Sep 19, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
Include us among those who felt that while "An Inconvenient Truth" was an effective wake-up call, it fell short in giving audiences a vision of large-scale ways to address what Al Gore calls "Climate Crisis."
In a Monday speech at NYU Law School, he began to fill in some of the gaps, including a call for a Carbon Freeze and "Connie Mae" -- a Carbon Neutral Mortgage Association that could be extended to cover financing for green cars. I suggest the entire speech is worth reading. (It took an hour for him to deliver it; you may be able to read it in half that time.) You can find it at http://www.nyu.edu/community/gore.html; we've also turned it into a two-column, eight-page document you can download and print or pass on to others at http://www.calcars.org/gore-nyulawspeech-18sept06.doc.
Though in the past two years, I've approached Gore three times after speeches; twice I was able to put in his hands info on PHEVs. Many others have contacted him through intermediaries. Whatever or whoever finally got to him, we're glad he's now talking about plug-in hybrids. (Appropriately, it came at an event co-sponsored by Set America Free, the group that has tirelessly promoted PHEVs.) Below I've included a few inspirational excerpts, then his call for a "national oil change."
Former Vice President Al Gore
New York University School of Law, September 18, 2006
Each passing day brings yet more evidence that we are now facing a
planetary emergency - a climate crisis that demands immediate action
to sharply reduce carbon dioxide emissions worldwide in order to turn
down the earth's thermostat and avert catastrophe.
The serious debate over the climate crisis has now moved on to the question of how we can craft emergency solutions in order to avoid this catastrophic damage.
My purpose is not to present a comprehensive and detailed blueprint - for that is a task for our democracy as a whole - but rather to try to shine some light on a pathway through this terra incognita that lies between where we are and where we need to go. Because, if we acknowledge candidly that what we need to do is beyond the limits of our current political capacities, that really is just another way of saying that we have to urgently expand the limits of what is politically possible.
I have no doubt that we can do precisely that, because having served almost three decades in elected office, I believe I know one thing about America's political system that some of the pessimists do not: it shares something in common with the climate system; it can appear to move only at a slow pace, but it can also cross a tipping point beyond which it can move with lightning speed. Just as a single tumbling rock can trigger a massive landslide, America has sometimes experienced sudden avalanches of political change that had their beginnings with what first seemed like small changes.
Two weeks ago, Democrats and Republicans joined together in our largest state, California, to pass legally binding sharp reductions in CO2 emissions. 295 American cities have now independently "ratified" and embraced CO2 reductions called for in the Kyoto Treaty. 85 conservative evangelical ministers publicly broke with the Bush-Cheney administration to call for bold action to solve the climate crisis. Business leaders in both political parties have taken significant steps to position their companies as leaders in this struggle and have adopted a policy that not only reduces CO2 but makes their companies zero carbon companies. Many of them have discovered a way to increase profits and productivity by eliminating their contributions to global warming pollution.
Many Americans are now seeing a bright light shining from the far side of this no-man's land that illuminates not sacrifice and danger, but instead a vision of a bright future that is better for our country in every way - a future with better jobs, a cleaner environment, a more secure nation, and a safer world.
Third, a responsible approach to solutions would avoid the mistake of trying to find a single magic "silver bullet" and recognize that the answer will involve what Bill McKibben has called "silver-buckshot" - numerous important solutions, all of which are hard, but no one of which is by itself the full answer for our problem.
One of the most productive approaches to the "multiple solutions" needed is a road-map designed by two Princeton professors, Rob Socolow and Steven Pacala, which breaks down the overall problem into more manageable parts. Socolow and Pacala have identified 15 or 20 building blocks (or "wedges") that can be used to solve our problem effectively - even if we only use 7 or 8 of them. I am among the many who have found this approach useful as a way to structure a discussion of the choices before us.
I look forward to the deep discussion and debate that lies ahead. But there are already some solutions that seem to stand out as particularly promising:
First, dramatic improvements in the efficiency with which we generate, transport and use energy will almost certainly prove to be the single biggest source of sharp reductions in global warming pollution. Because pollution has been systematically ignored in the old rules of America's marketplace, there are lots of relatively easy ways to use new and more efficient options to cheaply eliminate it. Since pollution is, after all, waste, business and industry usually become more productive and efficient when they systematically go about reducing pollution. After all, many of the technologies on which we depend are actually so old that they are inherently far less efficient than newer technologies that we haven't started using. One of the best examples is the internal combustion engine. When scientists calculate the energy content in BTUs of each gallon of gasoline used in a typical car, and then measure the amounts wasted in the car's routine operation, they find that an incredible 90% of that energy is completely wasted. One engineer, Amory Lovins, has gone farther and calculated the amount of energy that is actually used to move the passenger (excluding the amount of energy used to move the several tons of metal surrounding the passenger) and has found that only 1% of the energy is actually used to move the person. This is more than an arcane calculation, or a parlor trick with arithmetic. These numbers actually illuminate the single biggest opportunity to make our economy more efficient and competitive while sharply reducing global warming pollution.
A second group of building blocks to solve the climate crisis involves America's transportation infrastructure. We could further increase the value and efficiency of a distributed energy network by retooling our failing auto giants - GM and Ford - to require and assist them in switching to the manufacture of flex-fuel, plug-in, hybrid vehicles. The owners of such vehicles would have the ability to use electricity as a principle source of power and to supplement it by switching from gasoline to ethanol or biodiesel. This flexibility would give them incredible power in the marketplace for energy to push the entire system to much higher levels of efficiency and in the process sharply reduce global warming pollution.
This shift would also offer the hope of saving tens of thousands of good jobs in American companies that are presently fighting a losing battle selling cars and trucks that are less efficient than the ones made by their competitors in countries where they were forced to reduce their pollution and thus become more efficient.
It is, in other words, time for a national oil change. That is apparent to anyone who has looked at our national dipstick.