Commenting on politics and politicians is a tough game, as you're almost always going to draw fire from others about your motivations. In the case of Al Gore's speech on Monday at New York University's School of Law, we're happy to take that risk. After reading the speech (available at Gristmill), it's hard to believe that any American, regardless of party affiliation or ideological persuasion, could use words less than "bold" and "audacious" to describe the substance of his presentation. One might even be tempted to use the term "radical," but Gore's address on the challenges and opportunities presented by the climate crisis, as he calls it, steered clear of excesses and relied on ideas that are at once both visionary and very practical. Drawing on concepts promoted by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, L. Hunter Lovins, Lester Brown, the Apollo Alliance, and many other prominent thinkers, activists and organizations, Gore presented a compelling vision of the role the United States could play in leading the world to a more prosperous, healthier, and more sustainable future.
The former Vice President offered a multifaceted, systematic approach to the climate crisis that makes any kind of summary difficult, but several ideas will certainly spur more discussion, likely of the heated variety:
- An immediate freeze on our current level of carbon emissions: While he praised the Kyoto Treaty in the speech, and encouraged continued debate of it in the US, Gore's call to freeze carbon emissions at current levels, and then begin work to reduce them, goes well beyond any steps that Kyoto signatories have taken. He claimed that the time for "high-minded debates about theoretical future reductions" is over, and a cap on emissions at current levels "...has the virtue of being clear, simple, and easy to understand. It can attract support across partisan lines as a logical starting point for the more difficult work that lies ahead."
- The creation of a "Carbon Neutral Mortgage Association": To address the levels of CO2 emitted from buildings, and to encourage further development of zero-emissions structures, Gore suggested a new mortgage instrument that would "...eliminate any additional increase in the purchase price [of a carbon-neutral building] by capturing the future income from the expected savings."
- A revenue-neutral carbon tax: Perhaps the most politically courageous idea (which is easier since he's not currently running for office) was the implementation of a tax on carbon emissions, offset by the elimination of payroll taxes, to internalize the environmental and public health costs created by pollution. Gore noted that such a tax would have the effect of encouraging businesses to hire employees because of lower labor taxes while simultaneously discouraging activities that create emissions