Al Gore: Will Carbon Freeze be Enough?
Leading US politician proposes carbon-emissions freeze and other
practical tactics for averting climate disaster. Though political, legal and
financial challenges stand in the way of a shift to cleaner energy, his
expression of faith in his fellow humans and examples of companies making
positive change can inspire more people to take up the cause.
Pure Energy Systems News
Copyright © 2006
Climate Change Rushes On
Citing Scientific American magazine's dictum that the evidence is all in and
debate about whether global warming is occurring is over, former Democratic
Presidential candidate Al Gore called for strong measures to pull the planet
back from imminent climatic disaster. (Ref
1) On September 18th, 2006 at NYU law school, he addressed a gathering which
was sponsored by the environmental think-tank World Resources Institute (Ref.
2), and by the political organization Set America Free (Ref.
The early part of his speech, Mr. Gore gives an overview of recent alarming
scientific observations. As an American political leader, naturally he gives his
attention up front to the fact that in the United States 2006 has been the
hottest year so far, with continuing increase in drought and forest fires as the
high temperatures contributed to drying out land and vegetation.
He also points to the rapid melting of polar ice, and to glacier earthquakes
which suggest destabilization. If large sections of ice fields tumble into the
ocean, water levels could rise by 20 feet, he said. This would increase coastal
erosion, and obviously put low-lying port cities at greater risk of flooding
from storm surges. Another danger factor he emphasized is that stored CO2 and
methane formerly trapped in permafrost is now being released into the atmosphere
at a greater rate the faster the arctic zone warms up. And the arctic is heating
up faster than the rest of the planet.
Human and Political Motivation
Gore didn't spend any more time than necessary on the dire situation facing the
planet and its human population. His buoyant personality isnt the type to
dwell on despair-inducing information. He lingered briefly on the subject of how
slow people have been to taking action, quoting, oddly, T.S. Eliot:
"Between the conception and the creation, Between the emotion and the
response Falls the Shadow." (Ref. 4) An expression of
decadent mentality sliding into inaction and detachment from reality doesnt
exactly sound the right note; hes acknowledging that this mindset represents
a kind of zeitgeist that seems to rule many who seem indifferent to the issue.
Whether this reluctance to face the problem head-on and deal with it effectively
is due to stubbornness, greed, or to a fey attitude such as this poem reflects
--that we're going down anyway and might as well party on the way down -- Gore
He moved on quickly into a more motivational mode in accord with his natural
ebullience. Nearly anyone with a functioning psyche, and probably Americans in
particular, could not help but be positively stimulated by his evocation of
their ability to respond to a crisis.
The theme of how Americans are able effectively to correct problems continues
with examples of political actions taken by various states and cities that break
up or cross former political "great divides": Republicans and
Democrats joined together in California to call for sharp reductions in carbon
emissions. In calling for bold action to address climate change, even some
conservative evangelical pastors have publicly distanced themselves from the
Bush-Cheney administration. And some CEOs have taken steps to bring their
companies into zero-emission status. Gore then alludes to the positive side of
the needed changes, in creation of new jobs and businesses.
Theres a stick to wield as well as the carrots he just waved. The negative
political reality is also likely to prod patriotic feelings into action. For
example, he says that Americans are tired of borrowing huge amounts of money
from China in order to finance importing huge amounts of oil. Once aware of how
this is embarrassing their country in the eyes of the world, they will feel even
more strongly taking action to mitigate that debt and to reduce the oil imports.
Most hearteningly, Al Gore also calls for a higher level of honesty in U.S.
politics. When mistakes are made, he says, it's because the people have not been
given a full accounting of the facts that they needed in order to make the best
decision. He admits that both parties have to take responsibility for their
withholding of that information from the public in recent elections.
Carbon Freeze and the Kyoto Trading System
In this speech, as in his film An Inconvenient Truth (Ref.
5), Gore's main purpose is to set up a context in which his advocacy of a
total freeze on Carbon Dioxide Emissions, the "carbon freeze", will
come across as both logically sensible and emotionally acceptable for as broad a
spectrum of his audience as possible.
Into this context he brings the Kyoto-Treaty concept of carbon-emissions
trading. Because the U.S. excluded itself from the treaty, he explains, the rest
of the world was hampered by a huge gap in its attempt to fix the problem.
"The absence of the United States from the treaty means that 25% of the
world economy is now missing. It is like filling a bucket with a large hole in
the bottom. When the United States eventually joins the rest of the world
community in making this system operate well, the global market for carbon
emissions will become a highly efficient closed system and every corporate board
of directors on earth will have a fiduciary duty to manage and reduce CO2
emissions in order to protect shareholder value."
Gore urges that despite the anti-Kyoto rhetoric that has poisoned the debate in
the past, the U.S. must now join the discussions to usher in an even tougher
treaty that is in the works internationally (Ref.
6). On the home front, he calls for breaking down the problem into smaller
building-blocks. Even the limited solutions that are not enough in isolation
will accomplish noticeable improvements when combined.
Incentives to Speed Technological Changes
He then discusses in detail the inefficiency of the internal combustion car as
we have known it. Over 90% of the energy from fuel is actually wasted, and
according to the math only about 1% is being directly employed in the work of
moving a person around. Gore points out the illogic continuing to use these
older technologies while newer, more efficient ones have already been invented.
To him its a matter for hope that we are not starting from zero; there's
already been some progress at least in theory and technology. The roadblock is
in human behavior.
Combined with incentives, and the improved profits possible to businesses as
they waste less energy in old methods, will be security benefits from wider
distribution of energy technologies. Gore gives this as the original reason for
creating the internet, then called ARPANET: the military needed a redundant
system of communications that would continue to work if a part of it were
destroyed in a nuclear detonation. Similarly, an energy system that depends on a
few large power plants is more vulnerable than widely-distributed smaller power
generation capabilities of many kinds.
Gore also discusses how the tax system can be modified to promote pollution
reduction. For example, he advocates replacing the American payroll tax with a
tax on pollution, especially on CO2 emissions, suggesting that as a side benefit
more employment may result if companies arent paying taxes per head on their
Another tax-related proposal would affect how mortgages are priced by
eliminating "any additional increase in the purchase price by capturing the
future income from the expected savings." That's rather a mouthful of
jargon, but appears to mean that if the building has low to zero emissions,
energy savings should accrue to the purchaser. This idea is offered to help
builders and buyers overcome their aversion to paying the higher cost of
improved insulation in buildings, thus keeping their energy consumption lower.
He calls for the creation of a "Carbon Neutral Mortgage Association"
to market to utilities, banks and construction companies the "financial
instruments" that would achieve this without requiring public funds.
Political Face-Offs over Carbon Emissions
Will Gore and those who join with him in advocating a total freeze on carbon
emissions find themselves in a head-on collision with a powerful oil-business
interests with friends in high places, which is still very much capable of
putting a damper on all attempts to avert the onrushing climate disaster? Secret
trilateral negotiations among business, military and political leaders of
Mexico, the U.S. and Canada toward harmonization of all laws, with an
emphasis on the oil as the primary energy base, are a formidable threat. (Ref.
The only way to avert this danger is to raise public awareness, and to put
pressure on the media and elected officials to disclose these plans. As Gore
says in his speech, the people need information in order to bring about
environmentally-sustainable policies within a constitutional framework.
It may be taken as a sign of hope that even after the defeat of its
zero-emissions law due to the Bush Administrations lawsuit on behalf of
carmakers, the state has struck back in kind. As reported on 20 September 2006,
California has now launched its own lawsuit against the car companies in a drive
to make them assume responsibility for the damage caused by emissions from
internal-combustion cars. (Ref.
Although a similar lawsuit has been dismissed by a judge in New York, the move
helps draw attention to the issue of damage caused. New regulations to control
carbon emissions are about to be signed into law by Governor Schartzenegger.
California has also joined with 11 other states to sue the Bush Administration
for failing to regulate emissions.
Legal squabbles within the country are not going to clean up the whole dirty
picture; air keeps moving, pulling smog along with it, without regard for
national boundaries. More political and legal challenges exist internationally.
The infamous brown cloud of smoke and smog from heavy industry and
increasing vehicle use in Asia and the Indian subcontinent now extends across
the ocean. Researchers have developed small, remote-controlled UAVs which are
flown stacked to measure the variation in density of the clouds at various
altitudes. (Ref. 9). More of these pint-sized
pollution-monitoring systems are to be deployed to trace origins and contents of
these brown clouds.
Gore's message does contain the core of hope that humanity is capable of rising
to a challenge, and that it is capable of doing so surprisingly rapidly. He also
specifically expresses faith in his own country and its people:
"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
Let us hope his insight is correct, and do all we can to put forward and
implement the practical suggestions of Gore and others who are standing up for a
diversified, low-emissions energy system.
# # #
Ref 1: http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2006/9/18/154846/236
- Text of speech, and interesting reader comments.
Ref. 2: http://www.wri.org/
Ref 3: http://www.setamericafree.org/
- "Polls show that 9 in 10 Americans support a crash effort for reducing
dependence on Middle East oil." quoted on the website of another
organization which has adopted the same stance: http://www.apolloalliance.org/safpressrelease.cfm
Ref. 4: From a poem titled "The Hollow
Men" first published in 1925. For commentary on its meaning and the
cultural context that spawned it, please see http://www.philipkdickfans.com/frank/toj-hollowmen.htm
Ref. 5: Inconvenient
Ref. 6: Experts
point the way ahead for Kyoto-II deal
Ref. 7: Creating
the North American Union
Ref. 8: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14924286/
California launches new lawsuit against carmakers make them responsible!
Ref. 9: reported on Daily Planet, the science news
program of the Canadian Discovery Channel, 21 Sept. 2006.
Special Mention: TreeHugger;