughts as a result of rising temperatures, but they are also experiencing an increased risk from pests and grape predators.
Was there anything from the summit that really stuck with you?
I was really struck by the collective response from the producers and distributors at this conference in Porto as to how the climate crisis is impacting their livelihoods. It’s one thing to read and hear about various statistics around this crisis. It’s a whole other story when you can hear from a whole conference full of people with personal stories. Nearly every person I met at that conference had a first-hand experience of how this crisis is affecting their wine and how they are having to get creative about the future of their wineries and production as a result.
Can you share any tips with readers on how to be mindful of waste/sustainability when buying or drinking wine?
Become a climate conscious consumer and send the signal to not only the wine industry, but the marketplace and business community that you want climate-friendly products and services. Also, win the conversation on climate with your friends, families and in your work places; always be kind, but be persistent in not allowing climate denial to go unchallenged.
And finally, can you share a message of courage in the face of climate change?
Although there is an abundance of danger, it is equally important to recognize that there is an abundance of hope as well. We’re at the beginning of a global sustainability revolution with the scale of the industrial revolution and the speed of the digital revolution. This revolution has the potential to reshape the world—our relationship to businesses, to the environment, to other people. An increasing number of consumers are demanding a fresh way of doing things. In addition to the wine industry, more and more industries are responding to this challenge.