Monday, October 23, 2006

Al Gore in Berkeley for Prop 87

Vice President Al Gore provided the focal point for a rally in favor of California Proposition 87 this afternoon. He was introduced by Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and Representative Barbara Lee (D–CA.09). The message was simple and direct. First, America and the world are facing a dual crisis: global warming and dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Second, California is once again in the position to lead the nation and the world in developing new technologies to provide clean energy.

Gore spoke about some space enthusiasts he spoke with recently, some of whom suggested that we go live on other planets. His answer: the people in charge couldn't even evacuate New Orleans! He also mentioned a Saudi oil minister who observed some 30 years ago that the Stone Age didn't end because of a shortage of stones. Just as humans found better technologies to replace their stone tools, now we must find better technologies to replace fossil fuels. American reliance on foreign oil in particular leaves us vulnerable to actions like the Arab oil embargos of 1973 and 1979 — made possible by our own "Peak Oil" moment in 1972 — but also leaves us vulnerable to political manipulation. Whenever public sentiment begins to turn against oil producers, they sacrifice some of their profits and lower prices for a while to defuse the enthusiasm for alternative energy. We need to follow the example set by Brazil: embrace new technology and make a national commitment to energy self-sufficiency. Beyond the ill effects on America of our dependence on oil imports, Gore also spoke of the corrosive effects of the dependence on oil exports by many Middle Eastern countries. The petrodollars skew the political and economic landscape in a way that feeds continued instability, especially since many of those petrodollars end up in the hands of insurgents or terrorists.

On the subject of climate change, Gore took on the naysayers with the metaphor of a fire in your children's bedroom: "How fast will that crib burn? Am I going to have to pay for a new crib? Is that baby fire-retardant?" The population of our planet has more than quadrupled in less than a century, and the use of fossil fuels has increased far more rapidly than that as more countries have industrialized. We are seeing climate change that is far outside the bounds of normal natural fluctuations, and indeed outside the bounds of all of human history.

Speaking of the approach needed to the urgent challenges of the 21st century, Gore recalled the words of General Omar Bradley at the conclusion of World War II: "It is time we steered by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship." It's time for someone to step forward and demonstrate some real leadership in confronting global warming and energy dependence. California has the chance to lead the charge, and thus to reap the benefits of the opportunity presented by this crisis. [Yes, Gore used a line about the Chinese characters for crisis, danger, and opportunity, but at least he didn't present it in its usual flawed formulation.] Just as California led the high-tech revolution with Silicon Valley, we will lead the clean energy revolution with the passage of Prop 87.

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