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Plug-In Cars in Gore's 10-Year Plan for Zero-Carbon Energy
Jul 18, 2008 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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Al Gore gave a major climate speech today, urging an enormously ambitious program to create an electrical generation system powered entirely by renewable zero-carbon sources within 10 years. It reflects a approach to life that takes many people decades to learn: "When you want something, if you don't ask for it, you won't have a chance of getting it." All the objections about "impracticality" take on a different meaning for citizens and opinion leaders who realize what's at stake. Thus, this speech brings us closer to replacing a "business as usual" global mentality with one that considers the fate of the earth.

Aside from that, we are very encouraged by its perspective on plug-in cars (minutes into a 27-minute speech):

"We could further increase the value and efficiency of a Unified National Grid by helping our struggling auto giants switch to the manufacture of plug-in electric cars. An electric vehicle fleet would sharply reduce the cost of driving a car, reduce pollution, and increase the flexibility of our electricity grid."

This definitive acknowledgment of the benefits of electrification gives advocates of steps on global warming a better answer for transportation than timid suggestions that more people buy more efficient gasoline cars or drive less. It's in line with what leading climate change scientist Dr. James Hansen said in February 2006, "The plug-in hybrid approach, as being pursued by CalCars, seems to be our best bet for controlling vehicle CO2 emissions in the near-term." And it's a stronger restatement of what Gore said in September 2006, "...there are already some solutions that seem to stand out as particularly promising [...] We could further increase the value and efficiency of a distributed energy network by retooling our failing auto giants - GM and Ford - to require and assist them in switching to the manufacture of flex-fuel, plug-in, hybrid vehicles...." (See­endorsements.html for sources for both.)

The rest of the speech, promoting an 'aggressive because we have no choice' program, responds to 'why power plug-in cars from a dirty grid?' Our quick answer: even on the national (half-coal) power grid, mainly because electric motors are so more efficient than gasoline engines, an electric mile emits about half the CO2 of a gasoline mile. Our higher-level answer meshes with Gore's vision: plug-in cars are the only vehicles that will get cleaner as they get older because the grid will get cleaner.

Below we've excerpted what we think are persuasive and eloquent statements from the speech given at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, DC. Watch the entire 27-minute speech (which includes 2.5 minutes of comments before the prepared text), at­watch?v=dt9wZloG97U . (The section on plug-in cars, including very enthusiastic applause, starts at 18:00.) Read the complete text at­content/­pages/­304/­ and read a FAQ at­content/­pages/­287/­ . And you can watch a 5-minute video at the Alliance for Climate Protection's home page .

At "What Others Are Saying"­content/­pages/­303/­ you can see comments by Dr. James Hansen, Director, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies; Jonathan Lash, President, World Resources Institute; Bill McKibbon, author & climate activist; Carol M. Browner, former EPA Administrator, and Principal of The Albright Group LLC; Lee Thomas, Former EPA Administrator (under President Reagan); David G. Hawkins, Director, Climate Programs, Natural Resources Defense Council; Dan Kammen, Energy and Resources Group, UC Berkeley; David Yarnold, Executive Director, Environmental Defense Fund; and Alden Meyer, Director of Strategy and Policy, Union of Concerned Scientists. And see analysis and comments at Green Car Congress, Climate Progress, NYTimes Dot Earth and Huffington Post:­2008/­07/­gores-challenge.html­2008/­07/­17/­gore-speech/­#comments­2008/­07/­17/­the-annotated-gore-climate-speech/­?hp­al-gore/­a-generational-challenge_b_113359.html

SPEECH EXCERPTS from "Al Gore: A Generational Challenge to Repower America"

Like a lot of people, it seems to me that all these problems are bigger than any of the solutions that have thus far been proposed for them, and that's been worrying me. I'm convinced that one reason we've seemed paralyzed in the face of these crises is our tendency to offer old solutions to each crisis separately - without taking the others into account. And these outdated proposals have not only been ineffective - they almost always make the other crises even worse. Yet when we look at all three of these seemingly intractable challenges at the same time, we can see the common thread running through them, deeply ironic in its simplicity: our dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels is at the core of all three of these challenges - the economic, environmental and national security crises.

We're borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that's got to change.....when you connect the dots, it turns out that the real solutions to the climate crisis are the very same measures needed to renew our economy and escape the trap of ever-rising energy prices. Moreover, they are also the very same solutions we need to guarantee our national security without having to go to war in the Persian Gulf.

To those who argue that we do not yet have the technology to accomplish these results with renewable energy: I ask them to come with me to meet the entrepreneurs who will drive this revolution. I've seen what they are doing and I have no doubt that we can meet this challenge. To those who say the costs are still too high: I ask them to consider whether the costs of oil and coal will ever stop increasing if we keep relying on quickly depleting energy sources to feed a rapidly growing demand all around the world. When demand for oil and coal increases, their price goes up. When demand for solar cells increases, the price often comes down. When we send money to foreign countries to buy nearly 70 percent of the oil we use every day, they build new skyscrapers and we lose jobs. When we spend that money building solar arrays and windmills, we build competitive industries and gain jobs here at home. To those who say 10 years is not enough time, I respectfully ask them to consider what the world's scientists are telling us about the risks we face if we don't act in 10 years. The leading experts predict that we have less than 10 years to make dramatic changes in our global warming pollution lest we lose our ability to ever recover from this environmental crisis. When the use of oil and coal goes up, pollution goes up. When the use of solar, wind and geothermal increases, pollution comes down. I for one do not believe our country can withstand 10 more years of the status quo.

To be sure, reaching the goal of 100 percent renewable and truly clean electricity within 10 years will require us to overcome many obstacles. At present, for example, we do not have a unified national grid that is sufficiently advanced to link the areas where the sun shines and the wind blows to the cities in the East and the West that need the electricity. Our national electric grid is critical infrastructure, as vital to the health and security of our economy as our highways and telecommunication networks. Today, our grids are antiquated, fragile, and vulnerable to cascading failure. Power outages and defects in the current grid system cost US businesses more than $120 billion dollars a year. It has to be upgraded anyway. We could further increase the value and efficiency of a Unified National Grid by helping our struggling auto giants switch to the manufacture of plug-in electric cars. An electric vehicle fleet would sharply reduce the cost of driving a car, reduce pollution, and increase the flexibility of our electricity grid. At the same time, of course, we need to greatly improve our commitment to efficiency and conservation. That's the best investment we can make.

Of course, we could and should speed up this transition by insisting that the price of carbon-based energy include the costs of the environmental damage it causes. I have long supported a sharp reduction in payroll taxes with the difference made up in CO2 taxes. We should tax what we burn, not what we earn. This is the single most important policy change we can make.

In order to foster international cooperation, it is also essential that the United States rejoin the global community and lead efforts to secure an international treaty at Copenhagen in December of next year that includes a cap on CO2 emissions and a global partnership that recognizes the necessity of addressing the threats of extreme poverty and disease as part of the world's agenda for solving the climate crisis.

Of course the greatest obstacle to meeting the challenge of 100 percent renewable electricity in 10 years may be the deep dysfunction of our politics and our self-governing system as it exists today. 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 into the perverse logic that the short-term answer to high gasoline prices is drilling for more oil ten years from now. 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 it is supposed to address? 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.

If you want to know the truth about gasoline prices, here it is: the exploding demand for oil, especially in places like China, is overwhelming the rate of new discoveries by so much that oil prices are almost certain to continue upward over time no matter what the oil companies promise. And politicians cannot bring gasoline prices down in the short term. However, there actually is one extremely effective way to bring the costs of driving a car way down within a few short years. The way to bring gas prices down is to end our dependence on oil and use the renewable sources that can give us the equivalent of $1 per gallon gasoline.

Many Americans have begun to wonder whether or not we've simply lost our appetite for bold policy solutions. And folks who claim to know how our system works these days have told us we might as well forget about our political system doing anything bold, especially if it is contrary to the wishes of special interests. And I've got to admit, that sure seems to be the way things have been going. But I've begun to hear different voices in this country from people who are not only tired of baby steps and special interest politics, but are hungry for a new, different and bold approach.

We are on the eve of a presidential election. We are in the midst of an international climate treaty process that will conclude its work before the end of the first year of the new president's term. It is a great error to say that the United States must wait for others to join us in this matter. In fact, we must move first, because that is the key to getting others to follow; and because moving first is in our own national interest. So I ask you to join with me to call 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. We need to act now.

This is a generational moment. A moment when we decide our own path and our collective fate. I'm asking you - each of you - to join me and build this future. Please join the WE campaign at We need you. And we need you now. We're committed to changing not just light bulbs, but laws. And laws will only change with leadership.

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