Thursday, November 19, 2009

Our Choice - Al Gore

Literary Arts presented Al Gore at the Keller Auditorium in Portland last night. He was in town to talk about his new book Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis and the solutions to the climate crisis. Since the publication of An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It Gore held 30 “Solution Summits” with scientists and engineers and other experts to discuss the solutions that are possible to solve our global warming crisis.

Gore began his talk by saying “Our choice represents the key ingredient [to providing the solution].” He said that our civilization has benefited from the advances in technology and lifestyle afforded to us from previous generations. “It would be an immoral choice to now give the back of our hand to future generations by failing to act on this crisis.”

He stressed that solving the climate crisis also solves some of our other crises. For example, getting us off the dependence on foreign oil from the Middle East is also solving a national security crisis. Acting on the climate crisis will also provide for a huge number of jobs, which of course is desperately needed here in the U.S.

Gore spoke of how our relationship with the ecosystem has been radically altered in the past century and half and that the most vulnerable aspect of this is the atmosphere. He said “We are dumping 90 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere each day – treating it as if it is an open sewer.”

To the global warming skeptics and deniers (who were out protesting in front of the Keller) Gore said “If you don’t want to believe in the science, fine. But at least help us become less dependent on foreign oil and create jobs.”

He urged us all to become active in this issue. He said “It is important to change light bulbs however, it is more important that we change our laws.” We need to all become politically active to urge the Senate and the Congress to pass the laws necessary to begin action on this.

He then turned to the solutions that he said are all here and that are dealt with in depth in the book:

Solar Energy
CST – Concentrated Solar Thermal
Photovoltaic Power

Wind Power

Geothermal Energy – Gore spoke of “enhanced geothermal power” which is where technology from the oil and gas industry is used to dig several kilometers into the earth to reach hot dry rock particularly in the U.S. western states. He said there is an unlimited source of energy from this process.

Growing fuel – He spoke of the disappointing results and high cost with ethanol production and how it’s competition with food crops is an issue, however he said that there are now new biomass sources – 2nd generation bio liquids and 3rd generation cellulose which are not food crops that are coming on stream.

He also touched on two controversial issues which are touted as part of the solution however, he said that he is not convinced that they are: Carbon Capture Sequestration – he said that this seems like a nice idea however it comes at a big cost, and Nuclear power – which is also extremely costly and mired with other issues such as the disposal of nuclear waste and enriched uranium for weapons issue.

Gore spoke about the issue of waste and how we are using technologies that are over a hundred years old. We need to implement new technologies that eliminate waste such as retrofitting buildings, a super grid and electric vehicles.

He spoke about China and their race to become energy efficient. They are dominating the production of solar panels, building a new super grid, and fast becoming the largest producer of wind power in the world.

So what’s stopping us?
Gore spoke of the obstacles in front of us, the greatest being political will. He said that the expectations for the Copenhagen climate talks are now lowered and that is a direct result of the fact that the U.S. Senate has not passed the Cap and Trade legislation which passed in the Congress.

He spoke of the fact that current market capitalism is inefficient (I would say failing) on this issue. Companies are allowed to have no accountability on this issue. Large corporations basically treat pollution as an “externality.” It is off their balance sheets, they are allowed to keep it “out of sight, out of mind” and therefore they have no accountability. In order to make them accountable and to get the market to reflect accuracy, there needs to be a price on carbon. He mentioned the success with cap and trade policies that were used to bring sulfur dioxide emissions under control – it worked well. In Europe, Cap and Trade is being used effectively for global warming. It can work well here. (But 100 U.S. Senators are the major obstacle).

Gore spoke about our “culture of distraction,” where the average U.S. citizen watches 5 hours of television a day - this comes at the expense of civil engagement. He said we are predisposed to thinking short term about our problems and we need to use our rational and reasoning capacities to develop long term goals and move with consensus on this issue.

Gore also spoke about the protests which seem to be following him around the country as he does his talks. He said that they are being funded by Koch Industries, the largest carbon polluter in the United States. They fly people in to where he is speaking and give the appearance as if it is a grassroots group of protesters; however, they are one of these ‘astroturf’ groups. They are trying to cast doubt and fear with pseudo science. He also said there are 5 climate lobbyists for every member of Congress.

He concluded with a strong call to action and said “We have everything we need to solve this crisis with the exception of political will. However, political will is a renewable resource in the United States!”

Websites for more information:
Our Choice - the book
Repower America
The Oregonian's coverage of Al Gore's speech in Portland
Huffington Post article "Energy industry front group plans "teabagger" protest at Gore's event in Portland
United Nations Climate Change Conference
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC
Bill McKibben review of the book Our Choice in The Nation: An Inconvenient Solution

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