THE BLOG

Up on the roof

It is a response to the latest Eric Alterman blog on Nader - 'What ACTION did Al Gore make happen about global warming during his vice-presidency?' (By: cindygasoline).

This is a really interesting point. Let me a try a 'what if?', but before I do, keep in mind an actual historical event. Jimmy Carter had solar panels put on the roof of the White House, in an astonishingly bold and farsighted move (for the time). Ronald Reagan didn't content himself with not adding more panels, didn't content himself with ignoring the ones that were installed, but went out of his way (if I remember correctly in virtually his first presidential act after wiping his shoes on the WH doormat and taking off his inauguration overcoat) to have them ripped of the roof and sold. Whenever I remember that story I once again realize why the Earth is up the climate change creek without a paddle.

But where was I? Ah, yes. Let us imagine that Al Gore, taking off his own overcoat in January 1993, and relaxing in the Oval Office, turns to Bill Clinton and says 'Hey, Bill, we did it, now, as our very first act I want to do something about global warming.' And Clinton says 'You mean put back those solar panels?" and Al says "No, no, something big, I don't want HuffPo internet posters to be able to say 14 years from now 'What did Al Gore do about GW if he is so smart?'"

Now this would have been remarkably far-sighted of Al (I wasn't aware of the scale of the problem in 1993, and I don't think too many people were), but let's assume that he had read some of the early scientific papers and had seen what was coming. So what does he do? OK, with his friend Bill they set out on an extensive program. A moratorium is put on any new coal-fired power stations, and instead a crash program, similar to the NASA man on the moon effort, is launched to develop solar and wind and geothermal power stations (or combinations) on a commercial scale. At the same time high miles per gallon targets are set for the automobile industry and rigorously enforced, together with R&D support for hybrid cars. A carbon tax is introduced, offset again by R&D support for workplace energy efficiencies. Homeowners are given tax breaks to install solar hot water heaters and insulation (and, yes Jane, new light bulbs), and a research program initiated to develop solar electric panels for houses. At the same time Mr Clinton is using his diplomatic skills to encourage Europe to undertake the same program, and provides incentives for China and India to use the newly developed renewable sources instead of coal.

There is more the dynamic duo could do (pressure on countries to stop clearing forests for example) but that program of effort would be a very good start.

The result? By 2000 the rate of CO2 production would have begun to slow, the graph to flatten out a bit. But the effects of this change are imperceptible to the average man in the street (aka The Voter), and it will be years before it will be clear that the Titanic has been turned around at the last minute just before the iceberg comes into view. But if we could compare the world today, if such a program had been continued for 14 years, then there would be less icecap melting, less glacier retreat, fewer violent storms (no Katrina?), less severe weather fluctuations like droughts and floods, fewer deadly heat waves.

But we can't run that experiment, and in 2000, all that The Voter would know would be that the shock jocks would have been screaming about the global warming hoax for 7 years, the public would see no evidence that severe climate change was under way, New York would be providing a platform for Michael Crichton, business would be demanding an end to regulations, and the Murdoch papers would be telling people that world socialism was being introduced by stealth for no reason. So George Bush would be elected by a large margin (no need to rely on SCOTUS), and his first act, cowboy boots unwiped, striding through the West Wing, is to dump all restrictions on coal and oil, abandon energy taxes, drop research subsidies, refuse to support reforestation programs around the world, and stop returning phone calls from China. Within a few years, perhaps even by now, the graph would be climbing again possibly even back to where it would have been without the imaginary Gore intervention.

The moral of this fable? Well, it's this. The conservatives (and their media and business cheer squads) hated even the symbolism of solar panels on the White House. A symbolism that says we need to be less profligate, conserve energy, develop renewable sources, need to regulate rampant capitalism before it destroys the world. If they hate even that symbolism so much that they would rip the innocent glass and iron from the roof, then no changes that progressives (in the White House or not) introduce are going to stick. And if actions are taken that ameliorate the problem then the public will be taught to take that as evidence that there never was a problem and that nothing needs to be done after all.

Global Warming needs a global response. Not just global in the sense of involving all the countries of the world, but global in the sense of involving all elements of society, all parts of the political spectrum, in recognizing the problem and agreeing on permanent solutions. That possibility is as far away as ever. And that is an even more inconvenient truth than the one that Al Gore is bringing to the public.