Air Date: Week of July 18, 2008
(Photo: Eric Lee, Copyright © 2006 by Paramount Classics)
As energy issues dominate election year rhetoric, former Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore laid out a challenge to candidates: completely carbon-free electricity within a decade. Living on Earth's Washington correspondent Jeff Young tells us Gore's latest campaign comes as high energy prices are eclipsing concerns about climate change.
GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts - this is Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman, in for Steve Curwood.
GORE: Today I challenge our nation to commit to producing one hundred percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon resources within ten years.
GELLERMAN: Al Gore has thrown down the goblet. The former U.S. vice president who received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to combat climate change says, “Global warming threatens our national security. Requiring us to transform our society and ourselves within ten years.” Joining me to discuss Al Gore’s pronouncement is Living on Earth’s Jeff Young. Hi Jeff.
YOUNG: Hi Bruce.
GELLERMAN: Sounds like Gore is filling in the blank, if we can put a man on the moon…
YOUNG: If we can put a man on the moon then we can be carbon free inside of ten years. That was the direct analogy that he was making here. And the timeframe is also the same as what President Kennedy used with the moon-shot challenge. Ten years. And that’s really what’s new here, is this very aggressive timetable, within a decade to greatly boost solar, wind, geothermal power and make coal fired power catch and store all of its carbon emissions, all of that inside of ten years.
GELLERMAN: But why now Jeff?
YOUNG: Well, that’s a good question because we’ve heard the broad outlines of all of this from Vice President Gore before. I think Gore sees that right now there’s so much attention being paid to the cost of fuel - the four dollar a gallon gasoline, it’s all candidates hear about on the campaign trail. It’s almost all you hear about here on Capitol Hill - gas prices, gas prices. What Gore is trying to do, I think, is to reintroduce this notion that you can’t just focus on that one aspect. You also have to look at the national security aspects of foreign oil. You also have to remember climate change. If you just attack one, you’re not going to succeed. It’s kind of like it’s the three headed hydra, it’s all the same beast.
GORE: Our dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels is at the core of all three of these challenges - the economic, environmental and national security crisis. 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 has to change.
GELLERMAN: Well, it’s good rhetoric, Jeff, but ten years is a short fuse. Is this technologically possible?
YOUNG: Well, that’s the big question and that depends completely on whom you ask. I spoke with some energy experts from environmental groups who were in attendance there at Gore’s speech, and they say, “Yes, we can do this. It’s a challenge, but we can do it - we have to do it.” Other people, well, let’s just say they’re a bit more skeptical. Here’s Ohio Republican Senator George Voinovich:
VOINOVICH: Carbon free in ten years is ridiculous. I think that anybody who looks at that statement objectively, that knows anything about it would have to say that it’s ridiculous.
YOUNG: And I think that a lot of Republicans see a political opportunity here: that if Democrats begin to place an emphasis on climate change and a potentially costly approach to climate change, they can turn this and say, “Ah ha. See they’re just interested in this one thing. They don’t care about your pocket book concerns.”
GELLERMAN: Now Jeff, Al Gore has supported Barack Obama and his bid for the presidential nomination, right?
YOUNG: Yeah, he gave him a full-throated endorsement.
GELLERMAN: Do you think that he is saying what Obama can’t at this stage of the campaign?
YOUNG: I think that that’s a fair way of putting it. I think that, uh, what Gore is doing here in a way is kind of broadening what it is possible for people in the political realm to talk about safely. And, so Senator Obama, for example, uh, issued a statement after Gore’s speech saying, “We applaud the speech and he’s a champion on this…” but didn’t specifically say or endorse any of the ideas - like the ten-year timeframe and the carbon tax that would come along with that.
GELLERMAN: But not floating a balloon.
YOUNG: Not exactly, but you know, the politics and the cost of this are interwoven. You know, the question is, “Ok that’s great, but how are we going to pay for it, and how much is it going to cost, and what’s going to be the economic impact?” And that’s the vulnerability that I think, uh, Republicans are going to want to exploit. And that’s where, uh, Gore wants to get his argument out there. And his argument essentially is this: look, if you focus on, drilling, the supply side of our oil problem, the global demand is such that China is just going to suck all of that up. They’re going to drink our milkshake as they said in that great movie. So it doesn’t matter how much supply we create, what we need to do is attack the demand side.
GORE: When demand for oil and coal increases, their price goes up. When demand for solar cells increases, the price often comes down.
GORE: That’s the difference.
YOUNG: So, you know these questions: How much is going to cost? And can we afford it? And is it technologically feasible? You know what…I think that those are the same kind of questions, the same kind of debate that people where having somewhere around 1961, 1962 after Kennedy made the moon-shot challenge.
GELLERMAN: Hum. And then about nine years later astronaut Neil Armstrong was making one giant leap for mankind.
YOUNG: There you go. So maybe this is doable.
GELLERMAN: Well, thank you very much Jeff.
YOUNG: You’re welcome Bruce.
GELLERMAN: Living on Earth’s Washington correspondent, Jeff Young.
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