Thursday, May 25, 2006

More Inconvenient Facts for Al Gore

Here's Gregg Easterbrook at Slate on some inconsistencies in Al Gore's new documentary, An Inconvenient Truth:

Broadly, An Inconvenient Truth denounces consumerism, yet asks of its audience no specific sacrifice. "What I look for is signs we are really changing our way of life, and I don't see it," Gore intones with his signature sigh. As he says this, we see him at an airport checking in to board a jet, where he whips out his laptop. If "really changing our way of life" is imperative, what's Gore doing getting on a jetliner? Jets number among the most resource-intensive objects in the world.

This raises the troubling fault of An Inconvenient Truth: its carelessness about moral argument. Gore says accumulation of greenhouse gases "is a moral issue, it is deeply unethical." Wouldn't deprivation also be unethical? Some fossil fuel use is maddening waste; most has raised living standards. The era of fossil energy must now give way to an era of clean energy. But the last century's headlong consumption of oil, coal, and gas has raised living standards throughout the world; driven malnourishment to an all-time low, according to the latest U.N. estimates; doubled global life expectancy; pushed most rates of disease into decline; and made possible Gore's airline seat and MacBook, which he doesn't seem to find unethical.
This is a point that seems to get lost in many arguments about energy consumption. We know for a fact that there is a direct correlation between energy consumption, GDP and life expectancy. But Gore and plenty of other environmentalists don't seem to want to come up with viable options to protect the environment while keeping electricity generation safe, affordable and widely available.

Thanks to Iain Murray for the pointers.

Technorati tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

14 comments:

bert said...

So Gore is inconsistent because he rides in airplanes instead of ...walking everywhere?

The simple fact is that Gore was right about global warming, however much you would like your various links to Gregg Easterbrook, the National Review, or the National Association of Manufacturers to hide this inconvenient truth.

Brian Mays said...

Yes ... Gore is quick to point out how bad everyone else is, but in the end, he enjoys the same privileges that everyone else has because of our carbon-dioxide-producing, fossil-fueled lifestyle. And being a well-off politician, I suspect that he enjoys them a little more than you and I do.

Hypocrisy -- that's the real Inconvenient Truth.

Gunter said...

True, Gore is running with the rest of us lemmings, aren't you? But that's not the point, is it?

At least, give him credit for having his head up above the streaming masses in an awareness of the coming cliff fall and being an eloquent communicator.

More importantly, he doesn't seek to obfuscate the problem and the real solutions as does the current administration.

Brings us to a couple of controversial topics for this blog.

The destablization of climate will also wreak havoc on the nation state system as political and social boundaries disappear,for example, underwater and under the consequential flood of refugee movements that make the current US-Mexico border seem quiet.

Which brings us to the concern of the proliferation of nuclear nation states and the risk of war during this destablization and potential collapse.

Only figures, the more nations in possession of nuclear materials, the more nuclear weapons when the veil of nuclear detente is lifted between weapons holders like India and Pakistan.

Arguably, we must stop the spread of nuclear weapons materials as unfortunately curretnly advocated by the work of your organization and its political affiliations.

The other thing, I have always wondered what is going to happen to all those nukes currently located on major water systems (rivers, lakes and coasts) during an inundation? Are you guys working on that? A sea change around the Turkey Point on the Florida coast? Palisades on an errosion vulnerable Lake Michigan coast or Cooper Station out on the Missouri River flood plain?

Brian Mays said...

Lemmings? Speak for yourself, Mr. Gunter. Personally, I do not own an automobile, and this year, most of my traveling has been done on the TGV, which is powered by electricity produced almost entirely by nuclear power plants. Now, if you want to talk about climate change brought about by the consumption of fossil fuels, I must ask you -- who here is part of the problem, and who is part of the solution?

But I must commend you on your powers of obfuscation. Nice diversion into the insignificant. Obviously, you watch too many movies and have bought into Hollywood's version of climate change (perhaps former Vice-President Gore has too). But then again, when your opinion of nuclear technology appears to be derived from The China Syndrome, I would expect no less.

I find it ironic that you harp on climate change as such an important issue, when time and time again on this blog, we have pointed out that the policies that you and NIRS advocate will result in more greenhouse gasses being dumped into the atmosphere.

The nuclear industry can point to a history in which they have prevented billions of tons of carbon dioxide from being dumped into the atmosphere, and today they provide 20% of the nation's energy. What can you point to? Vague promises and speculative assertions ... that's it? Reminds me of snake-oil salesmen.

Again, Mr. Gutner, I must ask you --- who is part of the problem and who is part of the solution?

I'm sure, however, that you don't want to bring up the coal and natural gas plants that exist only to provide backup power when your renewable sources (wind and solar) do not produce any energy. That is the Inconvenient Truth about renewables.

Now, before I am misunderstood, please keep in mind that I don't have anything against renewables, but I like to keep myself grounded in reality. However, being grounded in reality is labeled as "obfuscating the problem" by Mr. Gutner and the folks from NIRS, so perhaps I should just end this comment and let the readers decide for themselves.

bert said...

In response to my comment that Al Gore was right about global warming, Mr. Mays wrote that "Gore is quick to point out how bad everyone else is ..."

But, of course, Al Gore does not claim that everyone else is bad, nor does he discuss how bad everyone else is, so this assertion is simply false.

Mr. Mays writes that "[Gore] enjoys the same privileges that everyone else has because of our carbon-dioxide-producing, fossil-fueled lifestyle" and then claims that to criticize the carbon-dioxide-producing lifestyle, as Gore does, is "hypocrisy".

But the fact that someone benefits from a particular policy does not mean that the person cannot criticize it. After all, Mr. Mays and everyone else who lives in the West benefits from the relatively advanced Western economies, which were built, in part, on the Western slave trade. Using the Mays "logic", no one who benefitted from the slave trade could criticize it.

Someone who has such trouble with simple facts and logic, as Mr. Mays obviously does, ought to be a little more careful with his comments.

Brian Mays said...

Bert,

I'm sorry, but you are simply incorrect. It's one thing to criticize -- to point out problems or (better yet) offer realistic solutions -- but Mr. Gore and the producers of the film are making a moral issue out of it. Their own description of the film says so:

"An Inconvenient Truth ultimately brings home Gore's persuasive argument that we can no longer afford to view global warming as a political issue - rather, it is the biggest moral challenges facing our global civilization.

Their own description of Mr. Gore's book says so:

"... global warming is not just about science, nor is it just a political issue: it is a moral issue and we have a responsibility to do something about it."

So when you try to take the moral high ground, it is not unreasonable for others to question and challenge your moral authority to do so, which is exactly what Gregg Easterbrook has done. When "How many flights do you take every year?" appears as question number five on their Carbon Impact Calculator, then I think that it is relevant whether Gore is roaming around on a jet. I notice that he doesn't publish his own "Carbon Impact."

Unfortunately, some of the best parts of Easterbrook's article were not included in the quote. Just above that part, the article talks about one of the producers of the film, Laurie David:

"As Eric Alterman noted in the Atlantic, David 'reviles owners of SUVs as terrorist enablers, yet gives herself a pass when it comes to chartering one of the most wasteful uses of fossil-based fuels imaginable, a private jet.' For David to fly in a private jet from Los Angeles to Washington would burn about as much petroleum as driving a Hummer for a year; if she flew back in the private jet, that's two Hummer-years."

David is indeed a hater of SUVs, particularly Hummers, which she explains in an interview with Grist Magazine:

"Q. I've heard that you pull up alongside Hummer drivers on the highway and yell at them.

"A. I'm very confrontational. I work at the grass-tops but I also work at the grass-roots. You might see me on the corner leafleting and yelling at people on the highway, but I also have access to high-level people, so I work from both sides ... We have to spread the message that it isn't cool anymore."

But as is typical of "conspicuous consumers among the Hollywood elite," David is unapologetic for many of her own actions, as noted by the introduction at the beginning of the interview:

"Still, David is the first to admit that her mainstream brand of environmentalism does not require sacrificing a Hollywood standard of living. Though she wouldn't be caught dead driving anything with lower gas mileage than a Prius, she offers no apologies for her super-sized house, her extensive wardrobe, or her frequent-flyer lifestyle. It's time, she says, for environmentalism to lose its purer-than-thou attitude."

Yet, later in the interview, she has this to say:

"Q. What advice do you have for people who are trying to convert their friends and family to the environmental cause?

"A. Set an example -- practice it yourself."

I love the irony. You can't make this stuff up!

If Al Gore and the producers of this film are going to make a "moral issue" out of global warming, then I'm not going to apologize for questioning whether their actions are a case of "Do as I say (Not as I do)."

Anonymous said...

I recall an episode of Hannity and Colmes where Sean Hannity made mincemeat of Robert Kennedy Jr., absolutely sliced and diced him, on this same issue. Kennedy was blathering on in his usual way about global warming and petroleum use and Halliburton and blah blah blah, and the priceless moment came when Hannity asked him, did you come here in a private jet? Response: silence and a slow-burn look. Hannity pressed the issue further: did you come here from your hotel in a limousine? Response: silence, and then a mumbled, lame excuse like "That's not the issue..." Like h*ll it isn't! Lousy hypocrites like Kennedy and Gore go around lecturing the rest of us about how bad we are for using energy, yet they themselves use much, much more for very little productive purpose, simply to lord it over the rest of us about how much holier than thou they are. I have no use for such lying hypocrites.

bert said...

I would like to remind Mr. Mays and Anonymous of a few inconvenient facts.

Al Gore, a serious guy who does his homework, was one of the first to sound the alarm about global warming. In recent years, there has developed a consensus among scientists that global warming is, in fact, a real problem--so much so that it is safe to say that only the oil industry lobbyists and some far out fringe elements deny this. With this has come a recognition, grudging in some cases, that Al Gore was largely correct about this issue. However, many of those who have come to accept the fact that there is a problem still cannot bring themselves to agree with Gore without in some way criticizing him--and so they have taken to attacking his integrity.

I have noted two recent criticisms of this type on this site: (1) Gore omitted inconvenient facts, as shown by his failure to promote nuclear energy and (2) Gore is a hypocrite because he is urging us to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels yet he rides in airplanes.

As an example of the first, this site contains a link to an article by New York Times columnist John Tierney in which Mr. Tierney accuses Gore of omitting inconvenient truths about nuclear energy. But Gore did not set out to educate anti-nuclear demonstrators and others about nuclear power--he was trying to warn about the effects of global warming. Rightly or wrongly, Gore does not seem to share the enthusiasm of some environmentalists for nuclear power and, as a result, he does not think nuclear power will do much to alleviate the global warming problem. The complaint that Gore omitted inconvenient truths is misleading because it appears that Gore does not consider these "truths". Tierney's real criticism is that Gore did not make the kind of movie John Tierney would have made.

Commenting on Mr. Tierney's article, Mr. McErlain cites a recent interview in which Gore "dismissed nuclear energy out of hand." But I have read this interview and Gore did not dismiss nuclear energy out of hand. He explained that he thought it would play some role, but one that is not much larger than it is today, and he provided his reasons for thinking that. Mr. McErlain could have provided a useful service by addressing Gore’s concerns about proliferation and nuclear economics, which Gore explained during the interview. But no, he would rather just link to another Gore critic. In any event, although Mr. McErlain might not agree with Gore's reasoning, it is quite misleading for him to say that Gore dismissed nuclear energy out of hand, unless we are to understand the phrase "dismissed nuclear energy out of hand" to mean "did not parrot the view of nuclear energy preferred by spokesmen for the nuclear industry."

The complaint that Gore is a hypocrite because he rides in airplanes is a frivolous one. Since our whole way of life is based, in large part, on fossil fuel energy sources, virtually any economic or political activity will, in some way, consume those resources. As the scope of the activity or enterprise expands, so will the consumption of resources. And so, as Gore gets his message out, he flies on airplanes, although I'm sure Gore's critics would like to see him stick to riding bicycles.

I must admit that I am puzzled by these attacks on Gore. I would have thought that a site like this would appreciate Gore's global warming contribution since (1) it has, in contrast to the stock-in-trade of the anti-nuclear movement, solid scientific backing and (2) it can, despite Gore's own personal reservations, only help promote nuclear energy. But I guess it is more fun to regale one another with anecdotes about the lifestyles of Hollywood movie producers or the Kennedys.

Anonymous said...

I would not have a problem if Gore would keep the debate to the technical/scientific/economic issues. Trouble is, he has brought in emotional and moral arguments, and that makes his personal lifestyle choices fair game. One who chooses to import moral superiority to his/her position always runs the risk of being criticized for personal choices, because choosing things contrary to one's stated positions on public policy projects the image, fairly or not, of hypocrisy. IOW, most people don't like being preached to about having to do something the preacher doesn't himself do.

Eric McErlain said...

If I seemed to dismiss Gore's critique of nuclear energy out of hand, it's only because it often seems to me that simple answers to his concerns are being routinely ignored by those who oppose the expansion of nuclear energy. Perhaps that's because I work in the industry, and routinely deal with these arguments every day.

Still, there are some resources I should have pointed to, much as I did recently in responding to a speech on energy policy by Hillary Clinton.

As for the question of proliferation, I think the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership proposed by President Bush provides us with some answers.

Dave said...

The slave trade? Lord. Well, it's your analogy, so let's run w/ it. To apply it to Mr. Gore's current crusade from which he exempts himself, if Al Gore owned slaves yet decried the practice as morally repugnant, yes, any thinking person would call him a hypocrite. There is a correlation between the moral force of one's argument and his commitment to his convictions.

Anonymous said...

It's incredibly pathetic that whilst humanity faces its biggest and most immediate challenge, that some people continue to argue that global warming is just a left wing lie.

I wonder whether they will still be arguing this point when the water is lapping around their chin.

Anonymous said...

speaking of water, we must all urge our 'leaders' wherever they are, to support ALL RENEWABLE sources of energy for our needs in the future. The most interesting one so far is marine power (also known as lunar power, tidal power). It is being tested in New York Harbor and several countries around the world. Why are we only hearing about research and development money being laden upon the big business nuclear industry, and none given to the new and most promising source of energy yet!?? think about it. think about all that is going on and the motives behind things that are done.

Cris said...

wow guys. The whole point of this movie was to point out that global warming is a fact. Yes, Al Gore is a hypocrite sometimes, but at least he's trying to something about global warming, unlike some people.

I'm behind you anonymous. we do need to convince our leaders to do something about the climate crisis. Lets get cracking!