In a dramatic speech recently, Al Gore upped the ante in the debate over oil prices, the economy and climate change. As Republicans tried to sell the public on handing over more public land to Big Oil drilling, Gore challenged the nation to take an immediate, giant step away from fossil fuels by producing all electricity from renewable, carbon-free energy sources within 10 years. Currently about 75 percent of our electricity is produced by burning coal and natural gas, spewing global warming carbon into the atmosphere.
“This goal is achievable, affordable and transformative,” Gore told a cheering crowd of over 1,000 who packed the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall in Washington, July 17. “It represents a challenge to all Americans in every walk of life.” He also called for a rapid shift to cars that run on electricity rather than oil.
Citing melting glaciers, extreme weather, soaring gasoline prices, wars, jobs lost to outsourcing, auto companies in trouble and the likelihood of “environmental refugees,” Gore said these add up to linked economic, environmental and national security crises that threaten “the survival of the United States of America as we know it,” and even human civilization itself.
Taking what some might call a dialectical approach, Gore said “the tendency to offer old solutions to each crisis separately without taking the others into account” not only doesn’t work but makes problems worse.
“When we look at all three of these seemingly intractable challenges at the same time, we can see the common thread running through them. Our dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels is at the core of all three.
“When you connect the dots, it turns out that the real solutions to the climate crisis are the very same measures that are needed to renew our economy and escape the trap of ever-rising energy prices. Moreover, they are also the very same solutions that we need to guarantee our national security without having to go to war in the Persian Gulf.
“Scientists have confirmed that enough solar energy falls on the surface of the Earth every 40 minutes to meet 100 percent of the entire world’s energy needs for a full year,” Gore said. “And enough wind power blows through the Midwest corridor every day to also meet 100 percent of U.S. electricity demand.” Geothermal energy is another big potential “green” source.
“The quickest, cheapest, most efficient, and best way to start using all of this renewable energy is in the production of electricity,” and it can start right now, he said.
Gore’s dramatic call was praised by two labor-environmental coalitions.
In a statement issued by the Blue-Green Alliance, a partnership between the Steelworkers union and the Sierra Club, Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said, “The time has come for our nation to embrace the possibilities, economic and environmental, of investing in global-warming solutions — solutions that will create jobs and combat the climate crisis head on.”
Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope said Gore’s challenge should spur “a new energy policy that reinvests in America.” He added, “It is up to the people of this country — young and old, rich and poor — to come together to realize the economic and environmental potential of investing in a green economy.”
The Apollo Alliance, which includes the Steelworkers and Mine Workers unions as well as a host of other unions and environmental, business and social justice groups, also hailed Gore’s initiative. Alliance chair Phil Angelides said it is clear a movement is building for a national program to “get us off oil, make us energy independent, invest in clean energy, and create a new generation of high-quality, green-collar jobs.” The alliance cautioned, however, that attention must be paid to guaranteeing that people whose livelihoods now depend on the carbon-based fossil fuel economy are “not left behind or caused undue hardship.”
The job-creating and union-boosting potential of clean energy production is demonstrated in Cambria County, Pa., where Johnstown’s steel mills used to produce 2 million tons of steel annually. After the mills closed, a recent article in the American Prospect notes, Cambria County seemed like “one more rustbowl outpost that crawled out of the wrong side of the 1980s.”
But the Steelworkers played a big role in bringing in a Spanish wind turbine company last year that now employs 240 workers in the area and is expected to add another 500 near Philadelphia. This June, the company’s workers ratified their first Steelworkers union contract.
Gore assailed as “perverse” the Republican push for more oil drilling, which experts say would have no impact on oil prices for years, if ever.
He declared, “Our families can’t stand 10 more years of gasoline price increases. Our workers can’t stand 10 more years of job losses and outsourcing of factories. Our economy can’t stand 10 more years of sending $2 billion every 24 hours to foreign countries for oil.
“And our soldiers and their families cannot take another 10 years of repeated troop deployments to dangerous regions that just happen to have large oil supplies.” “But even those who reap the profits of the carbon age have to recognize the inevitability of its demise,” he said.