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By Robert Rapier on Feb 27, 2007 with no responses

Al Gore’s Carbon Footprint

On the subject of energy policy, it often seems that hypocrisy and politics go hand in hand. The message is often “Do as I say, and not as I do.” I have addressed the hypocrisy of certain politicians on several occasions; like here, here, and here. And when I do so, I try not to preferentially attack a particular party.

To be honest, I don’t think either major party has demonstrated that they have a good plan or the courage needed for dealing with energy issues. For the Republicans, the answer seems to be to drill in ANWR, or for more offshore drilling. For the Democrats, the solution seems to be to pander to the public by threatening to punish oil companies for high gas prices and high profits (as if making gas prices lower is going to help matters). Both parties seem to think that ethanol is going to enable us to continue with our wasteful level of energy usage.

So, it is with that disclaimer that I write this essay. I was skimming The Oil Drum yesterday, and someone had linked to this story:

Al Gore’s Personal Energy Use Is His Own “Inconvenient Truth”

I can’t tell you how disappointed I was to read this article. Here is a sampling:

Last night, Al Gore’s global-warming documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, collected an Oscar for best documentary feature, but the Tennessee Center for Policy Research has found that Gore deserves a gold statue for hypocrisy.

Gore’s mansion, located in the posh Belle Meade area of Nashville, consumes more electricity every month than the average American household uses in an entire year, according to the Nashville Electric Service (NES).

In his documentary, the former Vice President calls on Americans to conserve energy by reducing electricity consumption at home.

The average household in America consumes 10,656 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, according to the Department of Energy. In 2006, Gore devoured nearly 221,000 kWh — more than 20 times the national average.

I read An Inconvenient Truth, and watched the movie. I thought both presented compelling arguments, and I recommend them to everyone (even if you think Global Warming science is hogwash, you should understand the basis of the arguments). One of the stories that really stuck with me is how the Gore family had raised tobacco until Gore’s sister died from lung cancer. At that point they got out of the tobacco farming business because apparently only then did the full implications of what they were doing hit home.

I think there is a lesson in there, Mr. Gore. Your actions speak very loudly for you. If you are going to call on all Americans to conserve – which is a much-needed message – you must lead by example. You can’t consume 20 times the national average energy consumption. There is a word for people like that. Hypocrite.

I can understand Gore’s need to travel. Sure, he consumes a lot of fossil fuel trotting around the globe, but if people take his message to heart, then the net should be a fossil fuel and greenhouse gas reduction. So I don’t begrudge him that. What I can’t overlook is that such a high-profile spokesman on Global Warming would plead with Americans to conserve and yet demonstrate an inability to do this himself. I understand that Al Gore is an important guy, and that as former Vice-President his circumstances are more complex than the average Joe’s. But I simply don’t accept that he requires 20 times the energy usage of the average American (whose usage is already much higher than the rest of the world).

Now, some will rightly point out that Gore has taken steps to reduce his carbon footprint:

Gore’s Office Responds

The article is under the heading “Radical Right-Wing Agenda.” Really? Must it be a radical right-wing agenda to challenge what appears to be rank hypocrisy? I am certainly not a radical right-winger, but this doesn’t smell right to me. (For the record, I took on the Republicans when I addressed John McCain’s ethanol flip-flop).

Here is what the link states that Gore has done:

1) Gore’s family has taken numerous steps to reduce the carbon footprint of their private residence, including signing up for 100 percent green power through Green Power Switch, installing solar panels, and using compact fluorescent bulbs and other energy saving technology.

2) Gore has had a consistent position of purchasing carbon offsets to offset the family’s carbon footprint — a concept the right-wing fails to understand.

What this tells me is that his true energy usage is much higher than 20 times the national average, but the steps he has taken has brought it down to that. And while Gore is to be commended for the steps he has taken, this still doesn’t get to the heart of the matter, which is: Gore’s consumption is incredibly high, and he is asking the rest of the world to conserve. You can’t say “Yeah, but I am reducing my carbon footprint by buying carbon offsets.” That won’t sit well with most people. The average person can’t afford to buy carbon offsets. But the average person can certainly conserve. Yet Gore is asking us to do so when he hasn’t demonstrated the ability to do so himself.

And while I support the idea of purchasing carbon offsets, I do think it is somewhat offensive to excuse gross over-consumption with the reasoning that you have bought indulgences. What does this really mean? It means that Gore can afford to consume more, because he is paying others to offset his consumption. What if everyone decided to consume as much as Gore? Where would the carbon offsets come from?

Set an example, Mr. Gore. Walk the talk. You have been in politics long enough to know that this is exactly the sort of thing that will diminish the impact of your conservation message. I preach the conservation message as well. But I am doing my best to walk the talk. It isn’t easy. It isn’t convenient. Sometimes it is uncomfortable. But if I am going to call on others to conserve, I must demonstrate my own willingness to do so. Because if I can’t, why should I expect anyone else to sacrifice?