Al Gore’s solutions


in Economics, Law, Politics, Science, The environment

Al Gore recently gave a highly interesting speech on the future of energy in the United States. None of the points made in it are especially new, but he does a good job of tying together a great many important themes.

Here are some key points:

  • Because of climate change, “the future of human civilization is at stake.”
  • “[T]here is now a 75 percent chance that within five years the entire [Arctic] ice cap will completely disappear during the summer months. This will further increase the melting pressure on Greenland.”
  • “We’re borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that’s got to change… The answer is to end our reliance on carbon-based fuels.”
  • Solar, wind, and geothermal are large and critical future energy sources.
  • “I challenge our nation to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years.”
  • “[S]harp cost reductions now beginning to take place in solar, wind, and geothermal power — coupled with the recent dramatic price increases for oil and coal — have radically changed the economics of energy.”
  • The national grid must be updated to link areas rich in renewable energy to areas with high energy demand.
  • Plug-in electric cars will play an important role in balancing the load on the electrical grid.
  • “[W]e need to greatly improve our commitment to efficiency and conservation. That’s the best investment we can make.”
  • “I have long supported a sharp reduction in payroll taxes with the difference made up in CO2 taxes. We should tax what we burn, not what we earn.”
  • “[I]t is also essential that the United States rejoin the global community and lead efforts to secure an international treaty at Copenhagen in December of next year that includes a cap on CO2 emissions.”
  • “[W]e must move first, because that is the key to getting others to follow; and because moving first is in our own national interest.”

The 100% target is probably not going to happen – it would require scrapping every coal, gas, and oil power plant – but it is a worthwhile aspiration nonetheless. Even getting a significant portion of the way towards that goal in the timeframe mentioned would be a huge advance.

It would be very interesting to see what role he would personally play in advancing this sort of agenda within an Obama administration. An administration that made a determined effort to implement this sort of agenda would be transformative, and could do a great deal to spur global transformation.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan July 18, 2008 at 11:39 am
Milan July 18, 2008 at 11:41 am
Milan July 18, 2008 at 11:42 am
Milan July 18, 2008 at 11:43 am
Sarah July 21, 2008 at 9:33 pm

The 100% target seems sufficiently unrealistic as to appear wholly out of touch with reality, especially given the current US economic woes. If Gore continues making relatively extreme statements then I suspect he won’t play a central role in making climate policy in the event of an Obama administration. I also fear that he may not be doing the Democrats any favours by making calls for costly and radical change at this point in the election campaign.

Milan July 21, 2008 at 9:39 pm

The transition to a low-carbon economy is much more important than this election. While it can make sense to play games of political strategy, there is also the need for people who look beyond the next few months.

Yes, the next administration will make a big difference. That being said, the contribution Gore can make now is to help change the debate. In the grand scheme of things, his renewable plan is less radical than many of the other changes likely to be required.

Sarah July 21, 2008 at 10:18 pm

The transition to a low-carbon economy is much more important than this election.

Maybe. But sidelining political strategy is likely to result in losing the election and thereby losing the opportunity to do more towards tackling climate change than if one had won with different rhetoric.

Milan July 22, 2008 at 12:33 am

Even on the bare level of political strategy, Gore’s boldness could make sense.

Establishing a prominent policy further out than the candidates are likely to go nonetheless provides them with an opportunity move in that direction and call it a ‘compromise.’

. July 22, 2008 at 10:11 am

Gore’s plan is more than 100 percent feasible
We can do more than he calls for, but I would settle for Gore’s objective
Posted by Gar Lipow (Guest Contributor) at 5:32 PM on 21 Jul 2008

. July 23, 2008 at 11:50 pm

Al Gore has some good ideas. I just wish he would stick to talking about the science and the solutions we can implement to combat climate change… instead of making statements that are inherently unprovable such as (because of climate change) “the future of human civilization is at stake.”

Climate change is important; most people get it. Let’s talk about solutions, and not use the type of fear-mongering language that the other guy who ‘won’ the 2000 election uses!

Milan July 24, 2008 at 12:29 am

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Milan July 24, 2008 at 12:32 am

I disagree that calling climate change a threat to civilization is an exaggeration.

At the present pace, greenhouse gas concentrations will be over 1000 parts per million by 2100. Based on current estimates of climate sensitivity, that could mean mean temperature changes in the vicinity of 10˚C, with much bigger changes towards the poles.

A 10˚C mean temperature change could quite plausibly threaten human civilization, if not humanity as a species. Fundamentally, civilization requires a food surplus. That may prove hard to maintain given extreme changes in ecosystems, weather patterns, oceanic acidity, etc.

Milan July 24, 2008 at 12:33 am

A 10˚C change also stands a good chance of kicking off a runaway climate change cycle: for instance, by releasing the methane contained in permafrost while drying out and burning off the tropical rainforests.

. July 24, 2008 at 12:53 am

As noted in part two, our current understanding, as expressed in the IPCC “consensus,” which almost certainly understates how dire things are, is that if global emissions merely average 11 billion tons of carbon a year (11 GtC/yr) this century, we are going to 1000 ppm atmospheric concentrations. And that is the end of life as we know on it this planet.

Milan July 24, 2008 at 12:57 am

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