Al Gore's New Book: A Focus on Solutions

By Chris Mooney | November 6, 2009 11:00 am

I’m quoted in USA Today this morning talking about Gore’s solutions book–Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, currently at # 21 on Amazon. As I note, it is very good that Gore is focusing on fixes, given that An Inconvenient Truth was faulted for not having enough focus in this area. However, there is always the problem of partisanship: Who listens to Al Gore? Democrats, that’s who. Republicans pretty much dismiss him out of hand–unfortunate, but it’s true. I am very glad Gore is out there raising as much consciousness as possible about the climate crisis; he’s a unique asset. But I am also sure we need very different emissaries to reach the denialists (if that’s even possible).

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Comments (11)

  1. Sorbet

    Chris it’s not a question of denial. Gore is neither a scientist nor an economist. He is pretty much pitching one line and one line only without exploring other solutions like the discounting solutions recommended by William Nordhaus. Plus Gore calls on all citizens of the world to treat this as a moral issue and to make sacrifices. Perhaps he needs to remember a little more that the best way to bring about behavioral changes is through economic incentives. Try pitching the moral angle to the millions of ambitious, poor people in India or China. With Gore’s strategy it would take 50 years before we make a dent in the problem. Nobody (except Republicans) question Gore’s intentions, but Gore and others need to look in other more practical directions too. It’s not just Gore/Stern which is definitely proven to be the solution to the problem, and it’s dangerous to think that their solution would be the optimum one.

  2. Tom Johnson

    I like Gore, but he’s almost become caught in the wacko segment of the far left. There’s no question that there is a large portion of the Right that dismisses climate change (and anyone associated with it) at face value, but there’s also a portion of the Left that accepts it equally at face value, without question.

    I’m not saying we should be skeptical of climate change, nor am I saying that Gore is far off-base. Like Sorbet hinted at, I think a plurality of practical approaches to this problem is best (because there’s a plurality of issues causing it). Even though I don’t tihnk he’s meant to, Gore has almost made it seem like addressing climate change is a one-trick pony.

  3. Jon

    Gore calls on all citizens of the world to treat this as a moral issue and to make sacrifices.

    That’s exactly wrong. Gore actually deserves tons of credit for getting the business community together and make them realize there’s some money to be made solving this problem, spending all the time that he did cultivating Kleiner Perkins and Google and other Silicon Valley types (and I bet he had a hand in the Clinton Climate Initiative as well).

    This has been a big deal, because as Jaime Galbraith pointed out in his recent book, there was no lobbying firepower behind the issue before (which I bet is a big reason for the change in tone coming out of both parties in Inhofe’s senate committee these days).

    If it wasn’t for Gore, things would look very different, both in the existence of any public sense of urgency, as well as the organization of non-regressive business interests that right now are giving the issue the kind of voice that makes GOP elites sit up and take notice (as opposed to the regressive business interests we’ve had in the driver’s seat over the past 8 years).

  4. Sorbet

    I agree with Tom and I don’t think so. While has has worked with businesses, Gore has certainly pitched the issue as a moral one, which it is. Unfortunately that’s not going to change behavior as quickly as economics incentives. Gore’s intentions have always been honorable and I was among the first to enthusiastically recommend and even gift “An Inconvenient” truth to everyone I know. But Gore needs to read up more on alternative environmental and economics approaches. Climate change is a young science, and it’s dangerous to buy into a single approach at this early stage.

    I personally met with Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the IPCC last month, and his idealism was frustrating. Again, good intentions, but Pachauri thinks that citizens of all major countries will vote out their governments in 10 years if the governments don’t act on climate change legislation. I can bet that’s not going to happen.

  5. Jon

    Unfortunately that’s not going to change behavior as quickly as economics incentives.

    You don’t get it. Once you have a lobby with some muscle, you *create* economic incentives. In other words, you lobby for legislation that levels the playing field, so that regressive businesses don’t make the market a “race to the bottom.” You have to make the market price carbon as an externality (which it is. Look up “externality” in Adam Smith.)

    Climate science is not particularly young. It’s been around since the 19th century. The science itself is not incredibly complicated. I got it in high school organic chemistry years ago. You burn a big petrochemical (created by plants who extracted CO2 from the atmosphere when it was a lot hotter) then you liberate CO2. CO2 traps heat. It was hotter back when the petrochemicals were made.

    Once you tease out CO2 as an agent of warming, all that’s left is how much warming is happening. We’re already clearly seen warming. Ergo, we need to find ways to maintain the middle class lifestyle that everyone around the world demands politically, but cease basing it on burning hydrocarbons. To achieve that, you have to price the externality of CO2. You have to incentivize the economy to switch from one set of technologies to another. Gore is creating a sense of “moral urgency,” but that’s part of what’s required so that the right economic activity is rewarded.

  6. 1. Sorbet Says:
    November 6th, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    Try pitching the moral angle to the millions of ambitious, poor people in India or China. With Gore’s strategy it would take 50 years before we make a dent in the problem.
    ______________

    China and India don’t need a moral angle. For them it’s practical. The vast majority of their populations live along the coasts, and the source of their major rivers are disappearing Himalayan glaciers. And even in the face of the awful pollution of both countries, they’re also both serving as incubators for sustainable solutions. For example, China is encouraging cities in Jiangsu province to reduce emissions and become “Ecological Cities,” while building huge wind farms in Xinjiang. In India, there are programs using microcredit to encourage solar power, and an Indian corporation has developed one of the most efficient and affordable green cars available.

    The difficulty in affecting more widespread change is us – the west as a whole and the United States in particular. It’s very difficult to encourage China and India to set stricter emissions limits when we can’t even pass a cap and trade bill with gums, let alone teeth.

  7. Jon

    In other words we need more of this kind of thing:

    http://greeninc.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/27/solar-industry-takes-on-coal-and-oil-lobbies/

    My sense is that Gore (and probably Clinton to some extent) brought a lot of business leaders together so you have some stakeholders with an interest in providing services that solve the problem (too bad C and G couldn’t have done it back when they were in office in the 90′s).

  8. Sorbet

    That is true, but India and China also need massive amounts of energy to feed and clothe their growing populations and the average Indian and Chinese is going to more concerned about how he can be more upwardly mobile and get his next meal. Solar power is going to be a very limited solution. Fortunately India has always been a strong advocate of nuclear power so we can hope that they would switch more productively to this power source, especially using thorium and pebble bed reactors. The Chinese also need to do this and stop builing so many coal plants. Now if there’s anything even more difficult than convincing Indians and Chinese to change, it might be convincing Americans to change.

    Jon, yes, but it’s going to take a long time before the right economic activity comes along in India or China. What I don’t understand is why Gore and others are not more fruitfully embracing Yale University economist William and Nordhaus and other’s concept of discounting which would be cheaper than the Stern/Gore plan. And when I said climate science is young I meant its awareness. It’s far too early to lock in a single kind of solution to the problem. Therefore discounting, geoengeneering, everything will have to considered scientifically. I personally have always been in favor of imposing a carbon tax. But especially in the US, I don’t see how it’s going to make sense until there is better public transportation.

  9. Aside from semantics, what is the difference between “making sacrifices” and “paying thehidden costs”?

  10. Jon

    Lab Lemming, if you’re referring to “paying the hidden costs” of new technology, there are a few things to consider. One is that even if we don’t switch technologies, we’ll still be paying “hidden costs” in the future, both from climate change and resource scarcity, not to mention relying on unstable regimes to secure those resources.

    And two, there are benefits from the new technologies that could make energy even less expensive. We don’t use energy nearly as efficiently as we could, and there are plenty of technologies coming on line that are becoming competitive with the old sources–which are heavily subsidized (as my link above says, “fossil fuel industries received $72 billion in federal subsidies between 2002 and 2008.” That’s quite a chunk of change.)

  11. David

    When I studied biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology as an undergraduate, and later as a graduate student, those who questioned theories putatively endorsed by leading minds in the field were called critical thinkers. When the little-known upstarts, Watson and Crick, crossed theoretical swords with the great mind of Linus Pauling when seeking the molecular structure of genetic material, they were pronounced by the scientific community as “correct” in 1953. These researchers were working, albeit with relatively primative technology, with a current event, in the present, that could eventually be viewed with increasing clarity, as technology in the field developed. At the present, the IPCC are basing predications on computer modeling, which is based on a still debatable analysis of past climatic events and several rather hastey assumptions about questionable assumptions about present data. This crusade of the “believers” (what else would you call those who are not “deniers?”), using a promising but still new field of questionable accuracy (computer climatic modeling) are led by a failed politician with a mission to reclaim a legacy, this time as a prophet saving the world from homo sapiens. This same man who made a D in a freshman science class in college, is now recognized as a leader in climate science, a voice crying in the wilderness for us to heed the warnings based on the zealous embracers of an unsettled science. Now here is my dire prediction for our next generation. When, in a few decades, we are not living in a land besieged by another 20 feet or so of ocean level, when we are not all dying of disease incredily linked to global warming, and we have not gained several degrees census in average surface temperature…who will ever believe in common sense environmentalism again. When rational minds urge conservation of energy, more effieicnet and parsimonious use of the same, maintaining a cleaner climate, controlling our population, etc…who is going to believe us? They will been thoroughly jaded with the horse hockey pushed by Gore and his disciples. The assertion that an idea is endorsed by a “consensus” of the scientific community will serve as a signal for the common person to stop listening. The populace will have heard the cry of wolf one time too many, and noone will embrace a more sane environmental posture. This is the fear I have for my grandchildren.

    David

    P.S. I am not a republican.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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