Just after taking the stage at Daughters of the American Revolution Hall in Washington, D.C. Thursday, former Vice President Al Gore thanked a packed house for attending his speech on how to combat climate change. And then he pointed to a couple of special guests: Libertarian Presidential Candidate Bob Barr and Black Eyed Peas rapper will.i.am (he of the now-famous "Yes We Can" YouTube video in support of Barack Obama).
Gore thanked will.i.am for making the trip from California, and praised Barr for his serious attention to the issue of global climate change.
After the crowd settled down, it wasn't long before Gore brought them to rapturous applause when he said, "We're borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that's got to change."
Then Gore threw down his gauntlet: "Today I challenge our nation to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years."
The former vice president said his challenge is achievable and affordable now in a way it wasn't mere years ago, given the rising cost of oil and the impact of increased investment in new technologies. Specifically, Gore cited the fact that silicon needed for solar panels once fetched $300 per kilogram, but now only costs $50.
Perhaps acknowledging rumblings from Democrats who were reportedly worried that the speech comes at a time when Americans are more interested in lower gas prices than environmental lectures, Gore described his challenge as a necessary part of efforts to foster economic development and improve national security.
"Our dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels is at the core of all three of [our] challenges -- the economic, environmental and national security crises."
Later, Gore claimed that exploding demand for oil in China would keep driving up the global price of the commodity, no matter how much new drilling or exploration is undertaken by the United States. "And politicians cannot bring gasoline prices down in the short term," he said.
Gore admitted that major obstacles stand in the way of his challenge. He noted that the nation's power grid is not sufficiently strong to deliver renewable energy to all parts of the country, but he said "it has to be upgraded anyway." Much more threatening to his proposal, Gore said, was our "sclerotic" politics that only takes "baby steps" instead of decisive action.
"But I've begun to hear different voices in this country from people who ... are hungry for a new, different, and bold approach," Gore said.
Outside the forum, a cavalcade of anti-Gore protest organizations lined the streets, trying to make their counter-arguments. Lyndon LaRouche's partisans handed out a glossy flier entitled "The Implications of the Gore Hoax for International Policy." Other wags took up mock-collection plates to pay for Gore's own carbon footprint. But inside the hall, Gore's references to such past government efforts as the Marshall Plan and President Kennedy's call to reach the moon tapped a vein of enthusiasm in the crowd that resulted in a standing ovation as he left the stage.
UPDATE: In a statement released after Gore's speech, Barack Obama chimed in:
"For decades, Al Gore has challenged the skeptics in Washington on climate change and awakened the conscience of a nation to the urgency of this threat. I strongly agree with Vice President Gore that we cannot drill our way to energy independence, but must fast-track investments in renewable sources of energy like solar power, wind power and advanced biofuels, and those are the investments I will make as President. It's a strategy that will create millions of new jobs that pay well and cannot be outsourced, and one that will leave our children a world that is cleaner and safer."