We, the People of the United States

Excerpted from:

THE NEW YORK TIMES

Op-Ed Contributor

The Climate for Change

By AL GORE 

Published: November 9, 2008 

What follows is a five-part plan to repower America with a commitment to producing 100 percent of our electricity from carbon-free sources within 10 years. It is a plan that would simultaneously move us toward solutions to the climate crisis and the economic crisis — and create millions of new jobs that cannot be outsourced. 

First, the new president and the new Congress should offer large-scale investment in incentives for the construction of concentrated solar thermal plants in the Southwestern deserts, wind farms in the corridor stretching from Texas to the Dakotas and advanced plants in geothermal hot spots that could produce large amounts of electricity. 

Second, we should begin the planning and construction of a unified national smart grid for the transport of renewable electricity from the rural places where it is mostly generated to the cities where it is mostly used. New high-voltage, low-loss underground lines can be designed with “smart” features that provide consumers with sophisticated information and easy-to-use tools for conserving electricity, eliminating inefficiency and reducing their energy bills. The cost of this modern grid — $400 billion over 10 years — pales in comparison with the annual loss to American business of $120 billion due to the cascading failures that are endemic to our current balkanized and antiquated electricity lines. 

Third, we should help America’s automobile industry (not only the Big Three but the innovative new startup companies as well) to convert quickly to plug-in hybrids that can run on the renewable electricity that will be available as the rest of this plan matures. In combination with the unified grid, a nationwide fleet of plug-in hybrids would also help to solve the problem of electricity storage. Think about it: with this sort of grid, cars could be charged during off-peak energy-use hours; during peak hours, when fewer cars are on the road, they could contribute their electricity back into the national grid. 

Fourth, we should embark on a nationwide effort to retrofit buildings with better insulation and energy-efficient windows and lighting. Approximately 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States come from buildings — and stopping that pollution saves money for homeowners and businesses. This initiative should be coupled with the proposal in Congress to help Americans who are burdened by mortgages that exceed the value of their homes. 

Fifth, the United States should lead the way by putting a price on carbon here at home, and by leading the world’s efforts to replace the Kyoto treaty next year in Copenhagen with a more effective treaty that caps global carbon dioxide emissions and encourages nations to invest together in efficient ways to reduce global warming pollution quickly, including by sharply reducing deforestation. 

Of course, the best way — indeed the only way — to secure a global agreement to safeguard our future is by re-establishing the United States as the country with the moral and political authority to lead the world toward a solution. 

Looking ahead, I have great hope that we will have the courage to embrace the changes necessary to save our economy, our planet and ultimately ourselves.

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From your mouth to God’s ear

The Wrong Energy Agenda

Conservatives should rethink their solution to our energy problems. Instead of more drilling, it’s time for small-scale enterprises, argues guest columnist Byron Kennard

In response to the nation’s energy problems, Republican politicians are calling for extensive and rapid deployment of large-scale technological solutions: drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; offshore oil development; construction of scores of new coal-fired and nuclear power plants; and development of clean coal technologies (coal-burning power stations equipped with carbon capture and sequestration gizmos).

To meet the rhetorical standards of an American Presidential campaign, this large-scale technology agenda has been distilled into a single mantra: “Drill more, drill now.” (Does this sound to anyone else like the business plan for a dentist?)

Large-scale technologies are, by definition, centralized. What’s more, their social and economic effects are centralizing. Deploying more large-scale technologies means we will become even more dependent on remote energy sources. Why do conservatives, who are philosophically committed to decentralized, small-scale approaches, opt for just the opposite when it comes to energy technology?

It’s not as if there were no small-scale technological solutions already available. There are plenty, indeed, starting with dramatic increases in conservation and efficiency, both of which can pay off hugely simply because Americans are such big—and needless—wasters of energy. This calls for thrift and prudence, both old-time virtues by any standard. Plus, increased conservation and efficiency will save consumers and businesses tons of money, which ought to please conservatives.

Small-Source Energy

On top of this, hundreds of new clean and renewable-energy technologies are flooding the market, most of them small-scale. These make possible the “distributed generation” of energy; that is energy generated from small sources on-site—solar, wind, fuel cells—and used nearby, maybe even in the same building. How much more decentralized can you get?

These small-scale technologies are not being produced by tree-hugging, anti-growth fanatics, or big government regulatory zealots, or closet socialists. They are coming from entrepreneurial small businesses whose owners are every bit as likely to be Republicans as Democrats.

Republicans profess to love entrepreneurship. But entrepreneurship has much more to do with small scale enterprise than large. Big businesses are seldom entrepreneurial, and entrepreneurs are seldom found in big businesses. We can afford to fail on the small scale but not on the big scale.

The Entrepreneurial Edge

This has been true throughout history. Tinkerers working in garages created the Industrial Age, remember? Their modern day counterparts, working on computers, are creating the post-Industrial Age. In this new era, little businesses are running rings around big businesses. Entrepreneurial small firms actually produce five times as many patents per dollar as large companies and 20 times as many as universities, according to the National Small Business Association, a trade group.

Contemplating this, one would think that entrepreneur-loving conservative politicians would be in seventh heaven. But don’t look for them there. Where you’ll find them is in bed with big business, cozily scheming to maintain the status quo.

Big businesses are exceptionally fond of the status quo, and not just because of the manifold subsidies they enjoy. Another reason is they don’t know how to get their hands on all these emerging small-scale technologies. These innovations are so numerous, so varied, and evolving so rapidly that no one can stay on top of them.

Innovative Speed

Indeed, the quickening pace of innovation puts big systems more and more at a disadvantage. No matter how quickly and how often big systems retool, something better comes along even before they finish.

Since big businesses don’t yet know how to control these small-scale technologies, or—most important—how to make money off them, they are content to pat them on the head, comment on how cute they are, and observe that in 20 or 30 years, when they grow up, such technologies might indeed be an option.

Natural Capital Institute

 From  Paul Hawken and friends:

Wiser ways

The Natural Capital Institute serves the people who are transforming the world. We are a team of researchers, teachers, students, activists, scholars, writers, social entrepreneurs, artists, and volunteers committed to the restoration of the earth and the healing of human culture. We do two things: we describe pathways of change in books and research reports, and we create tools for connecting the individuals, information, and organizations that create change.

To that end, NCI is creating WISER: the World Index for Social and Environmental Responsibility. It is a commercial-free, community-editable series of platforms where people, civil society, the private sector, and government can collaboratively define, address, and solve social and environmental problems. The millions of organizations and individuals who actively work towards ecological sustainability, economic justice, human rights, and political accountability address issues that are systemically interconnected and intertwined. Their effectiveness to prevent harm and institute positive change is undermined by the lack of a collective awareness, duplicative efforts, and incomplete connectivity.

Natural Capital Institute

TEDBlog: 100 Websites You Should Know and Use

 OK, this looks cool:

 The Web is constantly turning out new and extraordinary services many of us are unfamiliar with. During TED University at this spring’s TED2007 in Monterey, Julius Wiedemann, editor in charge at Taschen GmbH, offered an ultra-fast-moving ride through sites in many different areas, from art, design and illustration, to daily news, blogs and curiosity. Now, by popular demand, here’s his list of 100 websites you should know and use:

TED | TEDBlog: 100 Websites You Should Know and Use