Al Gore’s modest proposal

And speaking of satire…

When I read Al Gore’s latest speech on global warming, my reaction was much like my initial response to that New Yorker cover (see previous post): What am I supposed to make of this?

The call to produce “100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years” is off the charts. To blandly claim that this is both “achievable” and “affordable” is a typical Gore touch–as is the hyperbole about the end of life as we know it if we fail to do as he advises. Gore says, “The leading experts predict that we have less than 10 years to make dramatic changes in our global warming pollution lest we lose our ability to ever recover from this environmental crisis.” Well, among other things, that depends what you mean by “dramatic”; so far as am I aware, nobody else is saying, “eliminate carbon from the US electricity supply by 2018 or we are doomed.”

Gore is right, however, that meeting his target would be “transformative”. That is why the inevitable invocation of Kennedy’s moon-shot commitment is ill-conceived. Putting a man on the moon within nine years of getting the first American into space was self-evidently a staggering accomplishment. But unlike what Gore is calling for, it did not represent “a challenge to all Americans – in every walk of life: to our political leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, engineers, and to every citizen.”

I agree with Gore about some things. I agree with his preference for a carbon tax over other carbon control regimes. And history has been on the side of technology optimists. At today’s energy prices, progress on new technologies for conservation and renewables will probably happen much faster than we think. (See this for instance.) But eliminating carbon from electricity within 10 years? Does he even mean it? “I see my role as enlarging the political space in which Senator Obama or Senator McCain can confront this issue as president next year,” he says. Translation: I advocate the impossible so that the possible becomes more probable. Fair enough, one might say. But propaganda in a good cause is still propaganda, isn’t it?

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

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