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.