Gore Pulls a JFK

While I’ve been watch­ing what’s look­ing more and more like a melt-down in my for­mer coun­try, a speech from Al Gore got my atten­tion. At first, it sound­ed like a rerun of the typ­i­cal ‘Things are Get­ting Worse’ speech that makes up much of “An Incon­ve­nient Truth”. How­ev­er, after a sur­vey of the most recent dam­age wrought by glob­al warm­ing (includ­ing the loss of the Polar Ice Caps, the melt­ing of the glac­i­ers in Green­land, etc.), he sud­den­ly changed tack. Gore point­ed out that the three major chal­lenges fac­ing the US right now; a bad econ­o­my, nation­al secu­ri­ty in per­il, and nat­ur­al dis­as­ters brought on by the chang­ing cli­mate, are all a result of the reliance of the coun­try on car­bon-based fuels. 

We’re bor­row­ing from mon­ey from Chi­na to buy oil from the Per­sian Gulf in order to burn it in ways that destroy the plan­et. Every bit of that has to change.

To address this, he makes an ambi­tious state­ment, a call to Americans:

…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 lynch­pin of a bold new strat­e­gy need­ed to re-pow­er America.

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

Why 10 years? It’s here that Gore first direct­ly invokes Kennedy’s call for putting a man on the moon, which in my mem­o­ry, is the proud­est moment of the US in the twen­ti­eth century:

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 to land a man on the moon and bring him back safe­ly in 10 years, many peo­ple doubt­ed we could accom­plish that goal. But 8 years and 2 months lat­er, Neil Arm­strong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the sur­face of the moon.

I believe that the biggest applause came with Gore’s indict­ment of Bush’s pathet­ic calls for end­ing the mora­to­ri­um on off­shore oil drilling:

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. 

I have to admit that it’s easy to soar over Bush’s ridicu­lous sug­ges­tion. The only peo­ple tru­ly in favour of poten­tial oil slicks on the beach­es of Cal­i­for­nia and Flori­da, as well as fur­ther igno­rance of the stu­pid­i­ty of burn­ing more fos­sil fuels in the face of mount­ing evi­dence (and ris­ing tem­per­a­tures, hur­ri­canes, wild­fires and the like) are either Oil Com­pa­ny exec­u­tives or oth­ers who would ben­e­fit from more drilling (as well as the will­ful­ly igno­rant, who will blind­ly fol­low Bush into obliv­ion rather than admit that the man he cheat­ed out of the Pres­i­den­cy was ever right about anything).

To seal the deal, Gore once more refers to the space pro­gram in a final dra­mat­ic finish:

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 civ­i­liza­tion 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.

Here’s the whole speech, a lit­tle less than a half hour in length. It’s worth hear­ing, if noth­ing else but as a piece of history:

Will the US rise to take on Gore’s chal­lenge? Will they even pay atten­tion? I have to admit that I’m not that opti­mistic. In a way, the achieve­ment of Kennedy’s call for a man on the moon was a bit­ter­sweet vic­to­ry, since he had been assas­si­nat­ed ear­ly on in the effort; it was, in ret­ro­spect, a memo­r­i­al of sorts. I hope that this is not the only way that you can get past the bick­er­ing in the Exec­u­tive and Leg­isla­tive branch­es of Amer­i­can Government.

As for the pub­lic, it’s a very dif­fer­ent Elec­torate in 2008 than it was in 1961. The major­i­ty of Amer­i­cans were bet­ter edu­cat­ed back then, and the goal of putting a man on the moon was eas­i­er to grasp than 100% car­bon-free elec­tric pow­er is (I’d even go as far as say­ing that a fright­en­ing­ly large num­ber of Amer­i­cans don’t have a clue what ‘car­bon-based’ means. They just plug some­thing in and don’t care how it works).

Let’s hope that Gore’s clar­i­on call has­n’t fall­en upon deaf ears.

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