Gore Gives an Electrifying Speech
Yesterday Al Gore gave an electrifying speech (the full text of which can be read here) that challenged America “to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years.” That’s right: no “reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050” or “generate 10% of electricity from renewables by 2020.” Rather, Gore issued a challenge that both captures the enormity of the challenges we face and forces us–all Americans–to devote our passion, creativity and genius toward creating a healthy, clean, and just America. Of course, meeting the challenge will require not only that the government provide strong incentives for renewable energy, it will also entail getting all sectors of the economy to radically change how they think about, procure and use energy. And while we already have all the technology we need to produce 100% of our electricity from renewable energy, we lack the transmission lines, control systems and policies that will be needed to make that a reality. Old jobs will be lost, and hundreds of thousands of new ones will be created. Where once rooftops contributed to the urban heat island effect and nothing else, solar panels will silently, poetically convert solar energy into electricity; off-shore and on-shore wind turbines will sprout up to harvest the breeze and, in the process, protect land by making it more valuable; in short, the impacts of shifting to 100% renewable electricity in a decade will be far-reaching, all-encompassing and deeply transformative.
Can Americans still think big?
The only question now is, have Americans lost their ability to think big and boldly? Have 8 years of the Bush Administration made us so complacent that we no longer believe in our ability to meet great challenges? I for one can say that as a young American, I am extremely excited and inspired by Gore’s challenge. I want to devote my energy to renewable energy, peace and prosperity. Just as Obama’s campaign has made so many Americans–young and old–feel hopeful about the country, Gore’s speech makes me feel hopeful and excited about the future of the world. There are simply too many exciting trends going on for us to sit back and feel there is nothing to be done about climate change, poverty and pollution.
Many will say that Gore’s plan is too costly, too ambitious, yet in his speech he pointed out that “When I first went to Congress 32 years ago, I listened to experts testify that if oil ever got to $35 a barrel, then renewable sources of energy would become competitive. Well, today, the price of oil is over $135 per barrel. And sure enough, billions of dollars of new investment are flowing into the development of concentrated solar thermal, photovoltaics, windmills, geothermal plants, and a variety of ingenious new ways to improve our efficiency and conserve presently wasted energy.” He went on to say that “To those who say the costs are still too high: I ask them to consider whether the costs of oil and coal will ever stop increasing if we keep relying on quickly depleting energy sources to feed a rapidly growing demand all around the world. When demand for oil and coal increases, their price goes up. When demand for solar cells increases, the price often comes down.”
Cost is Not the Issue
No, cost is not the issue. The issue is that there are too many powerful people who stand to lose out if America changes its ways. Of course, the truly smart entrepreneurs realize that the big money will come in renewables. Some former oilmen, such as T. Boone Pickens, are getting into the wind business, for instance, and reaping windfall profits. But the brilliance of Gore’s speech was that he touched on all the key issues surrounding renewable energy: climate change mitigation, monetary savings, national security, job creation and infrastructure improvements. Do yourself a favor and take the time to read the entire speech. Hopefully it isn’t drowned out by some celebrity childbirth or divorce. For the last few decades it seems America has been riding on the coat tails of the the post World War 2 period. Yet it is clear that we are in decline, with our currency and status in the world becoming increasingly devalued. The war in Iraq, the Bush Adminstration, Hurricane Katrina, Guantanamo Bay, our intransigence on addressing climate change, secret interrogations, torture, a loss of civil liberties, high gas prices, the credit crisis, deteriorating infrastructure, bank failures–all these things are signs of a country that needs a shot in the arm and risks slowly but steadily losing its place in the world.
While our military and economic might ensures that we are a key player in the world affairs, our moral and intellectual might has always been more valuable. However, today the world’s best and brightest are coming from Israel, China, India, South Korea, and scores of other countries that are hungry to innovate and increase their standard of living. In this era of open-source software, renewable energy, decentralization, the cell phone and the internet, collaboration and innovation are the only ways to succeed. Never before has the world been closer to entering an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity–or war, disease and instability. The path down which the world goes in the coming decades depends on fostering creativity and communication, leveraging new technologies and ideas, and disseminating them widely, quickly and effectively. Given the tremendous progress in so many fields that humanity has made in the last century, there is no excuse for poverty, lack of access to sanitation and clean water, and death from preventable disease. By now war, pollution, and injustice should be vestigial organs of an infantile civilization, not widespread, seemingly intractable problems. We are in the 21st century, yet we are still talking about 19th century problems. That is simply unacceptable, and Gore’s speech, above all else, calls on us to remedy that.
The Challenge is Financing Solutions
Finally, I want to say that the greatest challenge we face today is not coming up with solutions to global problems, but rather finding innovative ways of financing those solutions. Consider this, for instance. Why is it that in developed countries, regardless of the climate in which they are located, all citizens have access to clean drinking water? Clearly, it’s not because developed countries happen to be in climates with plenty of water. No, it’s because they have the money to finance water treatment and distribution facilities. In much the same way, starvation does not take place because there is not enough food to go around, but rather because the food is inequitably distributed and often too costly for the poor to buy. So what we need is to find ways of financing and lowering the cost of clean energy and water, food, medicine, and information technology (such as cell phones).
I have no doubt that we can do all this. I want to remind people that if solving these problems seems outside the realm of what they can reasonably be expected to do, there is tremendous money to be made in the areas of energy and poverty alleviation. The Grameen Bank, started by Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh, for instance, has turned a profit all but three years during its 30 year existence, and it is a bank devoted exclusively to ending poverty and pollution. Get in on the action by reading and thinking about all these ideas, of course, but keep in mind that there are jobs aplenty that enable you to make money and solve problems at the same time. We are in a period in which the roughly 7 billion people on earth can work together toward a better future, and there isn’t a single human being on the planet incapable of contributing something. Please also see my Huffington Post article, You Don’t Have to be Gandhi, Why Anyone Can Save the World, for more thoughts along these lines.
These are my excited thoughts after reading Gore’s speech. It may have been about renewable energy, but It renewed my passion and optimism for the future. I hope it does the same for you.
Again, the full text of Gore’s speech can be read here
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