Noble Laureate and former Vice President Al Gore on Thursday issued a “moon shot”-style challenge for the United States to set a goal of producing 100 percent of its electricity from non-carbon, renewable energy resources by 2018.
Gore opened his speech at the DAR Constitution Hall in Washington by declaring, “I do not remember a time in our country when so many things seemed to be going wrong simultaneously.”
He went on to say that a common thread in America’s economic, environmental and international security crises is the nation’s “over-dependence on carbon-based fuels.”
“We’re borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet,” he said. “Every bit of that has to change.”
Gore challenged the country to commit to moving exclusively to carbon-free production of electricity through use of solar, wind and geothermal technologies within 10 years, recalling President Kennedy’s May 25, 1961, speech before a joint session of Congress announcing plans to send a man to the moon.
“When President John F. Kennedy challenged our nation to land a man on the moon and bring him back safely in 10 years, many people doubted that we could accomplish that goal,” Gore said. “But eight years and two months later Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the surface of the moon and planted the American flag.”
Gore said the “survival of the United States of America as we know it” is at risk, as well as “the future of human civilization.”
“I for one do not believe our country can stand 10 more years of the status quo,” he said. “Our families cannot stand 10 more years of gasoline price increases. Our workers can’t stand 10 more years of job losses and outsourcing of factories. Our economy can’t stand 10 more years of sending $2 billion every 24 hours to foreign countries for oil. And our soldiers and their families cannot take another 10 years of repeated troop deployments to dangerous regions that just happen to have large oil supplies.”
Gore reminisced about watching the launch of the Apollo 11 lunar-landing mission in July 1969 as a 21-year-old just out of college about to enlist in the U.S. Army.
“And then, four days later, I watched along with hundreds of millions of other around the world as Neil Armstrong took one small step to the surface of the moon and changed the history of the human race.”
“We must now lift our nation to reach another goal that will change history,” Gore said. “Our entire civilization depends upon us now embarking on a new journey of exploration and discovery. Our success depends on our willingness as a people to undertake this journey and to complete it within 10 years. Once again, we have an opportunity to take a giant leap for humankind.”
Parts of the speech, billed as a major policy address, aired live on CNN and MSNBC. A transcript of the full speech text is posted at the Web site for the We Campaign, sponsor of the speech.
In terms of policy, Gore called for taxing energy producers based on the amount of pollution, while reducing payroll taxes. “We should tax what we burn, not what we earn,” he said.
He also advocated providing “good jobs in the fresh air and sunshine” for any coal miner put out of work by the transition to renewable energy sources.
He also urged the U.S. to join other nations and adopt an international treaty next year in Denmark that includes both a cap on carbon emissions and addresses extreme poverty and disease.
“Of course the greatest obstacle to meeting the goal of 100 percent renewable energy within 10 years may be the deep dysfunction of our politics and our self-governing system as it exists today,” he said. “In recent years our politics has tended toward incremental proposals made up of small policies designed to avoid offending special interests, alternating with occasional baby steps in the right direction. Our democracy has become sclerotic at a time when these crises require boldness.
“It is only a truly dysfunctional system that would buy in to the perverse logic that the short term answer to high gasoline prices is drilling for oil 10 years from now in areas that should be protected,” he continued.
“Am I the only one who finds it strange that our government so often adopts a so-called solution that has absolutely nothing to do with the problem that it is supposed to address?” he asked.
“When people rightly complain about higher gasoline prices that are hurting our country, we propose to give more money to the oil companies and pretend that they’re going to bring gasoline prices down?” he continued. “It will do nothing of the sort, and everyone knows it. If we keep going back to the same policies that have never, ever worked in the past and have served only to produce the highest gasoline prices in history, alongside the greatest oil company profits in history, nobody should be surprised if we get the same result over and over again.”
Gore said the way to bring gasoline prices down “is to end our dependence on oil and use the renewable sources that can give us the equivalent of one dollar per gallon gasoline, and we need to get busy creating that system now.”
Gore asked his audience to join the WE Campaign in calling “on every candidate at every level to accept this challenge–for America to be running on 100 percent zero-carbon electricity in 10 years.”
“It’s time for us to move beyond empty rhetoric,” he said. “We need to act now, and we need to act boldly. This is a generational moment a moment when we decide our own path and our collective fate. I’m asking each of you to join me and build this future.”
“Al Gore has issued a prophetic social critique and bold political challenge,” said Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics. “I hope goodwill Baptists will embrace this moral vision and put their moral muscle to work creating a stronger economy and a healthier environment. This is the kind of non-partisan agenda that advances the common good.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.