Last week, Former Vice President Al Gore challenged the nation “to produce every kilowatt of electricity through wind, sun and other Earth-friendly energy sources within 10 years.”
Gore’s call was virtually ignored by the mainstream press, which afforded energy and global warming only three percent of the coverage during the week of Gore’s speech. What paltry coverage there was often “repeated and amplified many common points of confusion with global warming policy.” Right-wing editorial pages and blogs went further, attacking Gore’s plan as “nutty” (Rocky Mountain News), “absurd” (Wall Street Journal), “lunatic” (The Atlantic), “climate claptrap” (Real Clear Politics), and in “energy la-la land” (San Francisco Chronicle). Speaking with right-wing pundit Dean Barnett on the Hugh Hewitt radio show, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) mocked his former colleague:
Yeah, Gore is the only, uh, engineer or scientist I’ve heard, heh, who thinks that’s possible. I mean, that would be wonderful, but that’s a dreamworld. That’s not reality and I think the American people are interested in straight talk, not dreamworld talk. We’re going to be using fossil fuels to some extent or another for multiple decades.
Gore was absolutely right when he pointed to the right-wing and corporate breakdown of rational discourse in his 2007 book, The Assault on Reason. In the real world, as Gore explained in his speech, “our dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels is at the core” of today’s “economic, environmental and national security crises.” His conservative critics are the ones living in a “dreamworld.”
As the Wonk Room has previously noted, Gore’s challenge to cut U.S. emissions by one-third in ten years is on the scale of what is necessary to avoid climate catastrophe. Gore’s goal is possible. At Gristmill, Gar Lipow explains:
If you follow our plan you would probably see the grid more like 90 percent decarbonized in first 10 years. But you would also see 85 percent of truck freight shifted to mostly electrified trains, construction of light rail, and massive reductions of emissions in residences, commercial buildings, and industrial use. So we reduce emissions by more than Gore’s proposal, and reduce oil use significantly too, something Gore’s plan would not do. So not only is Gore’s plan feasible over a 10 year period, much greater reductions are feasible than Gore calls for over a 10 year period. Gore remains, as he as always has been, a mainstream centrist.
The Post Carbon Institute has released a plan entitled “10 Steps in 10 Years to 100 Percent Renewable Power,” outlining what it will take to reach Gore’s goal. As the Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial board wrote:
Can it be done? Yes. A carbon-free future can become reality — if the nation is willing to invest money, creativity and national spirit. This type of impossible goal is exactly the sort of dream that’s made America, well, America.
UPDATE: At Daily Kos, Devilstower writes how Gore’s challenge affects the grassroots Energize America campaign for progressive energy policy, saying it makes “many things about that 2006 plan suddenly seem timid.” He continues:
Many voices have already been raised in support of Gore’s plan, but predictably the defenders of the status quo are legion. It’s funny how some of the same voices who are quick to point to the transition from whale oil to petroleum as a sign that technology will always be there to save us, are now screaming “not yet!” Let’s get this straight from the start. There’s no question that Gore’s plan is possible. But the biggest advance of Gore’s plan might be more psychological than physical. By setting such a lofty and laudable target, Gore draws both the screams of the naysayers and the minds of the general public in a way that a more timid plan would never achieve.
BARNETT: Now, Senator McConnell, Al Gore gave a big speech last week where he announced his audacious plans that we’re going to completely get rid of fossil fuels within te years. I haven’t heard anybody in America’s body politic say that they think this is doable or a good idea or find it remotely intriguing. What’s the Republican attitude towards that?
MCCONNELL: Yeah, Gore is the only, uh, engineer or scientist I’ve heard, heh . . .
MCCONNELL: . . . who thinks that’s possible. I mean, that would be wonderful, but that’s a dreamworld. That’s not reality and I think the American people are interested in straight talk, not dreamworld talk. We’re going to be using fossil fuels to some extent or another for multiple decades. We want to get beyond the fossil fuel era, but it’s not going to happen just by saying you’re going to do it in ten years. No one believes that can be done. We need to make greater use of our own resources and we need to move as rapidly as possible on all fronts, beyond what I just indicated to you is the bare minimum we ought to do. We need more nuclear for those who are concerned about climate change. Nuclear is a great response to that. We haven’t built a nuclear plant in thirty years, We need more refineries, we haven’t built a refinery in 30 years. There’s a lot we need to do. We need coal to liquid. The U.S. military would like to buy coal to liquid.They’d like to have a dependable supply of fuel. This Congress is not interested in pursuing any of these options.