Goring Gore

by Richard T. Stuebi

In the past few weeks, not even March Madness has matched the competitive intensity with which climate skeptics have piled on Al Gore for his personal energy consumption patterns.

In the unlikely event that you’ve missed this story, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research (TCPR) reviewed Gore’s electricity bills from his Nashville mansion and calculated his energy consumption levels at 20 times the national norm.

Clearly, TCPR had been awaiting the right time to release their findings for maximum embarrassment to Gore, seeking to undermine his credibility on the issue of climate change, as they just happened to announce their findings on February 27: the day after Gore and his colleagues had won the Academy Award for Best Documentary for An Inconvenient Truth.

TCPR release

TCPR didn’t even try to appear unbiased: instead of just laying out the facts, they revealed their open contempt for Gore in the first sentence by opining that he “deserves a gold statue for hypocracy.”

The story tapped a groundswell of public opinion, and seems to have legs: last week, Gore testified on climate change at the U.S. Senate, and had to endure the humiliating fate of being chastised for his energy use by the infamous Senator James Imhofe, who stands by his claim that climate change is the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on Americans.

MSNBC story

Gore pointed out in his testimony that he purchases carbon offsets to neutralize the emissions impact of his energy comsumption. That set in motion another investigative feeding frenzy, which surfaced that these offsets were purchased from a company in which Gore had an interest.

WorldNetDaily posting

I continue to be annoyed and frustrated with the novel ways in which the climate change debate gets sidetracked due to red herrings. Whatever Gore’s personal decisions, it doesn’t change the bigger picture: the scientific basis for climate change is getting increasingly clear, the prospects for accelerating climate change are increasingly becoming locked in, and the mandate for taking actions to combat climate change are thus increasingly urgent.

But, I’m also very disappointed in Al Gore. In my view, there really is no excuse for the excessive energy consumption at his Nashville home. With this irresponsibility, he opened himself — and his cause, an extremely critical cause — to ridicule and doubt.

In my view, Gore’s rebuttal that he neutralizes his energy consumption with carbon offsets doesn’t fully wash. It is hypocritical to completely shun personal responsibility for energy conservation, and then ease one’s conscience by spending a few dollars of one’s enormous wealth to mitigate the waste. And, this practice imposes an economic cost to society: if everyone were to wastefully consume energy and buy offsets as Gore does, the market prices for offsets would rise far more than otherwise would have been the case than if everyone were prudent consumers of energy.

Further, if it’s true that Gore buys his carbon offsets from a company in which he has a stake….well, there’s nothing illegal about that, but the optics sure don’t look good. Gore’s too smart to be this stupid. But then again, let’s not forget that Gore was somehow able to lose an election to George W. Bush — George W. Bush! — even when Gore held the massive advantages of incumbency and the strong tailwinds of 8 years of peace and economic health in the U.S.

The spate of recent bad press about Gore serves to impede the growth of a vibrant carbon offset market. Most Americans haven’t heard of or don’t understand carbon offsets, and they will have a “bad taste in their mouth” about them as a result of this high-visibility exposure.

More significantly, the TCPR findings have created a new tactic for climate change deniers to pursue. Their message: even Al Gore can’t “walk the talk”, therefore, we don’t have to do anything about climate change. Hopefully, the lack of logic in this argument will reveal itself quickly to the American public. As Abraham Lincoln said, “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

However, shame on Gore for putting us all through this by his ill-advised energy choices. With his Oscar win, it seems as if he’s truly joined the Hollywood “limousine liberals” who are viewed with contempt — and whose positions are therefore summarily dismissed — by many due to their perceived “out-of-touchness” with common Americans.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

5 replies
  1. Sir Oolius
    Sir Oolius says:

    I was hoping for a better comeback from the Gore camp than what they gave us to work with (what was his electricity consumption before the renovation?, what other efficiency measures might he be considering besides solar?, etc.), but it hasn't happened yet. On the other hand, he might not want to have the issue blow up more than it already has, and there are probably some security concerns beyond his control that artificially inflate his consumption. Besides, it's tough in a state with no net metering (as far as I know). Anonymous: You're correct in the sense that even if Gore's consumption were "only" twice the "average" he'd still be knocked around because of what he represents beyond the issue of global warming. And that's silly b/c he's doing quite a lot to advance the cause! On the other hand, it's frustrating when we personally do all we can to reduce our own use and yet we have to counter those who waste freely and spin mightily with the only counterargument we have: his use is carbon-neutral.

  2. Big Gav
    Big Gav says:

    Ummm – isn't he actually on a 100% green power plan ?I thought the carbon offset purchases were against airline travel and the like ?I got the impression (and I haven't rigorously checked it) that his power bill was much larger than average partially because he has a mansion, but also because he's on clean energy and thus paying more for it.I can't really see a problem with using plenty of energy so long as its all cleanly generated – as Cheney says (*paraphrasing), conservation may be a virtue but its not one widely aspired to.Isn't clean technology half about creating as much energy as people want in a sustainable way ?http://thinkprogress.org/2007/02/26/gore-responds-to-drudge/

  3. Bill Barney
    Bill Barney says:

    Richard,Aren't you being taken in here by the now-classic "Swift Boat" strategy, which is to try to discredit your opponent's strength by making a fuss about some apparent inconsistency. This can be done to anyone who is sufficiently prominent to get a message across to the public. It is not Gore's fault that he's being attacked. It is nearly impossible to insulate yourself from this kind of attack, if the attacker's motivated enough. (And if they bend the truth; see this article from Grist: http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2007/2/28/155124… appropriate response, in my opinion, is not to chastise Gore for being insufficiently pure, but to follow up on TCPR, and show that they are not any kind of legitimate and concerned "policy research" group, but are a partisan attack squad.I read and like most of what you write, so I hate to scold here. But I think you have been played.Best regards,Bill

  4. Richard T. Stuebi
    Richard T. Stuebi says:

    All,Thank you for your considered comments. I would like to respond to some of the points raised.I have no illusions about the lack of integrity of TCPR, and said as much in my post, as TCPR revealed their biasedness in the first line of their opening salvo against Gore. I wrote that TCPR's line of attack is a red herring to distract from the legitimacy of the bigger issue: climate change. Perhaps it was/is naive of me to assume that their reportage of Gore's energy consumption/bills is correct — it really is possible that it all is a big lie.However, it doesn't seem like TCPR is issuing a big lie, because Gore hasn't denied TCPR's basic claims, but rather has attempted to deflect the issue (in my view, unsatisfactorily) by standing behind the shield of carbon offsets.With his leadership on the climate change issue, Gore has painted a big bulls-eye on himself, and he ought to be very well prepared for all the slings and arrows that will be sent his way. Consuming excessive amounts of energy is an easy target for opponents to score points by diverting the public into an enormous number of tangential conversations — including this one.As for the claim that Gore's carbon neutrality sufficiently expunges his high energy consumption, even though I'm generally a free-market guy, I'm not wholly sold on this line of argument. True, climate neutrality through purchasing of carbon offsets is morally superior than not being climate neutral. But all ways of achieving climate neutrality are not, at least in my opinion, equally good. In my view, it would be better to achieve climate neutrality through modest energy consumption and acquisition of a relatively small number of offsets, rather than achieving climate neutrality through high energy consumption and acquisition of many offsets.Some might rebut that market forces will set prices for carbon offsets to encourage more efficient behavior by customers, or for intermediaries to step in and serve customers like Gore with various efficiency products/services. Maybe so. Yet, the carbon market is at best very immature, not highly liquid, and hence subject to scarcity. Prices of offsets to other customers can easily be bid up by a few large buyers, so if everyone were as gluttonous as Gore, the supply of incremental offsets could be unduly stressed. Also, the linkage between offset purchases and true emission reductions achieved can be tenuous. True, certification entities exist, but especially as the market expands, I suspect that verification of carbon offsets will be pretty difficult to confirm. Many emission reduction projects will occur in far-flung places out of easy visibility, and quantification of reductions will in many cases be quite ambiguous. All told, while we should all aspire to achieve climate neutrality, I think it's best to achieve it by first minimizing energy consumption, rather than gobbling up huge quantities of offsets to whitewash huge quantities of energy consumed.And, rest assured, I'm not trying to be holier-than-thou in my comments here. I readily acknowledge that my energy practices can benefit from much improvement. I don't consider myself superior to Gore in any way. I only wish Gore had exercised more prudence to eliminate the source of ridicule from his critics — who should not be excused from their ridiculous positions themselves.

  5. Paul Rippey
    Paul Rippey says:

    Hi All,
    Al Gore's présentation is based on IPCC studies. Gore is not a perfect human being, but that doesn't mean he's wrong about climate change. He is irrelevant – there is a ton of evidence from the overwhelming majority of climate scientists that we are well into anthropogenic climate change, which is likely to continue and accelerate, and a lot of that will be bad news. Let's work together on mitigation and adaptation, and forget Al Gore. Let's talk about important things. As the Economist said decades ago, there are things that make sense to do even in the absence of climate change, so even skeptics should be hot for conservation and clean energy. Paul

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