Gore’s Clear Energy Vision

Speech Contrasts With Bush, Conservatives’ Efforts To Worsen Warming

Gore's ambitious and optimistic speech is a breath of fresh air after weeks—and years—of inaction and bad news on global warming, writes Daniel J. Weiss.

Former Vice President Al Gore speaks at Constitution Hall in Washington, DC, proposing an ambitious new goal for generating 100 percent of electricity from renewable sources in 10 years. (AP/Gerald Herbert)
Former Vice President Al Gore speaks at Constitution Hall in Washington, DC, proposing an ambitious new goal for generating 100 percent of electricity from renewable sources in 10 years. (AP/Gerald Herbert)

Former Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Al Gore yesterday presented his ambitious proposal to address global warming and oil use by generating “100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years.” This determined and optimistic goal comes on the heels of a new Environmental Protection Agency report that found global warming poses a direct threat to human health, the Bush administration’s announcement that it will do nothing to reduce global warming pollution, and President Bush’s decision to rescind the 18-year-old executive moratorium on oil drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf. Gore’s speech was like a breath of fresh air amidst a seven-year pollution alert.

A confluence of events—record energy prices, a stagnating economy, and a war in the Middle East—makes this the opportune time for Gore’s dictum “to move quickly and boldly to shake off complacency, throw aside old habits and rise, clear-eyed and alert, to the necessity of big changes.” Sustainable economic growth—and national security—will require the United States to transform its reliance on high-pollution, high-price, and insecure energy sources by using low-pollution, low-cost, high-growth, homegrown energy.

As Gore pointed out, “enough solar energy falls on the surface of the earth every 40 minutes to meet 100 percent of the entire world’s energy needs for a full year.” The technology to harness the energy of the wind, sun, and earth becomes better and cheaper every day. And using energy more efficiently is the most cost effective option of all. All while the cost of polluting fossil fuels—coal and oil—continues to rise.

Gore outlined some specific policies to speed this transformation: promptly deploying wind, solar, and geothermal energy technologies; enhancing the electricity grid so it’s accessible to renewable power; developing plug-in hybrid electric vehicles; and shifting to energy-efficient technologies and techniques on a massive scale. The transition to a green economy would result in the creation of entire new industries and outsource proof jobs.

Gore reminded listeners that there are more signs that the effects of global warming are underway. He noted that, “there seem to be more tornadoes than in living memory, longer droughts, bigger downpours, and record floods.” These disasters devastate people’s lives and have far-reaching consequences. For instance, food prices are soaring partly due to droughts in Australia and crop destruction in the Midwestern floods.

The Environmental Protection Agency added to the urgency yesterday by releasing a shocking report on how global warming will affect Americans’ health. “It is very likely that heat-related morbidity and mortality will increase over the coming decades,” the report noted. It went on to say that, “higher temperatures in urban areas and likely associated increases in tropospheric ozone [smog] concentrations can contribute to or exacerbate cardiovascular and pulmonary illness … Hurricanes, extreme precipitation resulting in floods, and wildfires also have the potential to affect public health through direct and indirect health risks.”

These findings are not shocking in themselves—other entities, including Gore’s co-Nobel Laureate Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, made similar findings. What’s surprising is that this report was produced by the same EPA that last week refused to determine whether global warming endangered Americans.

The Supreme Court agreed that there is significant evidence of global warming. In 2007 it ruled in Massachusetts v. EPA that greenhouse gas pollution is covered by the Clean Air Act, and that this gives EPA the authority to require greenhouse gas reductions. Yet the EPA must first issue an “endangerment finding” that shows the pollution threatens human health and the environment. With mountains of evidence about the effects of global warming, this ought to be a simple mater. Yet under pressure from top White House officials, EPA Administrator Steven Johnson once again buckled. He ignored EPA scientists and professionals, and instead issued an “advance notice of proposed rule making” that effectively postpones any global warming reductions until the next administration.

President Bush continues his obliviousness to the threats posed by global warming caused by burning fossil fuels. Just three days before and two blocks away from Gore’s Constitution Hall speech, he announced from the White House that he would rescind the 18-year-old executive moratorium on oil drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf. This was a desperate move to create the illusion of action to stem record oil prices even though the U.S. Energy Information Administration determined that drilling in the OCS “would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030.”

Bush’s move would also maintain the status quo energy policies that led him to conclude that “America is addicted to oil.” This addiction has brought us record high oil and gasoline prices, record oil industry profits, growing global warming pollution, and a sagging economy. Opening up the OCS for drilling is like trying to cure alcoholism by switching to a different brand of whiskey.

Conservative leaders in Congress want to follow Bush’s lead to continue our addiction to fossil fuels by retaining the policies behind today’s energy and economic messes. They are demanding the elimination of the congressional moratorium on drilling in the OCS, first signed into law by President Reagan in 1981. Fortunately, progressive leaders such as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) continue to resist these efforts. They instead want to lower prices by reining in speculators and selling a small amount of oil from the 98 percent full Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Both steps could provide short-term price relief.

The past week demonstrated Gore’s point that politics are “the greatest obstacle” to the transformation of our energy, economy, and security. Conservatives embrace the status quo with a vengeance while Americans must spend much more on energy and food. Gore reminded people that, “There are times when our very way of life depends upon dispelling illusions and awakening to the challenge.” Hopefully public officials will listen—and act—as well.

Thanks to Alexandra Kougentakis

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Daniel J. Weiss

Senior Fellow