Al Gore’s pseudo-ecology strikes again

The insidious thing about Al Gore is that he superficially sounds pretty good to environmentalists—so much so, that his ideas are even blasted as extremism by right-wing idiots. But if you scratch them, there is always less there than meets the eye. Let’s examine. From the NY Times, July 16:

Gore Calls for Carbon-Free Electric Power
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Al Gore said on Thursday that Americans must abandon electricity generated by fossil fuels within a decade and rely on the sun, the winds and other environmentally friendly sources of power, or risk losing their national security as well as their creature comforts.

“The survival of the United States of America as we know it is at risk,” Mr. Gore said in a speech to an energy conference here. “The future of human civilization is at stake.”

OK, for starters, preserving “the United States of America as we know it” (with all those “creature comforts,” as the Times extrapolates, presumably including SUVs) is presented as the incentive to address the problem—rather than the source of the problem itself.

Mr. Gore called for the kind of concerted national effort that enabled Americans to walk on the moon 39 years ago this month, just eight years after President John F. Kennedy famously embraced that goal. He said the goal of producing all of the nation’s electricity from “renewable energy and truly clean, carbon-free sources” within 10 years is not some farfetched vision, although he said it would require fundamental changes in political thinking and personal expectations.

Note the failure to define terms here. “Carbon-free” is pretty clear, but “renewable” and (especially) “clean” are considerbaly less so. For instance, does this include nuclear?

“This goal is achievable, affordable and transformative,” Mr. Gore said in his remarks at the conference. “It represents a challenge to all Americans, in every walk of life — to our political leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, engineers, and to every citizen.”

The call to “entrepreneurs” implicitly assumes that capitalist solutions are possible—as if good ol’ American ingenuity alone can break open a market dominated by the globe-spanning energy cartel of Exxon and their ilk.

Doubtless aware that his remarks would be met with skepticism, or even ridicule, in some quarters, Mr. Gore insisted in his speech that the goal of carbon-free power is not only achievable but practical, and that businesses would embrace it once they saw that it made fundamental economic sense.

There you go again. Exxon sells oil, not sunlight. Waiting for the corporate fat-cats to suddenly get on board with unhooking the economy from the commodity they sell is a perfect recipe for global holocaust. But of course we can’t talk about massive public intervention in the market—that’s been taboo in this country since the goddam Reagan “revolution.”

Mr. Gore said the most important policy change in the transformation would be taxes on carbon dioxide production, with an accompanying reduction in payroll taxes. “We should tax what we burn, not what we earn,” he said.

OK, that’s a start. But note that Gore is only talking about electricity generation here—not automotive transportation. Check out this chart from the Energy Department, “U.S. Primary Energy Consumption by Source and Sector, 2007.” 70% of petroleum burned in the US is for transportation, and only 2% for electric power. 91% of the coal is burned for electric power, but coal constitutes only 22.8% of total US energy sources, compared to oil’s 39.8%. So leaving out the cult of the automobile barely even begins to address the problem. And that’s a lot trickier, as it means a massive overhauling of the country’s basic infrastructure and the physical lay-out of our urban areas. The effort behind the Apollo program doesn’t come close to what’s needed. The better analogy might be FDR’s massive rural electrification projects and the World War II-era self-sufficiency drive… Progress which was massively reversed in the post-war suburban boom, the dismantling of mass transit, construction of the Interstate system, etc.

As for coal, here’s a relevant passage from the Energy Department’s “Electric Power” page:

The Department’s Office of Fossil Energy is working on ways to keep coal in America’s electricity future. The key challenge is to remove the environmental objections to the use of coal in tomorrow’s power plants. New technologies being developed in the Fossil Energy program could virtually eliminate the sulfur, nitrogen, and mercury pollutants released when coal is burned. It may also be possible to capture greenhouse gases emitted from coal-fired power plants and prevent them from contributing to global warming concerns.

Note that the problem here is explicitly posed in terms of propaganda—”remov[ing] the environmental objections” (emphasis added). In other words, removing the sulfur and greenhouse gases is merely a means to the propaganda end of removing the “objections.”

All of this indicates the self-limiting nature of how (as George Lakoff says) the debate has been “framed.” Anything not to upset corporate power. Even with the stakes as high as the “future of human civilization.”

See our last post on global climate destabilization.