Last Monday night I had the pleasure of seeing Al Gore give a talk at Ahavath Achim Synagogue for the Eizenstat Family Memorial Lecture here in Atlanta. To be honest, my feelings towards Mr. Gore have been up and down over the years. I was too young to vote in the 2000 elections, but I did want him to win. After seeing "Inconvenient Truth" he almost had me making my own slide show so I could take up the Global Warming crusade, but then in 2007 I heard about his extravagantly high energy bills :
The think tank report cited figures from the Nashville Electric Service that showed Gore burned through 22,619 kilowatt-hours of electricity at his house last August, a rate that is twice the level used by an average U.S. household in an entire year.
To put that number in perspective, this August I used 973 kWh. That's 23 times less than Al used in Aug. of 2007! Learning about his high energy bills made me think that Al Gore was saying one thing yet doing another, in other words: being a politician. While I'm sure he wanted to do something about Global Warming, I was convinced that he was more concerned about the future of Al Gore over anything else. After that most of his credibility with me was gone, and I haven't really taken much of what he says too seriously. (side note: since his energy revelations were put on display, the Gores have done a green retrofit of their home.)
But that changed last Monday.
It wasn't just the fact that I got to see him in person, it was what he said and how he said it. I have never seen Al Gore this passionate before. And it wasn't just his passion, the things he was saying really made sense, and I agreed with just about all of them. He was promoting his new book, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, which I haven't read but I've asked for it for Christmas. What I really liked about what he had to say was that instead of just describing the problem - as he did in Inconvenient Truth - he actually discussed the solutions (which I understand is basically the premise for his new book).
And after years of talking to scientists, venture capitalists, and world leaders he actually has better insight into the clean energy future than almost anybody else in the world.
I won't recount his whole speech, but here were some of the highlights:
- He mentioned his involvement with the great organization Repower America. Go to their site and sign the wall! Repower America is calling for a clean energy future. I did do a blog on them earlier this year analyzing if 100% renewable energy in 10 years was realistic.
- In order to truly make a difference, Americans have to get behind the cause of clean energy. Since Nixon, each President has made it a priority to get off foreign oil, but none have achieved that. Much of the problem is due to what Al called Americans going "from shock to trance". Oil prices get high, so we want to get off foreign oil, but then they drop again, and we don't care. We have to change this way of thinking and commit to a future we know is better for us.
- He mentioned the seven geothermal heat pumps that eliminated his family's natural gas bill when discussing the potential of geothermal power production
- Not a big fan of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) saying it will only play a small role in reducing CO2 emissions. This is exactly my sentiment, and I wrote a blog doing an in-depth analysis of Carbon Capture and Storage calculations. CCS is not a solution to reducing CO2 and it takes funds away from renewable technologies that work!
- While not strictly opposed to Nuclear Power (like Amory Lovins nuclear opposition), Gore said costs were just too high, they take too long to build, and there are security issues to deal with (i.e. Iran "building" nuke plants). I worked at a Nuclear Power plant and I am not really opposed to them, because they do produce a lot of power with no air emissions and I feel that much of the worry over nuclear radiation is overblown....but, I have to say that I agree with Al that we have to develop other clean energy solutions.
- Like me, Al is looking forward to plug-in hybrids
- He mentioned the importance of the super grid (a.k.a. smart grid) which is no surprise because he had just been at a smart grid conference. We at Mapawatt are also looking forward to the development of a smart grid, as we hope to be a part of the solution in helping electricity users to see and understand their energy data!
- He thought it was funny seeing devices that would capture CO2 from the air. Why? Because he said those devices already exist: they're called trees!
- An international effort is required to prevent deforestation in places like Brazil.
- Straying from solely talking about energy issues, he mentioned the importance of healthy top-soil and how industrial agriculture (with all of its chemicals) is destroying the health of the world's top soil. Good soil is black because it is filled with Carbon! I was surprised that he didn't mention Biochar.
- The importance of women in providing a sustainable future, especially in the third world. The education of girls results in better birth control, lower populations that are healthier, and a more balanced society. I wish he would have mentioned Greg Mortenson and his effort to educate girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan!
- The biggest obstacle: political will. Special interest groups have too much power. Changing laws to enable the clean energy future is more important than changing light bulbs. "Political will is a renewable resource"
- The need for Americans to "shake off the lethargy"
- We must "put a price on carbon"
- The power of the internet to educate and get the word out. (this made me happy as that is the goal of Mapawatt Blog: Clean energy education!)
- He spent 2 days with neuroscientists and behavioral psychologists studying how to get people to care about long-term threats. As humans, we've evolved to react to immediate threats, not ones in the future. We "need to use reasoning capacity" to develop a consensus on the importance of leading the way to a clean energy future.
- China is taking its clean energy future seriously. The Chinese premier told Gore that they wanted an agreement in Copenhagen (site of the United Nations Climate Change conference from December 7-18). Pollution creates political unrest, which isn't too popular in China.
- If you have friends who are still skeptic to the need for clean energy, ask them, "Don't you think it's important to get off foreign oil?" I've been saying this for a few years now. There are many reasons why clean energy is beneficial for America and the rest of the world. Climate change is one of them. Foreign Oil from petro-dictators is another one. There are many others.
And finally, he closed with (I am paraphrasing because I wasnt able to get the exact quote):
"The next generation will look back on us and our actions. Do we want them to ask us why we didnt take any action?"