Gore versus Drudge and The Economist

Gotta love this kind of heavy weight title fight! After taking home the Oscar for Best Documentary (honestly, was anyone else going to win it?) Sunday night, Al Gore’s own environmental record was called into question by a group named the Tennessee Center for Policy Research on Monday.

In a press release issued by the policy center they claimed Al Gore’s personal home used nearly 20 times the national average for both electricity and natural gas. It’s all very scandalous, with the AP picking up the story and then, of course the right-wingers led by Matt Drudge sensationalizing it. But Drudge, who lots of people read the headlines on his site, but necessarily the articles, failed to mention that Gore buys most of his electricity from clean, renewable resources and tries to maintain a carbon-neutral lifestyle.

Gore fights back courtesy of Think Progress today. Chalk this up to much ado about nothing, except that people will try to bring you down if you become too successful. See Sean Hannity. Don’t think for one moment that this is nothing more than an attempt to curb the “Is Al Gore running for President?” wave that is slowly cresting amongst the liberal community. Becuase if there’s nothing more dangerous than a man who already won the popular vote in 2000, it’s a man who has come out of his shell in the past six years and appears very humorous, very intelligent and very focussed. In other words… very presidential.

But the back and forth continues with The Economist chiming in on the debate. The article makes some fairly good points regarding this brouhaha.

When you donate money to build a new windfarm, you don’t take any of the old, polluting power offline; you increase the supply of power, reducing the price until others are encouraged to buy more carbon-emitting power. On the margin, it may make some difference, since demand for electricity is not perfectly elastic, but nowhere near the one-for-one equivalence that carbon offsets would seem to suggest. Especially since the worst offenders, big coal-fired plants, are not the ones that renewables will substitute for; solar and wind power are not good replacements for baseload power. Instead, renewables are likely to take relatively clean (and expensive) natural gas plants offline, since those are the ones that provide “extra” power to the system.

Furthermore, the article concludes that, “any attempt to abate global warming has to be massive. Huge numbers of people in the rich world have to fly less, drive less, consume less, and live in smaller houses. If Mr Gore really wants to encourage this (as I do), then he should try leading by example.”

I buy that, but by no means should Gore’s efforts to change people’s energy habits, to educate people and persuade people on this issue be diminished simply because he lives in a large house. I’d be curious to compare Gore’s energy bills versus the average energy bills for households of similar square-footage. Obviously living in a large house will of course lead to energy bills 20 times larger than the national average. What you think the White House doesn’t have an expensive energy bill?

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