Better technology — such as video conferencing — can help fight climate change and reduce carbon emissions, according to former U.S. vice-president and environmental crusader Al Gore.

The Nobel Prize winner, who was also awarded an Oscar in 2007 for his environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth, told an audience at the VoiceCon telecommunications summit in Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday that businesses can improve their efficiency — and thus profitability — if they adopt new technology.


Former U.S. vice-president Al Gore says a new pollution tax should replace employee taxes in order to encourage companies to reduce carbon emissions. ((Associated Press/Salvatore Di Nolfi))

Gore, who was speaking from Nashville via a video-conferencing link, praised businesses for what he said was their leadership and vision in pushing and adopting technology to stop global warming.

"Most business leaders are way ahead of government leaders, and that's the good news," he said.

Gore gave particular praise to Cisco Systems Inc. chief executive officer John Chambers, who joined him in the video conference, for helping deploy technology that cuts down on carbon emissions. Cisco's TelePresence video-conferencing system, over which Gore's presentation took place, is helping businesses cut down on travel, thus limiting their pollution, he said.

"I don't own stock in Cisco, I wish I did. I'm not paid for any endorsement and I'm not here for any sort of remuneration. I'm here because I'm impressed with the system," he said. "This is clearly one of the options that is going to play a big role [in cutting emissions]."

The former vice-president, who is also on the board of directors of Apple Inc. and a senior adviser to Google Inc., urged governments to implement a "revenue-neutral" carbon tax, where taxes on employees are cut and replaced with a pollution tax. Businesses could then use the tax dollars saved on employees and invest them in environmental technologies and innovation.

"All of our choices would be instantly clarified if we put a price on carbon," he said.

Sense of urgency needed, says Gore

While the general population's awareness of global warming is much better now than it was a few years ago, people still don't put a high priority on fighting it, he said. Climate change still ranks consistently low in polls of public priorities.

"We're beginning to see movement, but not nearly enough," Gore said. "What is needed is a new sense of urgency."

Chambers said he is seeing a market transition, where companies are starting to realize the benefits of using technology to drive efficiencies into their business. He also joined Gore in calling on the U.S. government to take the global lead in fighting climate change by instituting laws that will force companies and individuals to reduce emissions.

"I think it would be great if you could have the two greatest economic powers in the world, China and the United States, both lead," he said.