The inspiring and transformative choice by the American people to elect
Barack Obama as our 44th president lays the foundation for another
fateful choice that he — and we — must make this January to begin an
emergency rescue of human civilization from the imminent and rapidly
growing threat posed by the climate crisis.
The electrifying redemption of America’s revolutionary declaration that
all human beings are born equal sets the stage for the renewal of United
States leadership in a world that desperately needs to protect its
primary endowment: the integrity and livability of the planet.
The world authority on the climate crisis, the Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change, after 20 years of detailed study and four unanimous
reports, now says that the evidence is “unequivocal.” To those who are
still tempted to dismiss the increasingly urgent alarms from scientists
around the world, ignore the melting of the north polar ice cap and all
of the other apocalyptic warnings from the planet itself, and who roll
their eyes at the very mention of this existential threat to the future
of the human species, please wake up. Our children and grandchildren
need you to hear and recognize the truth of our situation, before it is
Here is the good news: the bold steps that are needed to solve the
climate crisis are exactly the same steps that ought to be taken in
order to solve the economic crisis and the energy security crisis.
Economists across the spectrum — including Martin Feldstein and Lawrence
Summers — agree that large and rapid investments in a jobs-intensive
infrastructure initiative is the best way to revive our economy in a
quick and sustainable way. Many also agree that our economy will fall
behind if we continue spending hundreds of billions of dollars on
foreign oil every year. Moreover, national security experts in both
parties agree that we face a dangerous strategic vulnerability if the
world suddenly loses access to Middle Eastern oil.
As Abraham Lincoln said during America’s darkest hour, “The occasion is
piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our
case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.” In our present case,
thinking anew requires discarding an outdated and fatally flawed
definition of the problem we face.
Thirty-five years ago this past week, President Richard Nixon created
Project Independence, which set a national goal that, within seven
years, the United States would develop “the potential to meet our own
energy needs without depending on any foreign energy sources.” His
statement came three weeks after the Arab oil embargo had sent prices
skyrocketing and woke America to the dangers of dependence on foreign
oil. And — not coincidentally — it came only three years after United
States domestic oil production had peaked.
At the time, the United States imported less than a third of its oil
from foreign countries. Yet today, after all six of the presidents
succeeding Nixon repeated some version of his goal, our dependence has
doubled from one-third to nearly two-thirds — and many feel that global
oil production is at or near its peak.
Some still see this as a problem of domestic production. If we could
only increase oil and coal production at home, they argue, then we
wouldn’t have to rely on imports from the Middle East. Some have come up
with even dirtier and more expensive new ways to extract the same old
fuels, like coal liquids, oil shale, tar sands and “clean coal”
But in every case, the resources in question are much too expensive or
polluting, or, in the case of “clean coal,” too imaginary to make a
difference in protecting either our national security or the global
climate. Indeed, those who spend hundreds of millions promoting “clean
coal” technology consistently omit the fact that there is little
investment and not a single large-scale demonstration project in the
United States for capturing and safely burying all of this pollution. If
the coal industry can make good on this promise, then I’m all for it.
But until that day comes, we simply cannot any longer base the strategy
for human survival on a cynical and self-interested illusion.
Here’s what we can do — now: we can make an immediate and large
strategic investment to put people to work replacing 19th-century energy
technologies that depend on dangerous and expensive carbon-based fuels
with 21st-century technologies that use fuel that is free forever: the
sun, the wind and the natural heat of the earth.
What follows is a five-part plan to repower America with a commitment to
producing 100 percent of our electricity from carbon-free sources within
10 years. It is a plan that would simultaneously move us toward
solutions to the climate crisis and the economic crisis — and create
millions of new jobs that cannot be outsourced.
FIVE PART PLAN
First, the new president and the new Congress should offer large-scale
investment in incentives for the construction of concentrated solar
thermal plants in the Southwestern deserts, wind farms in the corridor
stretching from Texas to the Dakotas and advanced plants in geothermal
hot spots that could produce large amounts of electricity.
Second, we should begin the planning and construction of a unified
national smart grid for the transport of renewable electricity from the
rural places where it is mostly generated to the cities where it is
mostly used. New high-voltage, low-loss underground lines can be
designed with “smart” features that provide consumers with sophisticated
information and easy-to-use tools for conserving electricity,
eliminating inefficiency and reducing their energy bills. The cost of
this modern grid — $400 billion over 10 years — pales in comparison with
the annual loss to American business of $120 billion due to the
cascading failures that are endemic to our current balkanized and
antiquated electricity lines.
Third, we should help America’s automobile industry (not only the Big
Three but the innovative new startup companies as well) to convert
quickly to plug-in hybrids that can run on the renewable electricity
that will be available as the rest of this plan matures. In combination
with the unified grid, a nationwide fleet of plug-in hybrids would also
help to solve the problem of electricity storage. Think about it: with
this sort of grid, cars could be charged during off-peak energy-use
hours; during peak hours, when fewer cars are on the road, they could
contribute their electricity back into the national grid.
Fourth, we should embark on a nationwide effort to retrofit buildings
with better insulation and energy-efficient windows and lighting.
Approximately 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the United
States come from buildings — and stopping that pollution saves money for
homeowners and businesses. This initiative should be coupled with the
proposal in Congress to help Americans who are burdened by mortgages
that exceed the value of their homes.
Fifth, the United States should lead the way by putting a price on
carbon here at home, and by leading the world’s efforts to replace the
Kyoto treaty next year in Copenhagen with a more effective treaty that
caps global carbon dioxide emissions and encourages nations to invest
together in efficient ways to reduce global warming pollution quickly,
including by sharply reducing deforestation.
Of course, the best way — indeed the only way — to secure a global
agreement to safeguard our future is by re-establishing the United
States as the country with the moral and political authority to lead the
world toward a solution.
Looking ahead, I have great hope that we will have the courage to
embrace the changes necessary to save our economy, our planet and
In an earlier transformative era in American history, President John F.
Kennedy challenged our nation to land a man on the moon within 10 years.
Eight years and two months later, Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar
surface. The average age of the systems engineers cheering on Apollo 11
from the Houston control room that day was 26, which means that their
average age when President Kennedy announced the challenge was 18.
This year similarly saw the rise of young Americans, whose enthusiasm
electrified Barack Obama’s campaign. There is little doubt that this
same group of energized youth will play an essential role in this
project to secure our national future, once again turning seemingly
impossible goals into inspiring success.
by Al Gore, New York Times
Al Gore, the vice president from 1993 to 2001, was the co-recipient of the
Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. He founded the Alliance for Climate Protection
and, as a businessman, invests in alternative energy companies.