Get a Grip, Al.

By Kathleen Davis, associate editor

I love Al Gore. I’m just going to get that out of the way up front. I voted for him for president. I think he’s a sharp guy, a good man, a great diplomat. But, these days, he’s become a man obsessed.

He’s been on a media blitz (along with oil billionaire Boone Pickens) about wind energy and renewables, how we need to change our path and rely on those for major energy production within the next decade. He’s been on TV; he’s been featured in “Time.” He’s everywhere discussing a need for a radical overhaul to our electricity infrastructure. But, he seems to have crossed the line from passionate pusher of ideals to obsessive dilettante with this new campaign.

In very few cases has obsession led to good things. Obsession usually leads to the opposite: bad, bad things. Genghis Khan was obsessed. Alexander the Great was obsessed. In terms of our own industry, think corn ethanol. That was an obsession, and it’s lead to riots over tortillas in Mexico. (Never mess with food. That’s a basic rule of economics.)

Now, do I think Al Gore’s about to conquer half the world through military means? No, of course not. Do I think he’s hell-bent on conquering the whole world through rhetoric? I do. And, the problem with his rhetoric is the same problem that came about with the gung-ho promotion of corn ethanol: a lack of common sense.

Like proponents of corn ethanol, Gore’s not looking at the economics. (Unlike proponents of corn ethanol, who just didn’t see the economics, Al’s ignoring them.) His plan takes serious cash. And, for a country in the midst of a costly war and teetering on recession, very few Americans will take seriously a plan that will create dependence on electricity at two, three, four, six, even ten times their current rates. (Infrastructure and equipment costs are, well, costly.)

Additionally, without increased funds for research into electricity storage and HTS superconducting lines (or perhaps lines made of nanotubes) that can push lots of power over long distances with little to no loss, Gore’s plan cannot be done in a decade. Without that R&D, it can’t be done in three decades. That’s more money. A lot more.

Instead of discussing a compromise, we’re stuck in this insane, unhelpful “extremes” loop. Sen. Tom Coburn is obsessed with denying all aspects of climate change, and, now, Al Gore is obsessed with making all aspects of climate change red on the “emergency” scale. What happens when everything is an emergency? The same thing that happened to the terror threat level scale that is color-coded and disclosed to us every time we wander through a U.S. airport: It gets ignored. It recedes into the background.

Al Gore is, fortunately, rich. He can afford to save the world. The rest of us, who are simply looking to make ends meet in decidedly rough financial times . . . well, we can’t really survive the cost of Al Gore’s current climate change rescue plan. My suggestions for a compromise: living in less space, possessing fewer electronics, turning off the lights, downsizing, demand response, and, yes, research into electricity storage. Will they save the world? No, but it’s a start. And it doesn’t take a rich man to accomplish it. It just takes willpower. Even Al can do those things today–including funding that R&D. I would love to see him return to the passionate man he was: No more plans that make you sound nutty, please. It’s a real disservice to your legacy and your cause, Al.

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