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Gore’s challenge to the US: make “a giant leap for humankind”

Comparing the task ahead with the race to reach the moon, the Nobel laureate urges a national climate-change commitment: to produce 100% renewable, clean energy within 10 years.

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(This text of Nobel peace laureate Al Gore’s July 17, 2008, climate speech was provided to chinadialogue by the Washington-based Alliance for Climate Protection.)

There are times in the history of our nation when our very way of life depends upon dispelling illusions and awakening to the challenge of a present danger. In such moments, we are called upon to move quickly and boldly to shake off complacency, throw aside old habits and rise, clear-eyed and alert, to the necessity of big changes. Those who, for whatever reason, refuse to do their part must either be persuaded to join the effort or asked to step aside. This is such a moment. The survival of the United States of America as we know it is at risk. And even more -- if more should be required -- the future of human civilisation is at stake.

I don't remember a time in our country when so many things seemed to be going so wrong simultaneously. Our economy is in terrible shape and getting worse, gasoline prices are increasing dramatically, and so are electricity rates. Jobs are being outsourced. Home mortgages are in trouble. Banks, automobile companies and other institutions we depend upon are under growing pressure. Distinguished senior business leaders are telling us that this is just the beginning unless we find the courage to make some major changes quickly.

The climate crisis, in particular, is getting a lot worse -- much more quickly than predicted. Scientists with access to data from navy submarines traversing underneath the north polar ice cap have warned that there is now a 75% chance that within five years the entire ice cap will completely disappear during the summer months. This will further increase the melting pressure on Greenland. According to experts, the Jakobshavn glacier, one of Greenland's largest, is moving at a faster rate than ever before, losing 20 million [short] tons of ice every day, equivalent to the amount of water used every year by the residents of New York City.

Two major studies from military intelligence experts have warned our leaders about the dangerous national security implications of the climate crisis, including the possibility of hundreds of millions of climate refugees destabilising nations around the world.

Just two days ago [on July 15, 2008], 27 senior statesmen and retired military leaders warned of the national security threat from an "energy tsunami" that would be triggered by a loss of our access to foreign oil. Meanwhile, the war in Iraq continues, and now the war in Afghanistan appears to be getting worse.

And by the way, our weather sure is getting strange, isn't it? There seem to be more tornadoes than in living memory, longer droughts, bigger downpours and record floods. Unprecedented fires are burning in California and elsewhere in the American west. Higher temperatures lead to drier vegetation that makes kindling for mega-fires of the kind that have been raging in Canada, Greece, Russia, China, South America, Australia and Africa. Scientists in the Department of Geophysics and Planetary Science at Tel Aviv University tell us that for every one degree increase in temperature, lightning strikes will go up another 10%. And it is lightning, after all, that is principally responsible for igniting the conflagration in California today.

Like a lot of people, it seems to me that all these problems are bigger than any of the solutions that have thus far been proposed for them, and that's been worrying me.

I'm convinced that one reason we've seemed paralysed in the face of these crises is our tendency to offer old solutions to each crisis separately -- without taking the others into account. And these outdated proposals have not only been ineffective, they almost always make the other crises even worse.

Yet when we look at all three of these seemingly intractable challenges at the same time, we can see the common thread running through them, deeply ironic in its simplicity: our dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels is at the core of all three of these challenges -- the economic, environmental and national-security crises.

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's got to change.

But if we grab hold of that common thread and pull it hard, all of these complex problems begin to unravel and we will find that we're holding the answer to all of them right in our hand.

The answer is to end our reliance on carbon-based fuels.

In my search for genuinely effective answers to the climate crisis, I have held a series of "solutions summits" with engineers, scientists and CEOs [chief executive officers]. In those discussions, one thing has become abundantly clear: when you connect the dots, it turns out that the real solutions to the climate crisis are the very same measures needed to renew our economy and escape the trap of ever-rising energy prices. Moreover, they are also the very same solutions we need to guarantee our national security without having to go to war in the Persian Gulf.

What if we could use fuels that are not expensive, don't cause pollution and are abundantly available right here at home?

We have such fuels. Scientists have confirmed that enough solar energy falls on the surface of the earth every 40 minutes to meet 100% of the entire world's energy needs for a full year. Tapping just a small portion of this solar energy could provide all of the electricity America uses.

And enough wind power blows through the Midwest corridor every day to also meet 100% of US electricity demand. Geothermal energy, similarly, is capable of providing enormous supplies of electricity for America.

The quickest, cheapest and best way to start using all this renewable energy is in the production of electricity. In fact, we can start right now using solar power, wind power and geothermal power to make electricity for our homes and businesses.

But to make this exciting potential a reality, and truly solve our nation's problems, we need a new start.

That's why I'm proposing today a strategic initiative designed to free us from the crises that are holding us down and to regain control of our own destiny. It's not the only thing we need to do. But this strategic challenge is the linchpin of a bold new strategy needed to re-power America.

Today I challenge our nation to commit to producing 100% of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years.

This goal is achievable, affordable and transformative. It represents a challenge to all Americans, in every walk of life -- to our political leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, engineers, and to every citizen.

A few years ago, it would not have been possible to issue such a challenge. But here's what's changed: the sharp cost reductions now beginning to take place in solar, wind and geothermal power -- coupled with the recent dramatic price increases for oil and coal -- have radically changed the economics of energy.

When I first went to [the US] Congress 32 years ago, I listened to experts testify that if oil ever got to [US] $35 a barrel, then renewable sources of energy would become competitive. Well, today, the price of oil is over $135 per barrel. And sure enough, billions of dollars of new investment are flowing into the development of concentrated solar thermal, photovoltaics, windmills, geothermal plants and a variety of ingenious new ways to improve our efficiency and conserve presently wasted energy.

And as the demand for renewable energy grows, the costs will continue to fall. Let me give you one revealing example: the price of the specialised silicon used to make solar cells was recently as high as $300 per kilogramme. But the newest contracts have prices as low as $50 a kilogramme.

You know, the same thing happened with computer chips -- also made out of silicon. The price paid for the same performance came down by 50% every 18 months, year after year, and that's what's happened for 40 years in a row.

To those who argue that we do not yet have the technology to accomplish these results with renewable energy: I ask them to come with me to meet the entrepreneurs who will drive this revolution. I've seen what they are doing and I have no doubt that we can meet this challenge.

To those who say the costs are still too high: I ask them to consider whether the costs of oil and coal will ever stop increasing if we keep relying on quickly depleting energy sources to feed a rapidly growing demand all around the world. When demand for oil and coal increases, their price goes up. When demand for solar cells increases, the price often comes down.

When we send money to foreign countries to buy nearly 70% of the oil we use every day, they build new skyscrapers and we lose jobs. When we spend that money building solar arrays and windmills, we build competitive industries and gain jobs here at home.

Of course there are those who will tell us this can't be done. Some of the voices we hear are the defenders of the status quo -- the ones with a vested interest in perpetuating the current system, no matter how high a price the rest of us will have to pay. But even those who reap the profits of the carbon age have to recognise the inevitability of its demise. As one OPEC oil minister observed, "The Stone Age didn't end because of a shortage of stones."

To those who say 10 years is not enough time, I respectfully ask them to consider what the world's scientists are telling us about the risks we face if we don't act in 10 years. The leading experts predict that we have less than 10 years to make dramatic changes in our global warming pollution lest we lose our ability to ever recover from this environmental crisis. When the use of oil and coal goes up, pollution goes up. When the use of solar, wind and geothermal increases, pollution comes down.

To those who say the challenge is not politically viable: I suggest they go before the American people and try to defend the status quo. Then bear witness to the people's appetite for change.

I for one do not believe our country can withstand 10 more years of the status quo. Our families cannot stand 10 more years of gas price increases. Our workers cannot stand 10 more years of job losses and outsourcing of factories. Our economy cannot stand 10 more years of sending $2 billion every 24 hours to foreign countries for oil. And our soldiers and their families cannot take another 10 years of repeated troop deployments to dangerous regions that just happen to have large oil supplies. 

What could we do instead for the next 10 years? What should we do during the next 10 years? Some of our greatest accomplishments as a nation have resulted from commitments to reach a goal that fell well beyond the next election: the Marshall Plan, social security, the interstate highway system. But a political promise to do something 40 years from now is universally ignored because everyone knows that it's meaningless. Ten years is about the maximum time that we as a nation can hold a steady aim and hit our target.

When president John F Kennedy challenged our nation [in May 1961] to land a man on the moon and bring him back safely in 10 years, many people doubted we could accomplish that goal. But eight years and two months later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the surface of the moon [on July 20, 1969].

To be sure, reaching the goal of 100% renewable and truly clean electricity within 10 years will require us to overcome many obstacles. At present, for example, we do not have a unified national grid that is sufficiently advanced to link the areas where the sun shines and the wind blows to the cities in the east and the west that need the electricity.

Our national electric grid is critical infrastructure, as vital to the health and security of our economy as our highways and telecommunication networks. Today, our grids are antiquated, fragile and vulnerable to cascading failure. Power outages and defects in the current grid system cost US businesses more than $120 billion a year. It has to be upgraded anyway.

We could further increase the value and efficiency of a Unified National Grid by helping our struggling auto giants switch to the manufacture of plug-in electric cars. An electric vehicle fleet would sharply reduce the cost of driving a car, reduce pollution and increase the flexibility of our electricity grid.

At the same time, of course, we need to greatly improve our commitment to efficiency and conservation. That's the best investment we can make.

America's transition to renewable energy sources must also include adequate provisions to assist those Americans who would unfairly face hardship. For example, we must recognise those who have toiled in dangerous conditions to bring us our present energy supply. We should guarantee good jobs in the fresh air and sunshine for any coal miner displaced by impacts on the coal industry. Every single one of them.

Of course, we could and should speed up this transition by insisting that the price of carbon-based energy include the costs of the environmental damage it causes. I have long supported a sharp reduction in payroll taxes with the difference made up in CO2 taxes. We should tax what we burn, not what we earn. This is the single most important policy change we can make.

In order to foster international cooperation, it is also essential that the United States rejoin the global community and lead efforts to secure an international treaty at Copenhagen in December of next year that includes a cap on CO2 emissions and a global partnership that recognises the necessity of addressing the threats of extreme poverty and disease as part of the world's agenda for solving the climate crisis.

Of course the greatest obstacle to meeting the challenge of 100% renewable electricity in 10 years may be the deep dysfunction of our politics and our self-governing system as it exists today. In recent years, our politics has tended toward incremental proposals made up of small policies designed to avoid offending special interests, alternating with occasional baby steps in the right direction. Our democracy has become sclerotic at a time when these crises require boldness.

It is only a truly dysfunctional system that would buy into the perverse logic that the short-term answer to high gasoline prices is drilling for more oil ten years from now.

Am I the only one who finds it strange that our government so often adopts a so-called solution that has absolutely nothing to do with the problem it is supposed to address? When people rightly complain about higher gasoline prices, we propose to give more money to the oil companies and pretend that they're going to bring gasoline prices down. It will do nothing of the sort, and everyone knows it.

If we keep going back to the same policies that have never ever worked in the past and have served only to produce the highest gasoline prices in history alongside the greatest oil company profits in history, nobody should be surprised if we get the same result over and over again. But the [US] Congress may be poised to move in that direction anyway because some of them are being stampeded by lobbyists for special interests that know how to make the system work for them instead of the American people.

If you want to know the truth about gasoline prices, here it is: the exploding demand for oil, especially in places like China, is overwhelming the rate of new discoveries by so much that oil prices are almost certain to continue upward over time no matter what the oil companies promise. And politicians cannot bring gasoline prices down in the short term.

However, there actually is one extremely effective way to bring the costs of driving a car way down within a few short years. The way to bring gas prices down is to end our dependence on oil and use the renewable sources that can give us the equivalent of $1-per-gallon gasoline.

Many Americans have begun to wonder whether or not we've simply lost our appetite for bold policy solutions. And folks who claim to know how our system works these days have told us we might as well forget about our political system doing anything bold, especially if it is contrary to the wishes of special interests. And I've got to admit, that sure seems to be the way things have been going. But I've begun to hear different voices in this country from people who are not only tired of baby steps and special interest politics, but are hungry for a new, different and bold approach.

We are on the eve of a [US] presidential election. We are in the midst of an international climate treaty process that will conclude its work before the end of the first year of the new president's term. It is a great error to say that the United States must wait for others to join us in this matter. In fact, we must move first, because that is the key to getting others to follow; and because moving first is in our own national interest.

So I ask you to join with me to call on every candidate, at every level, to accept this challenge -- for America to be running on 100% zero-carbon electricity in 10 years. It's time for us to move beyond empty rhetoric. We need to act now.

This is a generational moment. A moment when we decide our own path and our collective fate. I'm asking you -- each of you -- to join me and build this future. Please join the WE campaign at wecansolveit.org.We need you. And we need you now. We're committed to changing not just light bulbs, but laws. And laws will only change with leadership.

On July 16, 1969, the United States of America was finally ready to meet President Kennedy's challenge of landing Americans on the moon. I will never forget standing beside my father a few miles from the launch site, waiting for the giant Saturn 5 rocket to lift Apollo 11 into the sky. I was a young man, 21 years old, who had graduated from college a month before and was enlisting in the United States army three weeks later.

I will never forget the inspiration of those minutes. The power and the vibration of the giant rocket's engines shook my entire body. As I watched the rocket rise, slowly at first and then with great speed, the sound was deafening. We craned our necks to follow its path until we were looking straight up into the air. And then four days later, I watched along with hundreds of millions of others around the world as Neil Armstrong took one small step to the surface of the moon and changed the history of the human race.

We must now lift our nation to reach another goal that will change history. Our entire civilisation depends upon us now embarking on a new journey of exploration and discovery. Our success depends on our willingness as a people to undertake this journey and to complete it within 10 years. Once again, we have an opportunity to take a giant leap for humankind.

Al Gore – author and environmental campaigner -- is a former vice president of the United States and the joint winner (with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He is the founder of the Alliance for Climate Protection, of which the We Campaign is a project.

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评论通过管理员审核后翻译成中文或英文。 最大字符 1200。

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评论 comments

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

同意

如果太阳光电技术在中国得以广泛应用,那儿的电价就会低于目前水平。 (由Zheng Shen翻译)

Agree

If the photovoltaic technology was utilized widely in China, the price of the electricity would be lower there than what it is now.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

能源利用务必要进入新时代

“石器时代的结束不是因为石头短缺”。一个浅显的道理,似乎长期历来被政客忽视了。
新能源的实质应用和推广将不仅在技术层次上把人类文明推入一个新的时代。这将会是一个里程碑。[email protected]

Energy use is changing

"The Stone Age didn't end because of a shortage of stones." This simple idea has long been ignored by the politicians.

The utilization and extension of new energy will bring human civilization to a new era, not only in terms of technique. It will be a milestone.
[email protected]
(This comment was translated by Zheng Shen.)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

支持前副总统

支持前副总统的话,我也算一个. 他所描述的方法是很合理可行的.国际巨头同时也是环境的债务人,必须要履行一定责任.

该评论由Stacy Xu 翻译.

Support the former-veep

I for one support the former-vice president. The ways he described sound reasonable and feasible. The giant environmental debtor should do something to redeem.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

回复:戈尔的建议(上)

人们高瞻远瞩时往往忽略了眼前的事物。戈尔号召在十年内美国转型成为完全利用可更新能源的国家。这个建议如果可能实现,那么它会是个伟大的目标。但要实现这个计划必须克服一个困难:能源的大规模生产目的是满足需求,但依靠风力与太阳能发电需要为无风和无阳光的时期储存大量的能源。这不是鸡毛蒜皮的问题,要解决它也不是不可能。只不过解决方法非科技创新和实验莫属,而这两种方法,如同艾滋病和癌症的治疗方法,无法保证在固定时限内获得所期望的成果。如果我们不是正在为关注戈尔的建议付出代价,上面的一切都不重要。但在戈尔的建议上太过执着,就会导致我们偏离甚至忽略掉目前的当务之急:降低发达国家(特别是美国)的高人均能源消耗以及温室气体排放量。这也是两位美国总统候选人一直表示支持的事业。(未完待续)
(本评论由Zheng Shen翻译)

Re: Al Gore's proposal pt 1

Sometimes if you look to far ahead you miss what is front of your nose! Al Gore's call for the Unites States to convert to a 100% renewable energy portfolio within 10 years would be a great goal if it were realizable. One big problem stands in the way of such a plan. Large scale energy production is produced to match demand. But to rely on wind or solar power we would need to have massive storage capacity for energy to be available for use when there is no wind or sun. This is not a trivial problem. It is not an insoluble problem. But it is going to take scientific innovation and experimentation to solve - neither of which can be guaranteed to produce a desired result on a fixed timetable anymore than the cure for cancer or AIDS. None of this would matter were it not the fact that we pay an enormous price by focusing on Gore's plan. For in doing so, we risk becoming sidetracked from the immediate priority - putting the developed world (and especially the United States) on a serious diet to wean it from its high per capita energy consumption and associated green-house gas emissions. That is what both Obama and McCain have indicated support for in their campaigns. cont...

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

回复: 戈尔的建议(下)

到2020年,将美国温室气体排放量从2006年水平降低20%是可能的。在达成这一目标之后,继续将排放量降低80%甚至90%也似乎是一个可行的挑战,因为大规模存储能力技术与碳捕获及隔离技术在未来40年之内很有可能被掌握,尽管不是100%保证。但如果下一年我们不能把注意力放在美国目标长远的捆绑立法上,这一切都不会成为可能。中国与世界其他国家和地区有权在制定他们自己的长期能源计划之前要求美国的这一立法行为。

-----Martin Bunzl,
博士,
气候与社会政策研究所主管,
罗格斯大学
(本评论由Zheng Shen翻译)

Re: Al Gore's proposal pt 2

Pushing U.S. consumption down by 20% of 2006 green-house gas levels by 2020 is a doable goal. Going on from there to an 80% (or even a 90%) reduction of 2006 green-house gas levels is going to be a challenge that is plausible, because it is not unreasonable to think that both massive storage capacity and carbon capture and sequestration will be mastered over the next 40 years - although here too there is no guarantee. But none of this is going to happen without a focus on the need for far reaching, binding legislation in the United States in the coming year. China and the rest of the world
have a right to demand this before addressing their own long term energy planning.

Martin Bunzl,
Professor of Philosophy,
Director, Initiative on Climate and Social Policy,
Rutgers University.