Nov 24, 2008 (From the CalCars-News archive)
On November 9, when we posted "Gore/Alliance for Climate Protection: All-In for Plug-Ins," http://www.calcars.org/calcars-news/1022.html we thought with the appearance of plug-ins as a central component of the "Repower America" campaign, and strong endorsements by Al Gore in the Wall Street Journal and the NY Times, we said we'd finally gotten buy-in from global warming advocates. But that may turn out to be just the beginning. On Sunday Al Gore continued by responding to a question about what to do about the auto industry with even more unequivocal comments on plug-in hybrids and using batteries to store intermittent renewable energy. And later on, he may have become the most prominent person to compare "clean coal" to always-promising hydrogen. His most powerful comment: " We cannot allow an illusion to be the basis of a strategy for human survival." We include much of the transcript. And we follow that with substantial excerpts from a recent Google/NRDC talk where people involved closely with the transition team talk about energy and plug-in policies.
SEE GORE VIDEO OR READ TRANSCRIPT BELOW: on journalist Fareed Zakaria's TV interview show, "GPS," http://www.cnn.com/CNN/Programs/fareed.zakaria.gps . You can watch the two-part video at http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2008/11/24/fz.al.gore.1.cnn and http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2008/11/24/fz.al.gore.2.cnn -- or if that's not available at Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKuozM9d1P8 Part II: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5kff-wDHEg . And this show is savvy enough to produce a transcript for those who'd rather scan it quickly and forward to others. Find that at http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0811/23/fzgps.01.html We've added timings to the comments, and we include most of the remaining interview after the comments on coal, because what he says about China and India is so important -- and because he ends with advice to Obama to "make more of the thoughtful, long, expository speeches, because in this new media age, people are listening
ZAKARIA (04:35): Let me ask you about what's going on in Washington right now. You're watching the auto industry ask for a massive bailout. This must tug at different sides of you. I mean, as a Democrat, you must have some sympathy for the unions, and for the plight of people who are going to be laid off. On the other hand, as the world's foremost environmentalist, you must look at the U.S. auto industry as having been too late and insufficient in its climate -- in its efforts on energy. Would you bail out the auto industry?
GORE (05:07): Well, I think the whole industry should be transformed. It's really tragic that General Motors, for example, allowed Toyota to get a seven-year head start on the hybrid drive train in the Prius that is now positioned to really be a dominant feature of the industry in this century.
I personally believe that the U.S. auto fleet should make a transition as quickly as possible toward plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. I think that the twin problems of the climate crisis and the economic crisis can both be addressed by investing in a transformation of our energy and transportation infrastructure to focus on renewable sources of energy.
And at the same time, our security vulnerability to a potential cutoff of the world's access to Persian Gulf, Middle East oil should be addressed, at long last, without delay. And shifting to electric vehicles instead of petroleum vehicles is the best way to do that.
ZAKARIA (06:25): If you look at the situation right now with oil prices down to $50 a barrel -- the lowest in two or three years -- are we back to a familiar cycle where once the price of oil gets back down, the impetus for these alternate energies will dissipate?
GORE (06:43): Well, I don't think we're going to fall for it this time. And I was very impressed with the language used by President- elect Barack Obama in his "60 Minutes" interview. He used a phrase that I hadn't heard before, that I think summed it up really well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA:
We go from shock to trance. You know, we -- oil prices go up, gas prices at the pump go up, everybody goes into a flurry of activity. And then the prices go back down, and suddenly we act like it's not important, and we start filling up our SUVs again. And as a consequence, we never make any progress.
GORE (07:25): We cannot allow ourselves to be vulnerable to that anymore. We should learn from history.
ZAKARIA (Part 2 00:05) One of the solutions to the problem of climate change and the problem of CO2 emissions has often been presented as clean coal, that what we should be doing is essentially making coal emit many fewer -- you know, much less CO2 -- through various ways of capture and sequestration. But in a "Wall Street Journal" article, you seem doubtful. You don't think this is a good idea?
GORE 00:027: Well, I think if they can do it, it is a good idea. But what I am greatly concerned about is that they talk as if it's already here. And as a practical matter, what many in the industry are proposing is to go forward with the construction of thousands of new coal-fired generating plants, on the assumption that they will at some point be retrofitted with this technology that does not yet exist. There is not a single large-scale demonstration plant anywhere in the United States. There is one in the North Sea that the Norwegians are running, there's one in the Algerian desert that BP is running, and they show some promise. But it is not anywhere near a stage that justifies building new coal-fired generating plants on the promise that it'll soon be availabale. If the industry can make good on its promise, then I'm all for it.
GORE (01:30) But it's beginning to resemlbe something that the auto companies did for years....every few years, they would show "the cars of the future," that run on hydrogen or whatever, and it's gonna be magical and pollution-free. And they put them in the showroom, but then they never build them. And you just keep cranking along. And it's led to a disaster for that industry.
We cannot allow an illusion to be the basis of a strategy for human survival. We are really facing a very serious existential threat to the future of human civilization. And I know that language sounds shrill and dire, and people instinctively say that that can't be so. But it is so. And the scientific community, the IPCC -- the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ...
ZAKARIA: Which are thousands of scientists.
GORE (02:22): Three thousand of the very best scientists in the world from 130 countries, who have studied this for 20 years, and have issued four unanimous reports, the last of which said the evidence is unequivocal -- unequivocal. We have to act.
ZAKARIA (02:36): One of the key objections that President Bush has always had to the Kyoto Protocol, and to all that kind of climate change activism, was you're leaving out China and India. And if you leave out China and India, you're not going to solve the problem.
ZAKARIA: You started to work on this issue, to try to convince the Chinas and Indias of the world that this is their problem, too.
GORE (02:57): Yes. I just came back from China two days ago. And as you know, I'm on my way to India after the holiday, and looking forward to it. China and India, and other developing countries, all have exactly the same excuse for not moving on the climate crisis. Their common excuse is, "Wait a minute. The United States hasn't done anything. It's the wealthiest country in the world, the natural leader of the world. Why doesn't the U.S. act?" And I think that when the U.S. acts, it will be by far the most effective way to improve the odds that China and India, and other smaller developing economies, will also act. They know that it's in their own interest to tackle this problem.
ZAKARIA: What about India? Talk about India, where you're going, and what you're going to do.
GORE (03:49): Well, I'm very excited to be hosting Live Earth India on December 7th. And all of the greatest stars of Bollywood are going to gather in your hometown, Mumbai. And a lot of the greatest Western artists are coming over to join, as well You know, the Indian government now subsidizes kerosene -- probably the dirtiest fuel you can use. But they need alternatives. And these solar lanterns and solar cookers are very cost-effective. And we're doing everything to raise money for it -- and to build awareness.
ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about this election, finally. If you had one piece of advice to Obama, to consolidate these forces of realignment, what would it be? How should he govern? From the center, from -- you know, you hear all this advice given to him.
GORE (04:41): Well, again, you know, just as with the categories that we label Democratic and Republican, I think center, left, right -- you hear this a lot. It's almost a cliche to say we need to move forward, not left or right. But in fact, that is the case. And I think he has an awfully good, innate sense of that.
I feel, you know, me offering him advice doesn't feel right, because he's doing so well. But if I did offer him advice I would say, make more of the thoughtful, long, expository speeches, because in this new media age, people are listening. Maybe they don't get through all of the television and radio outlets. Maybe you'll still have only a little sound bite. But people are downloading these speeches now, if they're good ones. You know, it's remarkable that the paid advertisement, the 30-minute paid advertisement that he had four or five days before the election, was one of the highest-rated programs of the year. And I think people are now hungry for a thoughtful treatment of how we can solve the problems that we face. And I would go back to that strength. And I'm sure that he will without me advising him to do so.
PERFECT FOLLOW-ON: a counterpart of Gore's comments is excerpts from a not-to-be-missed recent talk by Google's Eric Schmidt and Dan Reicher, accompanied by NRDC's Frances Beinecke and Ralph Cavanaugh. NRDC has been increasingly vocal on plug-in cars; with Cavanaugh's on-target comments about how we can no longer afford "all of the above," we're still hoping that it will begin to take leadership in educating its members and in promoting priority programs in state and federal policies.
SCHMIDT/REICHER/CAVANAUGH/BEINEKE: The posting referred to above, "Gore/Alliance for Climate Protection: All-In for Plug-Ins," http://www.calcars.org/calcars-news/1022.html also included links to a speech by Google CEO Eric Schmidt. Now we have a new video, "Eric Schmidt on Strategies and Solutions for Enegy Security" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRJlO5gdsfk . It's a 33-minute talk held recently at Google NYC. .
This is one of the most inspiring presentations we've seen. It offers a window into the thinking and plans of several people who are central to the next administration's plans for the energy/climate components of an economic stimulus program that's now expected to be far greater than previously thought -- over $500 billion. It's been reported that the administration might appoint a "climate czar" to coordinate efforts at the Energy/Environment/Interior departments. This talk reassures us that smart people who are thinking about the whole picture have a good chance to change the game and spark a rapid transition generation and use of renewable energy.
Schmidt was one of the Transition Advisors on stage behind Obama at his first press conference. (He has said he's not interested in leaving Google.) He was accompanied by Dan Reicher, Google.org's director of climate and energy initiatives, former Department of Energy Assistant Secretary, former NRDC staffer, who has been suggested as a possible administration appointee. Also speaking was Ralph Cavanaugh, co-director of the energy program a the Natural Resources Defense Council, and introduced by Frances Beinecke, NRDC President. NRDC has many people involved in the transition program.
Here are some excerpts. (We didn't include what we now expect (explaining the benefits of plug-in cars, but you can see that around 5-10 minutes into the talk.)
SCHMIDT (13:04): So how do we put up this plan? Well, first place, we need some cash. Thank goodness, there's a whole bunch of cash about to happen. And I'm not talking about the bank bailout, I'm talking about the stimulus package. And President-Elect Obama has talked about, thank goodness, that if you're going to have a stimulus package, you might as well invest in roads, bridges, schools, broadband, and energy efficiency and these kinds of things. Perfect.
How much money do we need? Oh, a few billion dollars. These stimulus packages will be big enough that our little corner, the one we're working on, is relatively a rounding error compared to the scale of the numbers that they're talking about. So this is achievable. So that's where the money comes from.
Intelligent regulation recognizes a couple of things. It recognizes first and foremost that most of they money is not in the government, it's with the public sector. It recognizes that incentives need to be designed so that private money comes in. Here's an example. What's the best stimulus that you can do? Give money to the energy efficiency programs that are already in place at the state level run by the utilities. In our plan we have $10 billion for that. It immediately goes to work. What's the best insulation program you can do? There's already a Low Income Weatheization Program. It's unfunded, authorized and in place. How much money do you need for advanced R&D? You can't soak up more than two or three billion in investments. And that money would go to take over plants in places like Michigan where there are people who don't have any work, where there are sophisticated and high-tech workers.
15:00 Now I'm a computer scientist. I think about the Internet. I look at the electric grid and I say, "Why is the electric grid the same as it was in the 1960s?" Because nobody cared. Nobody tried to build a grid that was flexible, scalable, decentralized…So in the vision of a smart grid, here's an example. You guys have all the batteries sitting in your cars? What are they doing in your garage? Why can they not add to peak load when peak load is needed. The utilities say that the highest cost of a utility is not average load but peak load, which is in the afternoons. Right? Plug your car in, draw the battery down, charge it up at night. Seems obvious, right? You can't do it.
(16:08) The other part of it has to do with transmission lines, and the lack thereof. So here we are private sector, billions of dollars, solar and so on, billions of dollars to get it working, all those unemployed workers, all the suppliers just ready to go, all these people buying up desert in New Mexico for cheap, thinking that they're going to put their solar panel there, and then they discover that they can't connect to anything to get it out and so the land is worthless? There are proposals now for very very sophisticated transmission systems throughout the west which are needed for this which are currently on a fast track to occur in ten years. Okay, we don't have ten years, guys. Look at the map of climate change. You want to be in a hurry, look at the compounding, look at the math. We don't have time.
I cannot imagine a better use of everybody's time than getting the energy infrastructure of America rebuilt. It solves every interesting problem, all the things we care about, all the things you care about, and it is achievable, and it's the perfect American challenge.
CAVANAUGH (17:54) What I wanted to say about the Google 2030 Clean Energy Plan is that what you've just heard is a quite wonderful rebuttal for the most common mistake that has characterized American energy policy for 30 years, dominated the Congress that entire time. It was referred to during the recent Presidential campaign as the "All of the Above" Strategy. Its fundamental insight is that to meet America's climate and energy challenge you've got to do everything as rapidly as possible: all the coal, all the nuclear, all the gas, all the renewables, all the energy efficiency. The Congress of the United States never met a resource that it didn't like. And if you've got an articulate lobbyist or an attractive scale model -- and sometimes you only need one -- you can be reasonably assured of being included in the next federal energy bill.
But the problem is that we don't have unlimited resources; And Eric has laid out the time constraints that we face. And all of the above just doesn't work. What he's given you instead is a system where after letting winners and losers emerge on their merits, you have a future you can believe in, driven by and dominated by energy efficiency and renewable energy.
REICHER (23:30): This is the question that we've been struggling with for decades: the low hanging fruit, we call it, the low-hanging fruit that in fact grows back. (29:39): In this crisis that we're facing is this great opportunity to make the kind of investment that we've long needed and we finally have the justifications. We've had the environmental justifications, we've had the security justifications, now we have the economic justification. The electricity grid desperately needs to be rebuilt. We need to build 20,000 miles of transmission lines if we're going to move wind from the Dakotas to Chicago or from the desert to Los Angeles and Las Vegas. We need to put a smart meter in every home in the U.S. so that all of us can in fact take advantage of real-time information and real-time prices.