01 March 2007

Global Climate Change: Gore Energy Consumption Flak

Much has been made about the Drudge Report on Monday about Al Gore's energy consumption.

From the report: "Gore’s mansion, [20-room, eight-bathroom] located in the posh Belle Meade area of Nashville, consumes more electricity every month than the average American household uses in an entire year, according to the Nashville Electric Service (NES).

"In his documentary, the former Vice President calls on Americans to conserve energy by reducing electricity consumption at home.

"The average household in America consumes 10,656 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, according to the Department of Energy. In 2006, Gore devoured nearly 221,000 kWh—more than 20 times the national average."

Brian Doherty, in Reason Magazine's Hit & Run blog, writes

"Is this sort of hypocrisy too cheap to meter, um, to take note of? Mmmaybe....Since [sic] Gore's whole deal is that civilization-saving absolutely and vitally requires an action on everyone's part that he seems to refuse to do himself, it leads one to wonder about how this whole global warming thing is going to play out with the public and with the government. (Unless Gore's house is powered completely or partially off a conventional coal-burning grid, which doesn't seem to be true based on Drudge's piece.)"

Jim Henley comes to Gore's defense (and the defense of Libertarian, free market principles) in Unqualified Offerings,

"Al Gore uses a lot of electricity. Al Gore buys carbon offsets. Libertarians who take anthropogenic global warming seriously - count me among them - generally favor markets in emissions over hard regulatory targets for individual homes and businesses. That way people and companies can decide to conserve or offset or buy unused capacity as they see fit, minimizing emissions while maximizing utility.

"Curiously, the 'free market' think tank that gives us our first link declares that Gore's free choice to use his own money to offset his family's carbon output makes him a 'hypocrite,' since he thinks global warming is bad."

An editorial in this morning's Wall Street Journal jumps on Gore, saying that he "is rich and fortunate enough to be able to afford the "carbon offset" for his energy indulgences. The middle-class parents who need a gas-guzzling SUV to haul the kids to soccer practice might not be so lucky. They might even settle for an unheated pool."

WSJ, which also features a good overview of carbon-offset options in its Personal Journal section today, has some nifty jibes, such as this one, which I will quote in full (because it'll cost you to read it online otherwise, even for us subscribers to the print edition):

We don't begrudge Mr. Gore his Tennessee spread or his pool, but his energetic energy use does underscore the complicated nature of modern economic life and the real costs of "doing something" about global warming. The pleasures of affluence take energy, whether they be relaxing in a hot tub after a long day of predicting the end of the Greenland ice sheet, or flying in a private jet to talk political strategy with Leo DiCaprio. You never know where you're going to leave your next carbon footprint.

God, that's brilliant writing. It's one of the things I love about the WSJ. (I wish I had the luxury of anonymity to be so pointed, barbed and tailored!) The truth is we free marketers love the concept of selling carbon credits and buying offsets. Why shouldn't the wealthy have the option to buy off their guilt? That's what surprises me about the WSJ editorial; the pot-shots at Gore are not the issue, it's not taking the concept to heart or the wallet.

Contrast this with apologists, such as David Roberts, who publishes some defensive "Talking points on the Gore pseudo-scandal" in Grist.

*It's nice to see the conservative media taking the message of conservation and energy efficiency seriously. Hopefully they will hold their own leaders and readers to the same high standards.
*The Tennessee Tax Dept. does not consider the "Tennessee Center for Policy Research," which roughly no one had heard of before this, a legitimate group. It's run by a long-time right-wing attack hack, and its only registered address is a P.O. box. Why is everyone in the media taking what it says about Gore's electricity use at face value?
*The Gores are not an average family. He's an ex-VP with special security arrangements, and has live-in security staff. He and his wife both work on their many business and charitable undertakings out of their house, so they have space for offices and office staff. All that would be tough to cram in an average size house.
Gore buys the maximum allowable green electricity from the program offered by his utility.
*Most of the electricity in TN comes from hydro and nuclear, and so doesn't generate all that much CO2 anyway.

But what the detractors and apologists alike seem to be missing is that Gore needs to be leading by example. Buying offsets and contributing to "green electricity" purchases by Nashville Electric Service is not enough for Mr. Global Warming. He needs to walk the talk and do more than offset his carbon.

Having never been to the Gore's Belle Meade home, I don't know whether wind or solar is a better option, but it seems to me that one or both should be installed at his estate. And what about geothermal? Is that an option outside of Nashville?

(WSJ also reports today about entrepreneurs in Hong Kong who have installed converters on exercise equipment to capture the energy units generated. Mr. Gore may want to talk to those fellows. It could have a dual benefit: he can generate energy for his PowerBook, while shedding some of the pounds he's put on eating on the road.)

Not sure what Gore can do about the private jet. I understand that flying in coach or even business class may not be an option for a former veep. But let's see him calculate his miles and buy some credits on the Chicago Climate Exchange!

Perhaps Mr. Gore needs to do a full carbon output analysis and disclose that publicly along with a plan for how he will relieve his carbon footprint. Lead by example, Mr. Gore.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said, Mr. A.

I just posted the following comment at the Anonymous Liberal blog, which had a post attacking the attacks on Gore's energy use as a "smear campaign" by the "right-wing noise machine":

I happen to be a card-carrying liberal environmentalist, and I was quite frankly shocked and dismayed to learn about the Gore mansion's energy use. (These charges weren't fabricated by the right, by the way: check out http://www.snopes.com/politics/business/gorehome.asp for details. Note especially the fact that while the Gore mansion is *four* times larger than the average new American house--and by the way, who says *that's* sustainable?--it uses more than *twelve* times the average amount of fuel for houses in that area, meaning that it isn't even efficient for its size. ) So far the Gore team's response to these charges has mostly been to dismiss them as politically motivated (as most of the folks on this blog seem to be doing, as well). Well, I'm sorry, but if Gore wants to be the public face of the environmentalist movement, then he's going to have to clean up his act. Sure, he may have all kinds of excuses for using so much energy ("Hey, this house isn't just our home, it's also my workplace--and my wife's workplace--so really, it should count as one home and two businesses"), but even if they're valid, they still sound like just that: excuses. Caesar's wife should be above reproach.