Gore Sets 10-Year Clean Energy Goal

Former Vice President Al Gore speaks about energy and the future, Thursday, July 17, 2008, at Constitution Hall in Washington. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Just as John F. Kennedy set his sights on the moon, Al Gore is challenging the nation to produce every kilowatt of electricity through wind, sun and other Earth-friendly energy sources within 10 years, an audacious goal he hopes the next president will embrace.

The Nobel Prize-winning former vice president said fellow Democrat Barack Obama and Republican rival John McCain are "way ahead" of most politicians in the fight against global climate change.

Rising fuel costs, climate change and the national security threats posed by U.S. dependence on foreign oil are conspiring to create "a new political environment" that Gore said will sustain bold and expensive steps to wean the nation off fossil fuels.

"We've got to end our dependence on oil and coal," Gore told CBS Evening News Anchor Katie Couric. "They're rising rapidly in price. That's why gasoline prices are going up, and that's why electricity rates are going up. But the new demand for oil and coal from China and these other fast-growing countries means that only way we're going to escape the rising prices, and the dependence on foreign sources is by switching to renewable sources."


interview with Gore, click here
In his speech, Gore said some of the nation's biggest success stories have come from making commitments to goals well beyond the next election, citing the Marshall plan for rebuilding Europe, Social Security and the interstate highway system, in addition to putting a man on the moon.

"A political promise to do something 40 years from now is universally ignored because everyone knows that's meaningless," he said. "Ten years is about the maximum time that we as a nation can hold a steady aim and hit the target."

He said it also coincides with experts' predictions that unless dramatic changes to reduce global warming pollution are made within the next decade, "our ability to ever recover from this environmental crisis" may be lost.

This afternoon, both Obama and Mccain accepted Gore's challenge, reports CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes. As Mccain put it, "If the vice president says it's doable, I believe it's doable."

Gore said the single most important policy change would be placing a carbon tax on burning oil and coal.

The Alliance for Climate Protection, a bipartisan group he leads, estimates the cost of transforming the U.S. to clean electricity sources at $1.5 trillion to $3 trillion over 30 years in public and private money. But he says it would cost about as much to build greenhouse gas-polluting coal plants to satisfy current demand.

"This is an investment that will pay itself back many times over," Gore said. "It's an expensive investment but not compared to the rising cost of continuing to invest in fossil fuels."

Called an alarmist by conservatives, Gore has made global warming his signature issue. He portrayed Thursday's speech as the latest and most important phase in his effort to build public opinion in favor of alternative fuels.

Gore knows politicians fear action unless voters are willing to sacrifice - and demand new fuels.

"I hope to contribute to a new political environment in this country that will allow the next president to do what I think the next president is going to think is the right thing to do," Gore said. "But the people have to play a part." He compared his challenge to Kennedy's pledge in May 1961 to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

Gore narrowly lost the presidential race in 2000 to then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush after a campaign in which his prescient views on climate change took a back seat to other issues. In the 2008 presidential race, both the Republican and Democrat candidates support action to curb the gases blamed for global warming.

While dismissing a suggestion that he pulled his punches eight years ago, Gore said his goal now is to "enlarge the political space" within which politicians can "deal with the climate challenge."

To meet his 10-year goal, Gore said nuclear energy output would continue at current levels while the U.S. dramatically increases its use of solar, wind, geothermal and clean coal energy. Huge investments must also be made in technologies that reduce energy waste and link existing power grids, he said.

Gore's proposal would represent a significant shift in where the U.S. gets its power. In 2005, the United States produced nearly 3.7 billion kilowatt hours of electricity, with coal providing slightly more than half of that energy, according to government statistics. Nuclear power accounted for 21 percent, natural gas 15 percent and renewable sources, including wind and solar, about 8.6 percent.

Coal's share of electricity generation is only expected to grow come 2030, according to Energy Department forecasts, while renewable energy would still only provide 11 percent of the nation's power.

Without action, the cost of oil will continue to rise as fast-growing China and India increase demand, Gore said. Sustained addiction to oil also will place the U.S. at the mercy of oil-producing governments, he said, and the globe would suffer irreparable harm.

"One of the reasons why our country's had such a hard time dealing with this, is it does involve national security, energy, the economy and the environment," Gore told Couric. "But there's a common thread that runs through all of them. The key is ending our dependence on carbon-based fuels. And if we grab hold of that thread and pull it, the other problems begin to unravel, and we got the answer right in our hands. It's the the switch over from carbon-based fuel to renewable energy."

Government experts recently predicted that, at the current rate and without an international treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, world energy demand will grow 50 percent over the next two decades. The Energy Information Administration also said in its long-range forecast to 2030 that the world is not close to abandoning fossil fuels despite their role in global warming.

While electricity production is only part of the nation's energy and climate change problem, Gore said, "If we meet this challenge we will solve the rest of it."
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