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By Robert Rapier on Feb 28, 2007 with no responses

More on the Al Gore Story

Wow. Quite an interesting group of visitors I had here yesterday. The CIA. The U.S. Senate. The House of Representatives. Argonne. NREL. Oak Ridge. And that was just before lunch. (You can click on the Site Meter at the bottom of the page to see details on the most recent 100 visitors). I usually get some visitors from various branches of government every day, but I have never seen quite so many in such a short period of time. I guess that’s what happens when the subject matter is political.

The recent reports on Al Gore’s energy consumption are definitely polarizing. The reactions from both sides typified what I hate so much about politics. The Right naturally vilified him. I didn’t see anyone cutting him any slack, or proposing reasons that his energy consumption might be high. This was seen as an opportunity to rehash many of the old canards about Gore. The positive things that Gore has done were lost in the noise. For the Right, this was an opportunity to “get Gore.”

On the Left, the strategy was to deflect attention. They wondered about the timing (right after Gore’s Oscar win) and the motives. They wanted to know how the bills were obtained. They wanted to paint this as a right-wing conspiracy. Some pointed suspicious fingers at me over the essay I wrote yesterday. But what was lacking was some acknowledgement that this really doesn’t look good. No, in politics you defend your guy no matter what, and you attack the other guy at every opportunity. There just never seems to be any other rules to the game, like maybe where your guy is wrong and the other guy isn’t really all that bad.

Are Gore’s political enemies behind this? Probably. Are his enemies out to get him? Without a doubt. Does that change the data? No. And that is why I am disappointed in Gore. Here is what I would have expected of Gore:

The 4,000-square-foot house is a model of environmental rectitude.

Geothermal heat pumps located in a central closet circulate water through pipes buried 300 feet deep in the ground where the temperature is a constant 67 degrees; the water heats the house in the winter and cools it in the summer. Systems such as the one in this “eco-friendly” dwelling use about 25% of the electricity that traditional heating and cooling systems utilize.

A 25,000-gallon underground cistern collects rainwater gathered from roof runs; wastewater from sinks, toilets and showers goes into underground purifying tanks and is also funneled into the cistern. The water from the cistern is used to irrigate the landscaping surrounding the four-bedroom home. Plants and flowers native to the high prairie area blend the structure into the surrounding ecosystem.

No, this is not the home of some eccentrically wealthy eco-freak trying to shame his fellow citizens into following the pristineness of his self-righteous example. And no, it is not the wilderness retreat of the Sierra Club or the Natural Resources Defense Council, a haven where tree-huggers plot political strategy.

That sounds like a “Gore house.” Can you believe that they are describing the Crawford, Texas ranch of President Bush? Believe me, I am no George Bush fan, but what kind of bizzaro world is this if Bush has a lower carbon footprint than Gore? And given the size of Bush’s ranch house in comparison to what I expect is the size of Gore’s mansion, I would say that is a distinct possibility.

Various reasons have been proffered for Gore’s high level of energy usage. Here is a sampling that I gathered from comments at The Oil Drum. One person suggested that we can’t expect Gore to live like normal people:

I don’t think you can expect a former VP from an old money family to live like just folks. A sensible critique would compare the Gores to others of their position and income bracket.

Of course other old money families aren’t trotting around the globe pleading with the public to conserve. So I don’t expect Gore to live like “others of their position and income bracket.”

One said that he is just a man of his times:

I call this the Jeffersonian Paradox. It would have been impossible for Jefferson to participate in the forming of this nation without slave labor. He needed it at the time to finance his travels and his fights for the rights of United States. This is the paradox we all face, we must use the current system to make money to complain/change the current system.

Albert Gore is no different than Jefferson in this regard.

Here’s one that hit close to the crux of the matter for me:

People will consume as much as they can. Always have, always will. Al Gore is no exception. If buying carbon offsets settles his conscience than good for him. I’d have been far more encouraged if he downsized his lifestyle.

And my friend Engineer Poet brought up something that was on my mind as well:

Forget for a minute what Gore is consuming. Consider instead the ratio of consumption to activity.

Seriously, he’s probably running the activities of a good-sized office out of his house.

If you consider what that office would consume if it was stand-alone, his personal footprint might be far more reasonable than raw figures suggest.

Gore is obviously not like the average Joe. As a former VP and best-selling author, he has special circumstances that will probably drive up his energy costs. I presume he has Secret Service agents around all the time. So, it’s a given that these extra bodies will increase his energy consumption beyond what it might otherwise be.

On the other hand, he is Al Gore. He is probably the highest profile environmentalist in the world. He is proselytizing on the topic of conservation. So I don’t expect his energy consumption to compare to the average rich person’s. I expect him to lead by example. I don’t expect him to live in a mansion. If you had asked me prior to yesterday about Al Gore’s energy usage, I would have said that he is undoubtedly very frugal with his energy consumption. After all, how could he not be, given the message he preaches?

But, like Engineer Poet I did wonder about how many people are working out of his home. That is an unknown. A spokesman for Gore did state that he and Tipper both work out of their home (however, she “did not dispute the Center’s figures, taken as they were from public records”). If Gore’s mansion consumes 20 times the energy of the average home, but he has 40 people in his mansion all the time, then it becomes more understandable. (But I would expect his camp to come out and clearly explain this). As his office noted, he is taking steps to lower his fossil fuel usage, but he has been in the mansion for 5 years.

Bottom line, here is what rankles me. Al Gore is effectively our Conservationist-in-Chief. He is asking us to sacrifice. He may be from an old money family – and old money families may tend to consume a lot of energy – but Gore has chosen to be a spokesman for conservation. Therefore, I expect him to lead from the front. If he wants the rest of us to downsize our lifestyles, shouldn’t I expect him to do the same and demonstrate his willingness to sacrifice? I expect him to go overboard in this aspect, just to demonstrate his commitment and to set the example. Those carbon credits he is buying don’t remove his greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. They don’t lower his consumption. How about downsizing and buying carbon credits?

Instead, he has chosen to retain his privileged status. He has chosen to live in a mansion, and to offset the energy required to maintain this mansion by purchasing carbon credits. The appearance is certainly one of “What’s good for the rest of us, is not good for Gore.” And that sadly diminishes his moral authority to deliver a very important message about conservation.