Al Gore at Haas: Seeing the “Full Value Spectrum”

Former Vice President Al Gore delivered an impassioned call at Berkeley-Haas last week about recognizing  the “full spectrum of value” and  his own optimism about addressing global challenges such as climate change and inequality.

By turns scathing and uplifting, the former vice president didn’t hide his frustration with the current state of American politics.  Early on, he declared that “democracy has been hacked” and become so “dominated by big money” that it “does not give us the ability to policy based on facts and logic.”

“I’m sorry if this sounds a little radical,” he apologized.  “I always heard that as you get older you get more conservative. It’s kind of been the opposite for me…. I don’t think I’ve moved. I think the system has decayed and become so degraded. It really should be a source of alarm.”

But as Gore delivered the final speech in this semester’s Dean’s Speaker Series, he argued that vision, technology, and entrepreneurship – including social entrepreneurship – offer  ample reasons  reasons for optimism.   You can see the full speech here.

“We are going to solve the climate crisis, and I’m going to tell you why,” he told the audience. Much as the plunging cost and exponential growth of technology had made a mockery of early predictions about the use of mobile phones, he argued, the same forces of Moore’s Law are now driving historic opportunities in renewable energy.

“Ten or 12 years ago, the predictions were than wind energy would reach 30 gigawatts by 2010,” Gore noted. “Well, we reached 2010 and we had 12 times as many gigawatts. What about solar? Ten or 12 years ago, the prediction was that world would reach annual production capacity of 1 gigawatt per year by 2010. Well, we reached 2010, and we produced 17 gigawatts. Last year, we produced 48 gigawatts and this year we’re on track to produce 62 gigawatts.” That pace of unpredicted and world-changing advance, he said, was in the same ballpark as what happened with computer chips and mobile communications.

Much of the former vice president’s message was about developing the right kind of vision.

Just as humans can see only a tiny fraction of the electro-magnetic spectrum, he said, political and business leaders  often see only tiny portions of the “value spectrum” – the parts that have price tags.

“The rise of inequality in the United States, and in most countries of the world, is a serious problem. And we are not measuring it because it’s a part of the value spectrum that we don’t measure….When GDP goes up, people say ‘yay, we’re doing great.’ But the average family thinks, ‘What, I can’t pay my bills?’….The fact that 90 percent of the extra value added to the economy since the Great Recession did really and truly go to the top 1 percent, and the majority of it to the top one-tenth of one percent — that has meaning.”

Yet Gore ended on a message of hope and optimism for students, reminding them that the average age of people at NASA’s Houston Control Center was only 26 on the day that Apollo astronauts stepped on the moon.

“Your generation has that ability to take on that challenge, and to be impatient,” Gore said. “You’ve got to win the conversation, change the way of thinking, raise awareness of the full spectrum of value….We’ve seen it happen with abolition, with women’s rights, with universal sufferage, civil rights, gay-GLBT rights.”

“Your generation can lead the way, just as your predecessors have in every great social reform movement – and there is no better place to do it than in the Haas business school.”

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