I've always been a big fan of Al Gore...he's been a powerful public figure for my entire political life. My first vote ever was cast for him. So I'm pretty happy to listen when he talks, and very much enjoy what he has to say. But I don't tend to be surprised by what he says. He's had a lot of the same ideas for a long time now.
But today, I am surprised. In a speech in D.C. Al challenged America to produce 100% of it's power from carbon-free sources in ten years.
I'm an EcoGeek, possibly the biggest EcoGeek you know. So I'm optimistic about these things. I know that there are a lot of technologies out there that, if they spring forth from the lab and into widespread use, could make collassal differences in the way we produce power.
But this is a big pill...like, football-sized. The lifespan of a coal-fired power plant is between 30 and 50 years. Power companies build these things with those 30 to 50 years in mind. They aren't going to dismantle them when they're 15 years old without some gigantic form of compensation.
Gore makes only cursory mention of carbon capture and storage technology. I personally believe that the technology and infrastructure necessary to implement CCS on a large scale is not going to happen in less than 10 years. In my opnion, we really are going to have to wait for the coal plants to die rather than figure out how to store their carbon.
I did enjoy the way Gore portrayed the issue though. It's no longer that global warming is the largest catastrophe that man will ever face (his previous strategy.) Now he's focusing the whole suite of problems that can be solved with renewable energy: job creation at home, removal of reliance on other nations for our power, sustainability, poullution and global warming. It's worth noting that we don't burn (much) oil for power, but in two years, we may be filling up at the plug, rather than the pump anyway.
Gore's primary path for getting to carbon neturality, it seems, is carbon taxes. I 100% agree that this is the way to do it. Unfortunately, I don't see very many congress people being too enthusiastic about increasing the price of gasoline more. Obama praised the speech, and said that his candidacy would bring many of these changes (certainly more than a McCain presidency) but didn't endorse, or even mention, the 10-year deadline.
That is probably because the 10-year deadline seems a little insane. Gore's insistence on it's practicality is somewhat puzzling to me. But I certainly don't mind crazy goals. We spend a heck of a lot of money in this country. It'd be nice to spend it on an effort to strengthen the country at the core...rather than weaken itself by over-extension in an attempt to lock up the last little pockets of oil on the planet.
You can read the full text of the speech below.