Al Gore: ‘Clean Coal’s Like Healthy Cigarettes’

At the Clinton Global Initiative, Al Gore ripped apartclean coal,” the coal industry catch-all propaganda term for advanced coal technologies, both existing ones that reduce traditional pollutants and developmental ones, like carbon capture and sequestration. Gore was asked by Bill Clinton, “Do you believe that the current economic difficulties will make it harder or easier to pass good climate legislation?” Here’s Gore’s answer:

For the first time in all of human history, we, as a species, have to make a decision. If we make the right decision then the answer to the question you asked is, the economic crisis can provide an opportunity to make the right kind of changes.

What should we do? We should stop burning coal . . . without sequestering the CO2. The coal and oil companies have spent in the United States alone a half a billion dollars in the first eight months of this year promoting a lie that there is such a thing as “clean coal.” Clean coal’s like healthy cigarettes — it does not exist. It could theoretically exist. The only demonstration plant was canceled. How many, how many such plants are there? Zero. How many blueprints? Zero.

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Gore continued with a discussion of how the United States and the rest of the world should build a new, smart electricity infrastructure based on wind, solar, and geothermal power “to take the energy from the places where the sun falls and the wind blows to the places where the people live” — including a link from places like Darfur to Europe:

We are now — what we should do is make a one-off investment to switch our energy infrastructure from one that depends on fuel that is dirty, dangerous, destroying the habitability of this planet, and rising in price, to a new global energy infrastructure that is based on fuel that is free forever: the sun, and the wind, and geothermal. There’s a myth that the technology is not available. It is available. Concentrating geothermal [Ed.: He means “solar”] power is competitive today. Wind is competitive, though intermittent, today. Geothermal is competitive today.

We need in this country today a unified national transmission grid, a smart grid with long-distance, low-loss transmission capacity, to take the energy from the places where the sun falls and the wind blows to the places where the people live.

And we need it globally. In Europe. In Africa, northern Africa particularly. Let’s start with Darfur. Darfur has more sunlight falling on it reliably than almost any other place. There’s a belt across that part of Africa into the Middle East. We ought to build solar electric plants there and connect them with a super grid that goes across the straits of Gibraltar and up through the Balkans and across the Mediterranean and replaces coal and oil.

Gore expressed his scorn and anger at the $500 billion propaganda campaign waged by coal and oil companies to minimize the risk of the climate crisis, just as Wall Street has been minimizing the risk of the financial crisis:

If the coal companies can actually sequester CO2 safely, then okay. But don’t, don’t pretend to do it. Don’t, don’t, don’t give us this illusion. Because that’s what they did on Wall Street. “The risk isn’t there. Don’t worry about it. Just keep focusing on the short term profit.”

Gore also responded to the argument put forward by the likes of Bjorn Lomborg that fighting the climate crisis would come at the expense of fighting global poverty and disease, by amplifying the message that Green For All and other climate-justice activists have been making:

Well, we have a responsibility to those who come after us and to those who are suffering today, to knit together a global commitment to solve this climate crisis and use it as a way to stimulate the economy in the right fashion, to create jobs building these solar panels and building these windmills and insulating the homes. And we need to have an alliance between the groups that are trying to lead the effort fighting the climate crisis and the groups who are leading the effort to fight extreme poverty and disease.

Because, as Martin Luther King said forty years ago, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. CO2 anywhere in Liberia, Sierra Leone, in southest Asia, CO2 anywhere is a threat to human civilization everywhere. Fighting poverty and making this shift is an integral part of the answer to the climate crisis.

See also Gore’s call for civil disobedience to stop coal plants and his harsh criticism of lifting the oil shale moratorium at CGI.

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Previous uses of the clean coal-healthy cigarette equivalence from SolveClimate‘s David Sassoon, Chesapeake Climate Action Network‘s Anne Havemann, and Climate Justice, who noted that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission ruled that the phrase “healthy cigarette” was illegally misleading.

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,At Daily Kos, A. Siegel describes how the Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation (TREC) is making strides in “connecting solar power in North Africa, wind power from the Eastern Mediterranean to the North Sea, bio-mass, and hydropower with a high-voltage direct current (HVDC) system of power lines to provide assured renewable electricity for the Mediterranean basin and Europe.”

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