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Bill Ritter speaking at Climate Reality Leadership event


‘I’m convinced we’re going to win this,’ Gore tells activists

DENVER — The last time former Vice President Al Gore visited the Centennial State it was the eve of Election Day 2016, and the Democrat offered an enthusiastic message to residents as he campaigned for Hillary Clinton: Cast your ballots and support climate policies.

Nearly four months later — in the wake of Republican Donald Trump’s upset victory for the White House — Gore returned to Colorado yesterday with a more caustic message but, perhaps surprisingly, no less optimistic.

“Our political system, our democracy in the U.S. has been hacked,” he said in welcoming remarks to 1,000 individuals gathered here for a training session of Climate Reality Leadership Corps. The three-day event marks the 34th training session for the Climate Reality Project that Gore founded in 2011.

He later added, “Even though our democracy has been weakened, even though the special interests seem to be in control, even though the polluters have found ways to take control of the agenda-setting process and policymaking process, nevertheless, the ultimate power still does lie with the people — if the people are awakened and aroused and become determined to take back control of the policies that will shape our future.”

During his brief welcoming remarks, and a subsequent two-hour presentation on “The Climate Crisis and Its Solutions” — an updated version of his Oscar-winning 2006 documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” — Gore didn’t actually mention .

Along with other speakers, including former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) and Climate Mama founder Harriet Shugarman, Gore also stressed that despite the political shift in the White House, climate activists could continue to influence policies worldwide.

“I’m convinced we are going to win this,” Gore said. “But the real challenge is winning it fast enough to minimize the regrettable, unrecoverable damage that we would not want our children and grandchildren to look back on years from now.”

Ritter, who serves as director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University, similarly lamented the Trump administration’s decision to remove mentions of climate change from the White House website and the president’s vows to abandon the Paris climate agreement.

“It seemed like we were going, in a way, where our momentum could not be reversed as it related to our global action on climate change and clean energy,” Ritter said. “There was an election on Nov. 8. The results of that election were to a lot of us a sense that progress at the federal level was going to be halted.”

But Ritter stressed that activists should focus their efforts on pushing climate policies at the state and local level.

“What I believe … is that you will not stop the momentum that we as a nation are making on clean energy transitions in America: either in the electric systems, the transportation system or in industry,” Ritter said.

He pointed to some 4,000 bills dealing with energy or climate policy at the state level.

“If you’re feeling bad about what’s happening in Washington, D.C., I think I do have some good news to offer. And that’s that there are other places where there is movement, where there’s momentum,” he said.

Later, he said, “If we can’t get to Congress, if we can’t get to the new Cabinet, if we can’t get to the president, we can get to state legislatures, we can get to governors, we can get to mayors, we can get to city council people. We can move an agenda at the state and the city level.”

Ritter went on to tout the fact that 45 percent of all coal-fired generation in the West is set to be retired in the next decade or so, with nearly two-thirds of the remaining coal-fired plants shuttered within 15 years.

But Ritter noted that climate activists cannot ignore those communities where coal mining or power generation has served as a primary industry.

“I think we have to think about how we take care of the people in those communities and the economic viability of those communities as a justice issue,” he said.

In the meantime, the Climate Reality Project appears to have seen an uptick in interest since the November election.

More than 2,600 individuals applied to participate in the Denver training session, up from 1,600 applicants from the last event in Houston in August.

“The urgency has always been there, but suddenly people have woken up,” Shugarman said.

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