Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Al Gore for Secretary of State

Today, a columnist for the Washington Post made the argument that Al Gore should become Barack Obama's Secretary of State. I think it would be a bold and clear move that Obama is elevating the climate/energy issue to the very top of his agenda. In no way do I expect this to actually happen - but it's going to take bold leadership of this sort to make the real changes that Obama stressed during his campaign.

Gore has been shopping around his plan lately to not only rid our country completely of its dependence on foreign oil in the next 10 years, but eliminate all fossil fuel usage in the country completely in that time frame. Of course it's a huge task - but it's also a huge problem. As a country and as a world, our efforts to slow global warming over the past 10 years (since Kyoto was signed in 1998) have been by nearly all accounts a failure. Not only have we failed so far to make any reductions in CO2 emissions, we are actually still increasing the rate of emissions. And a recent report said that not only are we increasing emissions globally, but emissions are increasing at a rate above the worst case scenario set out by the IPCC in 2000. Above it! Now, emissions in Europe have begun to peak, but those reductions are more than offset by the rise of China, India and the rest of the developing world. We're going to need a truly global agreement in order to save ourselves. Maybe Gore is the person for that job, maybe not - but it definitely deserves attention as one of the very most important issues of an Obama administration.

Below is an excerpt from Gore's oped in Sunday's New York Times:

What follows is a five-part plan to repower America with a commitment to producing 100 percent of our electricity from carbon-free sources within 10 years. It is a plan that would simultaneously move us toward solutions to the climate crisis and the economic crisis — and create millions of new jobs that cannot be outsourced.

First, the new president and the new Congress should offer large-scale investment in incentives for the construction of concentrated solar thermal plants in the Southwestern deserts, wind farms in the corridor stretching from Texas to the Dakotas and advanced plants in geothermal hot spots that could produce large amounts of electricity.

Second, we should begin the planning and construction of a unified national smart grid for the transport of renewable electricity from the rural places where it is mostly generated to the cities where it is mostly used. New high-voltage, low-loss underground lines can be designed with “smart” features that provide consumers with sophisticated information and easy-to-use tools for conserving electricity, eliminating inefficiency and reducing their energy bills. The cost of this modern grid — $400 billion over 10 years — pales in comparison with the annual loss to American business of $120 billion due to the cascading failures that are endemic to our current balkanized and antiquated electricity lines.

Third, we should help America’s automobile industry (not only the Big Three but the innovative new startup companies as well) to convert quickly to plug-in hybrids that can run on the renewable electricity that will be available as the rest of this plan matures. In combination with the unified grid, a nationwide fleet of plug-in hybrids would also help to solve the problem of electricity storage. Think about it: with this sort of grid, cars could be charged during off-peak energy-use hours; during peak hours, when fewer cars are on the road, they could contribute their electricity back into the national grid.

Fourth, we should embark on a nationwide effort to retrofit buildings with better insulation and energy-efficient windows and lighting. Approximately 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States come from buildings — and stopping that pollution saves money for homeowners and businesses. This initiative should be coupled with the proposal in Congress to help Americans who are burdened by mortgages that exceed the value of their homes.

Fifth, the United States should lead the way by putting a price on carbon here at home, and by leading the world’s efforts to replace the Kyoto treaty next year in Copenhagen with a more effective treaty that caps global carbon dioxide emissions and encourages nations to invest together in efficient ways to reduce global warming pollution quickly, including by sharply reducing deforestation.

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