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 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.
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.
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.