Jon Stewart Challenges Al Gore On Climate Technology Challenge

November 6, 2009 | Yael Borofsky,

The Daily Show's Jon Stewart strongly challenged Al Gore last Wednesday on the former Vice President's contention that "we have all the tools we need" to solve global warming. Said Stewart:

"It is a much more fundamental shift than I think environmentalists realize. It's not just about sorting plastic and paper. It's about how the life that humans have carved out was from burning things we found. You say, let's do a different thing, but you haven't given us that thing...It's very frustrating to me to keep hearing about this and not seeing hover cars."

Stewart also questioned the effectiveness of Al Gore's apocalyptic climate change messaging in Gore's new book, "Our Choice." Stewart balks at a line in the book's opening page:

"I'm offering you the choice of life or death, you can choose either blessings or curses."

While Gore is quick to attribute inaction on global warming to lack of political will, Stewart questions whether we can solve global warming by merely making a choice to do so. Gore's apocalyptic discourse does not resonate with Stewart and other concerned people like him, however, and Stewart says he's frustrated not inspired.

Stewart's line of questioning draws on a problem the Breakthrough Institute has been working to address for the past two years: the price and performance gap between the technologies we have today - like solar, wind, and geothermal - and the next generation of these same technologies that can compete with oil and fossil fuels to successfully transition to a clean energy economy and mitigate climate change. Ultimately, Stewart hones in on the fact that energy efficiency and renewables are not sufficient to meet the energy challenge without continued technology innovation to improve and drive down the price of clean energy technologies that will both relieve the U.S. of its dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil, while maintaining its economic competitiveness in the global clean energy market.

Bridging this gap is a critical part of solving climate change but it is a discussion that Gore avoids, preferring instead, to insist that today's renewable technologies would be sufficient, if only we had the political will to replace oil and fossil fuels. Yet, with growing support for research into next generation nuclear and carbon capture and storage technologies (CCS) it is clear that Gore's view, one shared by Amory Lovins and Joe Romm, is becoming increasingly marginal. By insisting that political will is the missing ingredient, Gore and others imply that all that is needed is more regulations to require the use of these technologies. This focus ignores the hard reality that the nations are hard-pressed to spend more money on energy than they already do. Instead of more limits, energy technology and policy experts are increasingly insisting that large-scale investment for research, development, and deployment of a suite of clean energy technologies, that includes nuclear and CCS, will be critical if we plan to address the scale of the energy challenge and that clean energy technology innovation is necessary to improve current technologies to meet our energy needs.

That's why a growing consensus of innovation experts have been raising their voices to demand that pending U.S. climate and energy legislation include large scale investments - on the order of $15 billion annually - in clean energy technology R&D and it's why President Barack Obama included this level of investment on his website.

In essence, Stewart takes Gore to task for insisting we have the solution when we don't and it is inspiring to see a popular media figure challenge an important political figure like Al Gore on these issues. Clearly Stewart has been affected by the realization that no nation is taking meaningful action to address this energy challenge and that there are real technological and economic reasons for this hesitation. In a recent post on Climate McCarthyism, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus applaud Stewart's willingness to stand up to a bully. Stewart has proven that he is also willing to challenge Al Gore and the conventional wisdom on climate change.

The full interview can be viewed below.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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BTI might improve the quality of the cap-and-trade discussion by more technology assessment for concentrating solar with thermal storage (CCS, or as Joe Romm calls it, solar baseload) and the other elements of "all the technology we need."

The GAO has done some very good work, but it is hard to find links to it. The Vorsana site has some. Gore and other sincere proponents of climate action need to have a fact check source lest they continue to damage the cause by unrealistic technical claims.

By Wilmot McCutchen on 2009 11 07