07/29/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When a Trillion Dollars Looks Like a Bargain

A trillion dollars is the cost former Vice-President Gore attached to his proposed national effort to solve global warming last week.  Saying "together we can solve this challenge," Gore laid down a new, bold marker: Shift our economy entirely to carbon-free, renewable electricity in a decade. "To those who say ten years is not enough time, I respectfully ask them to consider what the world's scientists are telling us about the risks we face if we don't act in ten years," he said. He attached a trillion dollar price tag -- probably as a means of conveying just how big a job this is -- and in that he is right.

But the price tag is actually a bargain -- because every year we currently spend $700 billion importing oil, and we will shortly hit the trillion-dollar-a-year mark for that one fossil fuel alone. The real challenge isn't that we can't afford a carbon-free economy -- because it's not that big a bill. The awesomely difficult -- perhaps impossible -- challenge will be getting it done in a decade. But the closer we can come, the smaller will be the bill we face for all the things we didn't do back when we had more time -- going all the way back to Rio in 1988.

Are Americans ready? Every day, more and more of them are. In his speech, Gore commented that we needed to move from changing lightbulbs to changing leadership. And on the same night that he spoke, ordinary citizens gathered in more than 300 house parties organized by the Sierra Club as part of our Lightbulbs to Leadership campaign -- it's almost as if the Vice-President had read our action kit.