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You are here: > News > September 22, 2006

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.

by Mary-Sue Haliburton
Pure Energy Systems News
Copyright © 2006

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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. 3).

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 isn’t 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 doesn’t exactly sound the right note; he’s 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 didn't specify.

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.

There’s 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 it’s 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 aren’t paying taxes per head on their staff.

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. 7)

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 Administration’s 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. 8)

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 lightning speed."

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: - Text of speech, and interesting reader comments.

Ref. 2:

Ref 3: - "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:

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 

Ref. 5: Inconvenient Truth

Ref. 6: Experts point the way ahead for Kyoto-II deal

Ref. 7: Creating the North American Union

Ref. 8:  California launches new lawsuit against carmakers – make them responsible! (Sept 20/06)

Ref. 9: reported on Daily Planet, the science news program of the Canadian Discovery Channel, 21 Sept. 2006.

Special Mention: TreeHugger; Sept. 20

See also

Page posted by Sterling D. Allan Sept. 22, 2006
Last updated December 24, 2014





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