Notes From Al Gore's Climate Speech

He challenged the country to switch to 100 percent renewable energy within 10 years.

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Former Vice President Al Gore speaks about energy and the future, Thursday, July 17, 2008, at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.

Al Gore's climate change speech for the We Campaign today challenged the United States to produce 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy and carbon-free sources within a decade. Gore paralleled his charge to the nation with President Kennedy's 1961 challenge to put a man on the moon within 10 years.

"Once again, we have an opportunity to take a giant leap for humankind," he said, after describing his experience watching Apollo 11 take off in person.

Some other choice quotes from the speech:

  • "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."
    • "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."
      • "We must recognize those who have toiled in dangerous conditions to bring us our present energy supply. We should guarantee good jobs in the fresh air and sunshine for any coal miner displaced by impacts on the coal industry."
        • "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 10 years from now."
          • A speech that was supposed to be about hope was, at times, entirely bleak. Gore was introduced by former Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, a New York Republican, who got some laughs for quoting Woody Allen: "More than any time in history mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly." Shortly thereafter, Gore said, "I don't remember a time in our country when so many things seemed to be going so wrong simultaneously," to great applause.

            Though the audience at Washington's D.A.R. Constitution Hall was filled with members of the We Campaign and fans, there were plenty of critics, whom Gore tried to pre-empt throughout the speech. A few points of analysis already, first from the Wall Street Journal: Gore "says he has all the answers. And it will only cost $3 trillion." The Hill, meanwhile, reports that some Democrats question Gore's timing for the speech as setting them up for even more criticism when gas prices are so high.

            Two skeptical guys behind me spent the minutes before Gore came onstage in a spirited discussion about how the Earth was warmer in the Middle Ages and observing, "This place is full of 20-something white people," a demographic they themselves fit into. The comment was only half true. There indeed were many 20-something white people, the kind lampooned on the site stuffwhitepeoplelike.com for their Priuses and bicycles (which, per Gore's request in the invitation to the speech, many rode to the event despite 90-degree heat). But the crowd spanned generations and races. Gore gave shout-outs to his wife, Tipper, will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas, and Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr. When he exited the stage, it was to the tune of U2's "Beautiful Day."

            Ten years, said Gore, is the amount of time we have to act before we will not have the ability to recover from environmental crisis. He also said that it was the amount of time our political attention span would permit: "A political promise to do something 40 years from now is universally ignored because everyone knows that it's meaningless. Ten years is about the maximum amount of time that we as a nation can hold a steady aim and hit our target."

            What do you think?