The Tech Arena 2024 took place in Stockholm, Sweden, on February 22 & 23. The event was hosted at the country's national football stadium, "Friends Arena," in the district of Solna, with an attendance of 7.500 guests worldwide. Among the special speaker invites was Former US Vice-President and Nobel Prize Winner Al Gore.

February 26, 2024 / 10 min. read

The Tech Arena 2024:

A Conversation with Al Gore,
Former US Vice-President & Nobel Prize Winner

The Tech Arena 2024 took place in Stockholm, Sweden, on February 22 & 23.

The international event was hosted at the country's national football stadium, "Friends Arena," in the district of Solna, with an attendance of 7.500 guests worldwide. Among the special speaker invitations was Former US Vice-President and Nobel Prize Winner, Al Gore.

NASA Astronaut Jessica Meir and Apple Co-founder and Philanthropist Steve Wozniak also gave speeches throughout the two days. All on the same "Arena Stage".

Linda Nyberg, Chief Communication Officer at Novatron Fusion Group, moderated all three conversations.

The Tech Arena 2024. Seen from the stands on opening day, February 22. Photo: Keyvan Thomsen Bamdej

Full transcribed interview:

Linda Nyberg:

"Welcome to The Tech Arena 2024. Welcome, Al Gore. Can you tell us a little bit about what you do nowadays?"


Al Gore:

I'm a co-founder and chairman of “Generation Investment Management”.

We started 20 years ago to prove the business case that by investing completely through a sustainability lens, you don't have to trade your values to build up value for your clients.

I'm knocking on wood here because my partners have long since made me superstitious. It's one day at a time. But we've been very, very successful in proving that business case.

By the way, we've made some investments here in Sweden. We led the “H2 Green Steel” investment round-up in Boden in the far north.

There are so many great tech companies here. I wish I had invested in Northvolt. That's another company that I admire a great deal. There are so many others.

I also helped to manage a coalition that I helped put together of artificial intelligence groups called “Climate Trace”, tracking real-time atmospheric carbon emissions. We get hourly readouts from 300 satellites from eight countries: land, sea, and air-based sensors and internet data streams. We use AI to fuse together multiple data streams into machine learning algorithms that yield a precise measurement of where all the greenhouse gas pollution is coming from.


Go to www.climatetrace.org. It's all free.


We have the 352 million most significant point source emission sites for CO2, methane, nitrous oxides, and all rare gasses. Many corporations are now using our data to rework their supply chains and sub-emission suppliers for high-emission suppliers. So those are the three things I do most of all.

I've been on the Apple board for 21 years. I also pursue something called The Carbon Underground, which we probably don't have time to get into.


I think that line applies in some ways to the answer to your question.


Since 2007, we have seen fantastic progress. If you look at all of the new electricity generation installed last year, 80 % of it was solar and wind. That's amazing. Electric vehicles are not far behind. 20 % of all the new car sales last year were electric.


Almost 50 % of all the two-wheelers and three-wheelers, which carry more people than four-wheelers worldwide, almost half of all new sales there were electric.


We're seeing tremendous advances with circular manufacturing models. Now, green hydrogen as H2 Green Steel demonstrates regenerative agriculture and sustainable forestry. However, the climate crisis is still getting worse faster than we've yet deployed the solutions to it.


We have got to wake up and shift into a higher gear. And start moving more quickly because it's dangerous.


Today, we'll put another 162 million tons of manmade heat-trapping pollution into the sky. 


If you've seen those pictures from space, I'm looking forward to meeting the astronaut Jessica Meir, who's here.


You see that thin blue line on the horizon and the pictures from space; a thin blue shell surrounds the planet. That's the troposphere, the lower part of the atmosphere. And it's blue because that's where the oxygen is. But it's so thin that people don't often realize this.


If you could drive a car straight up in the air at highway speeds, that blue line in about five to seven minutes and all global warming would be below you.


It lingers there, on average, each molecule. The math is very complicated and above my pay rate. But the scientists permit me to say accurately that the average residence time of these molecules is about 100 years. So it builds up. That means that today, the accumulated burden of the heat-trapping gasses trapped as much extra heat in the Earth system as would be released by 750,000 Oppenheimer-scale atomic bombs going off every single day. 365 days a year. 

 

That's what's heating the oceans and causing droughts, atmospheric rivers, and rain bombs, melting the ice, raising the sea level, mobilizing climate refugees across national borders, and making the storms much stronger.


Every night on the television news is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation. It's insane what's going on. We've been endeared to it. And we've been doing it for a long time. We haven't; we've gotten used to it.


But here's the good news. If we get to true net zero, the temperatures will stop going up almost immediately! With a lab time of as little as three to five years. If we stay at true net zero, half of the human-caused global warming pollution will have fallen out of the atmosphere in as little as 25 to 30 years.


So, there is hope. We can do this, but we aren’t doing it fast enough. One of the reasons I came here is not only because of your generous invitation; thank you so much. I'm here to recruit you. I'm serious. I'm dead serious! We need your help.


Many tech-oriented women and men in this audience are already working on solutions.


For those of you who are not yet, we need you. Get in there and help us because we've got a lot of work to do.

Al Gore on "Arena Stage" talking to Linda Nyberg in front of a packed audience. Photo: Techarenan / PR

Linda Nyberg:

You say there is hope. In an interview September 2023, you said that we can reclaim destiny. Is that what you're talking about?


Al Gore:

We can. Look, we have all of the technologies we need now. New technologies are welcome. 


I know you're working on Novatron Fusion, and I talked with the CEO of one of your Fusion companies here.


I'm not going to hold my breath, because I had my first hearing on Fusion 45 years ago. True story! The expert said it's only 50 years away. So I’m getting excited now! We're down to the last five years, maybe. But we already have solar and wind and EVs and all of these other technologies. 


The “International Energy Agency” has said over and over again, and the IPCC as well, that we have everything we need to cut emissions in half in the next seven years. 


We have a clear line of sight to what we need to get to the rest of it by 2050. But we've got obstacles, okay? 


Number one, this is not so true in Sweden because you don't have a lot of fossil fuel energy here. You're blessed with hydro and you've got four working nuclear reactors and so you don't have to mess with it so much. But around the world, the fossil fuel companies and the petrostates are trying everything they can to block progress.


You know, in Dubai, at COP28, there was a victory in getting the language in the final resolution committing the world to transition away from fossil fuels. Well, the following week, the biggest fossil fuel lobby in the United States, the American Petroleum Institute, launched a massive new advertising campaign, designed to convince people that it's impossible to transition away from fossil fuels.


I'm sorry to get passionate about this. I press my own buttons these days because I've been doing this a long time and I'm sick of them fighting us at every place in the world, whether it's a city or a state, or province, a nation, or the international UN meetings.


The fossil fuel companies are in there fighting with everything they've got to stop the reduction in the burning of fossil fuels. It's literally insane because we're threatening the future of humanity. 


You know, the climate scientists who decades ago predicted what would happen, they've been proven right. Because they have been spot-on dead right, we should pay more attention to what they're telling us will happen in the next decade or so - if we don't start acting more boldly and swiftly. 


Now, the other obstacle, along with the fossil fuel complex, is the global system for allocating capital. Okay, let me just spend a brief second on that. If you look at all of the solar and wind that's been deployed worldwide, a great success story, 86 % of the money to do that came from the private sector, from private investors. 


But emissions have gone down in Sweden, Europe, and the U.S. But in the developing countries, if you're in Nigeria and you want to build a solar farm, you will have to pay an interest rate seven times higher than you would pay in Sweden, or in the U.S.


That's crazy! 


Of course, the fossil fuel colonialism is still in full swing there. They'll provide the money. And they're trying to lock in these developing countries to methane gas along with the oil and coal.


So, we have to get more action by the World Bank and the other multilateral development banks to take the extra risk off the top of the capital stack.


You know, you've got currency fluctuation risk, rule of law risk, access to courts, corruption, off-take risk, etc.


The World Bank and the other MDBs are supposed to take that. We've got a new head of the World Bank, Ajay Banga, who's terrific. I'm excited that we're on the cusp of fixing these things. But the wealthier countries, like the U.S. and Sweden.


Sweden's been stepping up. The U.S. needs to do more. All of the developed countries need to do more.

A passionale Al Gore talking about the dire global climate situation. Photo: Techarenan / PR

Linda Nyberg:

I think almost everybody is aligned with you. But we still have many climate deniers. Especially in the U.S the percentage is high. How come?



Al Gore:

Well, you know, there's an old saying in the farming country of Tennessee. You've probably heard it. If you see a turtle on top of a fence post, you can be sure it didn't get there alone. 


If you see all this climate denial in the comments sections of all the publications online, it didn't get there by itself. A lot of these are zombie memes that were intentionally put out there a long time ago by fossil fuel polluters. And they're still doing it.


There's a new climate denial that's focused on trying to convince people that the solutions are not affordable or they're not available. They won't work. They're lies. 


They're using the massive resources they built over 100 years and their established legacy political and economic networks to block progress. And climate denial is designed to prevent the formation of a political consensus to save ourselves. Okay?


What we need, as one philosopher said, is a species-wide decision. That's hard to do. Very hard to do. But we've got to do it. And here's another source of hope, Linda. The climate movement is emerging as the largest grassroots, morally-based movement in the history of the world. 


If you look back at previous morally-based movements, the abolition of slavery, giving women the right to vote, equality, freedom for gay and lesbian people, anti-apartheid in South Africa, civil rights in the U.S., and so on.


All of those movements have a lot of things in common. It took a while. It was hard. And the advocates often got discouraged because it was so hard. But they kept going.


Eventually, what happened in every case was that when the underbrush was cleared away. The central issue was revealed clearly as a choice between what is right and what is wrong, then at a very deep level, because of who we are, and I would say because of how our creator made us, the outcome is foreordained. Because we're going to do what's right once it's clear.


The fossil fuel polluters have been trying to clutter the landscape and create as many false doubts as they possibly can to convince people, “Oh, well, maybe we should wait a little while longer before we get serious about this.


Look, we are walking, we're tiptoeing through a minefield. 


I don't know what metaphor works, but the thawing of the permafrost, the disruption of the Gulf Stream and the larger ocean conveyor belt current that's a part of it, the flipping of the Amazon rainforest to Savannah, there's several of these major load-bearing structural components of the Earth's system that have given rise to the flourishing of humanity that are now at risk because of us.


The sixth great extinction is one of them as well.


How can we hear the scientists who, again, have been right in what they told us before when they say we're at risk of losing 50 % of all the living species with which we share this Earth on our watch? Are we content to let that happen and not lift a finger to do something about it? It's immoral not to act.


Again, I'm sorry to get so annoyed.
Al Gore making hand gestures to the attendees while encouraging the crowd to join efforts. Photo: Techarenan / PR

Linda Nyberg:

We're joining NATO. We trust you guys. Will you like the President who scares the shit out of some people that didn't pay the debts to NATO. Will you help us out? 



Al Gore:

I travel a lot around the world. I'm well aware that people here and in many other places want to know if that could happen again in the US. 


I don't think it will. I could go through the reasons why I don't think it will. But I feel pretty confident it won't.


Even if it did happen, I think there are now a lot of guardrails. In any case, I'm excited that Sweden and the United States will soon be together as part of the NATO Alliance, a purely defensive alliance that has been extremely successful.


Just like Finland, Sweden didn't anticipate doing this, but with the invasion of Ukraine, my God, it's sadistic! What Stalin did in the ’30s to Ukraine? It's almost like a repeat abuse situation! 


It's just sick - and it has to inspire courage to be ready to prevent any step that comes after Ukraine. I certainly hope that the US Congress will break its deadlock and join the European nations already giving a lot of support to Ukraine. 


I admire the courage of the Ukrainian people so much. My God, what great people! 


We need to help them. We need to give them the equipment and the arms they need.



Linda Nyberg:

It’s said that a crisis can give birth to new innovation. Like with Penicillin and antibiotics. Could something good come out of this troubled situation in the world? Not only in the tech community?



Al Gore:

I think that we are now in the early stages of a sustainability revolution powered by advances in technology. A revolution that has the scale of The Industrial Revolution coupled with the speed of the Digital Revolution. I see it in every walk of life - and now, with the new advances in large language models and regenerative AI, we are seeing perhaps the fastest and most powerful scientific revolution in history.


To measure the speed of the AI revolution, I’m friends with Mustafa Suleyman and others who founded DeepMind a decade ago. When they had their first LLM, they were operating on two trillion petaFLOPS. Now, they have two trillion floating operations per second. Their latest model operates on 10 billion petaFLOPS.


In nine years, from two to 10 billion, that is an advance that is 40 times faster than Moore's Law.


At some point during the incredible increase of energy and information throughput, there was a spontaneous self-reorganization that took place in these large language models that has yielded surprising new capacities that weren't expected.


Without going too much into this, there are people here, I'm confident, who know a lot more about this than I do. But I know enough to see its impact on every walk of life.


In the United States, 92 % of corporations use AI. That's the fastest pickup of a new technology ever in history. And it's just in the early stages of it.



Linda Nyberg:

Seeing The Tech Arena and all these amazing people and innovators, I want to ask you: Are you looking for a new investment? If yes, in which field? What is interesting right now for you? And does it have anything to do with energy and climate?



Al Gore:

Well, my firm, Generation Investment Management, looks through the lens of sustainability at the opportunities throughout the entire economy. We don't invest in any fossil fuel companies because we don't think they have a role in creating a sustainable world.


And there are a few other examples, but we look across the entire economy. And the opportunities are there; it's a very exciting time.



Linda Nyberg:

As a former journalist, I want to ask you: There's a US election coming up. The Democratic candidate, who would you like to see? You don't have to answer; we're in the tech arena in Sweden, but there's media here. 



Al Gore:

I think the nominee will be the incumbent president, Joe Biden, and I support him very strongly. In my eight years working in the White House, I learned that the presidency is a team sport. 


I think he has put together the best team that's ever been in the executive branch of the United States. He has developed an amount of wisdom that has led to the passage of more legislation in his first term in office than ever since Lyndon Johnson. And it's quite remarkable.


The Inflation Reduction Act, the big climate legislation, is by far the biggest and best climate legislation any country has ever passed.


The CHIPS and Science Act, and the Infrastructure Act; I could go through the list. It's quite remarkable. This took place during intense partisanship, and that same partisanship has resulted in many attacks.


The fact that we have seen a lot of attacks against Joe Biden, and you've heard, you've heard them all. I mean, I think he's gonna be the nominee. I'm for him.


I think he's gonna be reelected.



Linda Nyberg:

Thank you for answering that. We talked about AI, but there is also when we talk about elections and the influence of social media today. Do you see a threat to democracy with digital tools today?



Al Gore:

Of course, yes. This is the first generation of AI. And these algorithms are abusive. They ought to be outlawed. I mean, these algorithms that create the opening of the rabbit holes, you know, that suck people down into them.


The rabbit holes are like pitcher plants. They have slippery sides. You click on something, and the algorithm says, oh, you like that? I got some more of that for you.


Pretty soon, these people are down the rabbit hole. You know what's at the bottom of the rabbit hole? That's where the echo chamber is.


People who spend too long in the echo chamber become vulnerable to another form of AI, artificial insanity. And that's where you get QAnon, climate denial, election denial, and even the resurgence of the Flat Earth Society.


How stupid is that?


When people live in an echo chamber and are constantly bombarded by nonsense, then… I think it was Voltaire who said: 


“Anyone who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”


That’s what we are seeing.


To back it up a little, 15 years ago, I wrote a book about “The Assault on Reason".


If you look at the representative democracies in Sweden, the United States, and other nations where it exists.


Our system was created in an information ecosystem defined by a culture where everyone could read and write and had equal rights and access to information.


It was a kind of marketplace of ideas that emerged, favoring collective decision-making based on reason.


Well, that information ecosystem is gone. It was first displaced through the telegraph, radio, and television. We have a receptor for television because our ancient ancestors on the African savanna were sitting around when the leaves moved. 


The ones that didn't look are not our ancestors, and those that did pass on what they call the establishing reflex. If there's a sudden movement in our field of vision, we look because it's survival-based.


Television and video activate that every second or two. And then we get to the internet and social media. These abusive algorithms are the digital equivalent of assault weapons AR-15s. They ought to be outlawed. Really and truly. 


What gives these companies the right to suck these children down these rabbit holes and make young girls suicidal because of a distorted body image to create all of these mental health disorders in the name of profit? 


It's abusive manipulation of a public resource. 


Going back to Putin for a minute, he cannot face NATO with his military. He loses!


He can't match the economy of Sweden and certainly not the US. But he has found a weak underbelly, and that is our commitment to free speech, and the free flow of ideas has allowed him and Chinese hackers and others to intrude maliciously in creating division in the US. 


In the last election, we had Russians stimulating public rallies and demonstrations on opposite sides of the same street, with people in favor of one thing and people against that same thing. 


This happened in cities across the US, all manipulated on the internet to create division and hatred. It’s not adequate.
A packed crowd in front of "Arena Stage" to listen to Al Gore. Photo: Techarenan / PR

Linda Nyberg:

No, it’s all fine. You told me as a kid, I didn't think there was a climate worry then. This is how your interest started, right? In school for climate. Can you tell us the background to your passion?



Al Gore:

Yeah, I had no idea this was going to take over my life. I had no intention of that. But when I was an undergraduate in college… I got far enough along where I could take courses outside of my, you know, field of concentration. So, I took this course from a scientist named Roger Revelle, and I had no idea what I was going to learn. But he is one of the greatest climate scientists in all of history. I didn't know that at the time. Nobody was talking about climate or global warming. But he designed the first experiment to measure CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere.



Linda Nyberg:

Was this in the 1950’s?



Al Gore:

No, this was in the 1960’s. Ancient history for most of this audience. But I kept in touch with him. He opened my eyes to this, you know, more than 50 years ago. And I kept in touch with him.


Seven years after I left college, I was elected to the House of Representatives, the Congress of the US. I asked, you know, what are we doing about global warming, which was what we called it. And the answer was nothing. You know, what's that? 


So, I got permission from a committee chair to organize the first congressional hearing on the climate crisis. I invited my professor to be the lead off witness. And I was very naive because I was sitting up there on the dais. I was just so excited that my colleagues on the dais were going to have the same epiphany that I had had in a full college course in a 20 minute statement. And it didn’t happen. But for obvious reasons.


That's the first time I started asking myself, how can this be communicated in a way that reproduces the same “aha” realization that I had from this great scientist?


By the way, I'll tell you a quick story. 


After he died, I went out to The Scripps Research Institute to honor him on the 100th anniversary of his birth. His widow was there and his family. I've become close to the family. In preparing for that speech, I did a lot of research. I thought I knew all about him. But one thing I did not know that turned up in this research was when he was a college student, the same age I was when he took his course; he had a professor who inspired him and changed his life. 


It caused me to think, how many chains of inspiration run back through time? And how should that make us think about our duty to conduct ourselves in a way that has an impact on young people today?


We've got infinite choices in life, but we have the opportunity to make the right choices. This is such a consequential moment in the entire history of humanity. 


We've got to do this, and we can do this. 


The only question is whether we can make it on time to avoid the dangers lurking.



Linda Nyberg:

Talking about dangers. We have to talk about this because we're sitting in Sweden.


We are scared again of the Russians. We're scared of the situation. We're joining NATO. Ulf Kristersson, our Prime Minister, will be talking in Hungary tomorrow. Should we be scared? Is there a third world war around the corner? Not just the climate threat but now this as well.



Al Gore:

Well, let's talk about fear for a moment. I can't remember who to attribute this quotation to; forgive me. Somebody here will know, but it's a quote about courage.


The statement is:


“Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the making of action despite fear, the moving out against the resistance engendered by fear into the unknown and into the future.” - M. Scott Peck


That's courage. And Sweden is demonstrating courage.


When you ask, is it appropriate to be afraid? Well, you know, there are dangers in this world. And Vladimir Putin is sure as hell one of them. And look what he just did in murdering Navalny, his principal opponent. I mean, how many people have been falling out of windows over there in the last year and more?

Al Gore on centre stage at The Tech Arena 2024. Photo: Techarenan / PR

Linda Nyberg:

What are the best things that have happened since you won the Nobel Peace prize in 2007 and until today? Both when it comes to climate, but also for global peace? Things that give you hope.



Al Gore:

I think the cost reduction for solar and wind batteries and EVs is really historic. 


I will say that since this is a tech conference we see these examples: “Moore's law” on computer chips was the first that really got everybody's attention and now we see flat screen TVs and cell phones, the cost comes down.


We have to be careful not to draw the conclusion that all technology follows that same pattern. 


Moore's law is a subdivision of something called Wright's law. Many of you here know that very well, but there are lots of different rates of cost reduction and there are a lot of technologies that don't improve. 


Carbon capture and sequestration for example, it's classified as a non-improving technology. For 50 years, there's been zero cost reduction in any part of that. But the fossil fuel polluters try to convince people, “oh, we don't have to stop burning fossil fuels. We'll just catch the emissions while we're burning it”. 


They try to take advantage of our techno-optimism and our vulnerability to believing that the cost of capturing all these emissions is going to come down the way computers.


No, it doesn't come down at all. 


The fossil fuel polluters are way better at capturing politicians than they are at capturing emissions. They've concentrated on that all around the world. 



Linda Nyberg:

I'm glad you're so excited. You give us hope. But every one of us here, it's a tech community, what can each individual do to make us reach net zero? 



Al Gore:

Of course, we hear a lot about what we can do in our own personal lives, and that's not trivial. Those things are important. 


But the number one best thing people can do is to be very vigorous and active in the public discussion to get politicians at every level of government, activate it to move faster to reduce emissions. 


This is a global emergency. 


I mean, we hear that phrase, and maybe it's drained of the sense of urgency that it's intended to convey. But this is a global emergency. 


I mean, really, and it's getting worse every single day. Another 162 million tons tomorrow. And it keeps on mounting up. It's crazy. We're all trapped, if you will, inside of this thin blue sphere that we're using as an open sewer.


You know, centuries ago, when the first cities saw streams of human waste in the streets, we said, “ah, we can't do that”. Well, here we are on a global basis. We see the sky being used as a sewer for heat-trapping gas that's threatening humanity's future.


Are we capable of waking up to the danger?


A scientist told me decades ago, this is a little geeky, but this is a geeky crowd, more or less. He said: “Al, what's really being tested is whether or not the combination of an opposable thumb and a neocortex is a viable combination on planet Earth”.


Are we capable of saving ourselves? We have demonstrated in the past that when the stakes get high enough and we concentrate on what's really important - we have limitations, God knows all of us do, and as a civilization, deep limitations - but we also have the ability to rise above those limitations. And we have done so in the past.


This is such a moment. I'll return to something I said earlier. I really am serious about recruiting you here. We really do need your help. 


The people who say we're not equipped to solve this, they point to the lack of sufficient political will. 


Well, I'll tell you this. Political will is itself a renewable resource. And getting out into the public sphere and renewing the political will that is essential to making this species-wide decision to transition away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible and stop using the sky as an open sewer, get to true net zero, so we stop the temperatures from going up.


We have the ability to control our own destiny. We do. It's right there.


But we've got to decide to work together and do it.



Linda Nyberg:

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Al Gore. Thank you so much.