Gore wants to put a man on the moon in ten years, or something even harder, and he wants to do it without the help of the military, the oil companies, or the long shadow of the USSR. This is a grand goal with no grand moments, no televised spectacles. In a speech yesterday he said,
Today I challenge our nation to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years.
This is going to be hard. Not because of the massive amounts of new technology and infrastructure required — though that will be hard too — but because preventing catastrophic climate change is not sexy. There will be no crowning achievement. There will not be any small steps for a man, only a completely invisible giant leap for mankind. We are not in a race against an evil superpower with bigger rockets. Sustainable electricity makes terrible television.
The Space Race stirred imaginations and made for wonderful nationalist symbols. Further, it was both justified by and perpetuated the Great Struggle against the evil Communists, and let’s not forget that the same engineering team was responsible for both the mighty Saturn V and the first ICBMs. Indeed, the first American in space was launched on top of a former nuclear missile. For our grand goal of climate change mitigation, we’ll have none of that. Even worse, it’s against pretty much all of the major interests — let’s just say it: military-industrial — which made this nation what it is.
Preventing climate change is like flossing your teeth: it’s sort of irritating and has no immediately obvious benefit. So for this to work, Gore (and anyone else who cares) has to link the project with ideas that stir people. He’s trying to do this by linking carbon emissions to other American problems, namely the economy and national security:
We’re borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that has to change.
And he’s right. Trouble is, these are also negative goals. The trade deficit and the failing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are problems that need to be fixed, not new heights to aspire to. They’re no space program. This is not to knock Gore: I think that his ten year target for sustainable electricity is a fabulous idea. More than that: a necessary idea. All the science says we have to get serious about this, and that requires exactly the sort of deep politics and policy changes that Gore is calling for. What we need now is some way to see this as progress, rather than damage control.
Support him anyway on http://www.wecansolveit.org/