A 10-Year Quick-Fix to our Energy Woes? Get Real, Gore.

July 18, 2008 |

by Marty Hoffert, Breakthrough Senior Fellow

It's obvious that Al Gore means well. Frustrated with the U.S. gridlock on climate and energy, he made a speech yesterday calling for the country to produce all its electricity from renewables within the next ten years. But Gore's speech assumes solutions will be much simpler than they can possibly be given the realistic state of energy tech. It's convoluted and nonspecific, promising things that are nowhere in the pipeline.

gore speech.jpg

I know why he's doing this: The same reason Joe Romm, Amory Lovins and Pacala and Socolow do it -- to sell the public that solutions are near-term ("ten years"), cheap, and easy. But he struggles with the fact that there is no political context for getting real about what he wants. Ignoring the problem is suicide; so pragmatically, "bait and switch" seems the most effective strategy.

But in my opinion, it's better to be honest about our country's utter technological unpreparedness to tackle climate and energy. It's not pessimism, it's realism. I'm a technological optimist; I think we can build an energy-sustainable civilization that, unlike Hitler's short-lived Third Reich, will last a thousand years or more. I'm not talking about plug-in hybrids, better insulated homes and carbon offsets from remote wind and biomass electricicty. We need to be doing all of these things now, but they won't be near enough.

We need a revolutionary change in the way we generate primary power at the global scale. The most cost effective power by far is coal burning with carbon dioxide up the stack, and eventually liquid fuels derived from coal (and shale) -- climatic disasters in the making. We must offer the next President -- and possibly Gore as a major climate/energy adviser -- an alternative policy path that avoids this fate and is realizable through a set of actions by government. This path must bring the U.S. closer to both energy independence and carbon-neutral primary power. It must emerge from objective scientific and engineering analysis of primary energy supply resource options along with demand reduction from efficiency gains. Some of these initiatives won't pan out, but we must insulate ourselves from failure by pursuing multiple paths at the same time.

The urgency is clear increasingly now even to Joe Sixpack. But no way do we get there fast without a WW II type mobilization of the home front, and even then we're in for a long haul.


Isn't this exactly along the lines of what you are all about? Something with a big and bold vision? Please let us know?

By Bill on 2008 07 18