In last Sunday's New York Times Al Gore scripted an impassioned op-ed, "Moving Beyond Kyoto." The piece is a call to arms to all Americans, to our government to act and act expeditiously. That "Our home -- Earth -- is in danger. What is at risk of being destroyed is not the planet itself, but the conditions that have made it hospitable for human beings...that we are moving closer to several 'tipping points' that could-within 10 years- make it impossible for us to avoid irretrievable damage to the planet's habitability for human civilization."
Correctly and cogently he pinpoints that, "This is not a political issue. This is a moral issue , one that effects the survival of human civilization. It is not a question of left versus right; it is a question of right versus wrong."
His writing is a clarion call for Americans to take the lead to provide the moral leadership in this global enterprise. And that American leadership is a pre-condition for its success.
And yet, and yet, his rallying cry falls short. Yes there are admonitions to have our nation ratify a new and tougher protocol on climate change and all that would entail in mandating industry to minimize carbon emissions. He calls on us to press our government to take firm, quick and effective action to cut global warming by 90 percent within a generation. But his message gets lost in the fog of government speak and generalities such as "I have no doubt that when we give industry a goal and the tools and flexibility to sharply reduce carbon emissions we can complete and ratify a new treaty quickly." Or "This treaty would mark a new effort... But I believe that the protocol (Kyoto) has been so demonized in the United States that it probably cannot be ratified here -- much in the way the Carter administration was prevented from winning ratification of an expanded strategic arms limitation treaty in 1979."
But for all his prophetic passion, we, that is to say practically all of us, no matter how much we care about this issue are not going to be enlisted in sufficient numbers to make change happen by talk of treaties and protocols. Nor will attending or listening to the Earth Day concert Gore refers to in his text. Nor making the "Answer the call pledge" found on his algore.com website.
What is needed is the leadership to make us all feel involved, to make it really touch our daily lives, to make us understand that we are beginning to make the sacrifices needed to meet this existential challenge by curtailing the excessive consumption of those elements that are poisoning our environment and threatening our and our children's future.
Gore, having so aptly detailed the danger, could call on more from us. He could, as one example, call on us to petition our government, and to lead the public debate toward reducing the nation's consumption of petroleum based gasoline by 50 percent in five years!
Such a program could be achieved in many ways, but let me propose the broad outlines of one list of suggestions, paraphrasing from a previous post. It could work like this:
* A national ceiling would be established for the consumption of gasoline and would be reduced each year so that at the end of five years the national consumption of petroleum-based gasoline would be fifty percent of what it is today.
* It would be necessary to wean the automobile away from gasoline and putting in is place hybrids/plug-ins, flex fuel cars and trucks. The changeover would require:
* A national program to facilitate distribution of eco-fuels to this new generation of vehicles accessing alternative fuels -- plug in stations for city dwellers, ethanol and bio fuel pumping facilities. These facilities must become as widespread as gasoline pumps are now.
* Policies to bring about an orderly conversion from gasoline powered vehicles to hybrids, flex fuels, plug-ins, hydrogen powered vehicles including help for Detroit, car owners and refiners who would be called upon to change their production and consumption standards.
* Broader cultivation and land use targeting greater production of ethanol and biofuels to power these vehicles (think of Brazil's astounding success with ethanol made with sugar cane)
* An electric grid system based on power generated from traditional sources, limiting where possible carbon emissions from coal-fired plants, but augmented by wind, solar, tidal, and nuclear power generation, while expanding delivery capabilities to permit widespread use of plug-in vehicles
* Each car owner would receive a magnetic debit card entitling that individual to a specific allocation of gasoline which could vary somewhat according to profession, hardship or geographical location. These allotments, let's call them 'Eco Purchase Permits (EPP's) could be used or freely traded through online bulletin boards, gas station sponsored markets, personal transactions, and so on. The key is that those wanting or needing additional gasoline could get it through free market transactions without increasing the overall consumption of gasoline.
* Consumers using gasoline ethanol blends would be debited for the gasoline content alone. Only the consumption of petroleum-based gasoline would be constrained
* Consumption of ethanol, biodiesel, hydrogen and plug-in energy would be open-ended and priced to market
Each of these steps is within our own competence and capabilities. With political will and leadership we could begin our journey to a carbon-safe environment tomorrow, and if not then, within weeks of the swearing in of our next president. Whatever the program, these are the kind of goals we have to set for ourselves and we must elect leaders who will call on us to do the needful.
In doing so, we would not only recapture the mantle of America's moral leadership, but as Gore succinctly states, "The climate crisis offers us the chance to experience what few generations in history have had the privilege of experiencing: a generational mission: a compelling moral purpose: a shared cause...to put aside the pettiness of politics and to embrace a genuine moral and spiritual challenge."