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  Sierra Magazine
  May/June 2007
Table of Contents
 
  SMART ENERGY SOLUTIONS:
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Sierra Magazine
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The Power of Truth
{excerpted from Al Gore's comments at Sierra's climate forum}
May/June 2007

Former U.S. vice president Al Gore has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his work to bring attention to the threat of climate change. His 2006 documentary on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, recently won an Academy Award, and his book on the degradation of democracy, The Assault on Reason, will be released in May.
GLOBAL WARMING is, first and foremost, a challenge to the moral imagination. Nothing in our history or experience prepares us for contemplating, much less acting upon, our new relationship to a planet that has been utterly transformed in a short period of time.

Though the population is stabilizing, it has had an effect on our footprint. We've nearly quadrupled the population in less than a hundred years, and that has set the stage for the introduction of technologies that are thousands of times more powerful than any our grandparents had. Along with this, we've had a curious change in philosophy. We think it's OK not to worry about the long-term consequences of our actions.

All the information flowing toward us may be one factor that foreshortens our time horizons, causing us to focus on the near term and instant gratification. So much so, in fact, that when one says, "This will hurt your grandchildren," it's hard to get a response. Recently I read about the newly emerging consensus with regard to the rate of melting of the North Polar ice cap. Under business-as-usual conditions, the ice cap will be completely gone in the summertime within 34 years. First they came for our grandchildren, then they came for our children, and now they're coming for us. This is playing out now.

To build a consensus for change, we have to effectively communicate the danger we face. Yet this is difficult. T. S. Eliot wrote, "Between the motion / And the act / Falls the shadow ... Between the conception / And the creation ... Falls the Shadow." We have to cross that shadow.

Three systems are involved: the value, market, and political systems. Our values are formed in different ways, by our culture, faith traditions, families, and communities. We have achieved a great deal of progress in building a consensus that important values are now at risk and we have to act.

Translating that into meaningful change in the market and political systems is the immediate challenge. We've heard from Paul Anderson and others about the importance of putting a price on carbon as a way of assisting the market to make intelligent decisions. That has to be done.

For 14 years, I've proposed that we ought to reduce employment-based taxes down to nearly zero and replace them dollar for dollar with pollution-based taxes, principally on CO2. Think about it: We live in an outsourcing world where competition with low-wage-based developing countries is fierce. We are handicapping ourselves by piling on top of our single biggest disadvantage--our high-wage structure--the full cost of our health, education, and welfare systems, which come in the form of employment-based taxes. These taxes are killing our ability to compete. Why not give employers and employees a break and encourage more jobs while discouraging the destruction of the planet?

With regard to our political system, it now devalues knowledge and facts. It didn't used to. What was special about the America we were born into was that it still embodied the highest values of the Enlightenment. We grew up in a world where truth mattered, and when new ideas came from people like Stephen Schneider, Dan Reicher, Paul Anderson, and Vinod Khosla, the merit of the ideas was judged against the rule of reason. Our political system, never perfect, nevertheless paid more attention to such things.

The political system doesn't act that way anymore. As in the feudal era, wealth and power now regularly trump knowledge, facts, and reason. The diminished role of reason in the public marketplace of ideas has an impact--from the auto industry to the upcoming presidential campaigns. The joke about the auto industry is that after the Clean Air Act was amended in 1970, every Japanese auto company hired 100 new engineers, and every U.S. company hired 100 new lawyers. It's not too far from the truth, unfortunately.

I have a political idea that is scalable, to use an important concept properly underscored and highlighted by the Sierra Club's roundtable. We ought to have a mass movement around a carbon freeze; it's scalable from the individual level to the company, community, state, and national level.

Gandhi used the word satyagraha, or "truth force." In American politics, there have been soaring moments throughout our history when the truth has swept aside entrenched power. In the darkest hours of our Civil War, Abraham Lincoln said, "We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country." We need once again to disenthrall ourselves.

ON THE WEB The San Francisco-based Alliance for Climate Protection is a new initiative from Al Gore. He calls it "an effort of mass persuasion" to motivate the public, develop political consensus, and implement solutions. Visit allianceforclimateprotection.org.


Photo by Anne Hamersky; used with permission.

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