On Wednesday at the end of the Climate Change hearings in Washington, Nancy Pelosi, gushingly remarked of Al Gore, "You really are a roll model for us all." Exactly what does she mean by that? Because honestly, the most impressive thing about Al Gore, is that after 20 years of work on Global Warming, after twenty years of believing that global warming is "a crisis that is by far the most serious we've ever faced, dwarfing the post-World War II reconstruction of Europe, the rise of Communism and the ravages of disease and civil war in the developing world." He sees no need to raze one of his four houses for tree plantings, no need to swim in a cold swimming pool, no need to forgo the glitz of the Academy Awards. We certainly wouldn't look at a guy wheeling around an oxygen machine and smoking a cigarette as a roll model. So when Pelosi speaks perhaps she doesn't actually mean that Gore should be a model for me, or you, perhaps "us" meant the politicians in the room. He is quite the role model for them. He has achieved savior status (among some) with no sacrifice. If only she could be so clever.
But let me assume that Pelosi was including me in her "us". if Al Gore were my roll model then what should I do? First, I need to avoid taking private Leer jets and fly commerical when it is convenient. Second, I should go to www.Terrapass.com. There I can begin to calculate my environmental footprint. For example, for about 30 bucks I can cancel out my portion of CO2 emissions being spewed into the atmosphere when I fly from Australia to the States and back. Considering that a ticket costs me about $2000, I'd say that's pretty cheap. I also found that for about $30 a year, I can drive my CO2 emitting car, and it is as if it never happened. As it turns out being an environmentalist with money is pretty easy. I mean, we don't have that much money, but I can always cut down on say, money we'd normally give to compassion international or heifer international. These organizations are designed to save one measly individual, but if I am to believe Al Gore in his film where he predicted, "A future in which temperatures soar, ice sheets melt, seas rise, hurricanes batter the coasts and people die en masse." And then said, “Unless we act boldly, our world will undergo a string of terrible catastrophes.” Forget the kid, I've got a world to save. So little Javier and his starving family who get by on $1 a day will not be getting the cow. I will not give money to allow these poor people to live my Western gas guzzling, CO2 emitting lifestyle. As Al Gore stated, addressing Global warming is more important than addressing the ravages of disease in developing nations.
The really attractive part of Al's message (the message that people will really get, not the one that comes from his mouth) is that I really have to sacrifice very little to do my part. He's told us the dire consequences of global warming, then given the worst offenders a relatively light remedy. I saw the Academy Awards. Their sacrifice? They decided to forgo the fancy $100,000 grab bags for 100,000 lbs. of CO2 reductions and a glass sculpture.
I'm feeling cooler already.
I did a quick calculation, I would need to spend about $100 a year to cancel out my CO2 home emissions. Each star is getting about $400 worth. I have a hard time believing that Al Gore's (much less Tom Cruise's, or George Clooney, or Jenifer Aniston's) 100,000 reductions will bring him into the realm of the average American environmental footprint, and as I'm often reminded, little Javier wouldn't just stumble over that footprint, he'd fall in and wonder if the canyon had a name. If Gore can cancel out his global warming sins with a paper weight and a gift certificate for $400 bucks, my sins are hardly worth examining. To the average car owning, air conditioning enjoying American, watching Al Gore is like watching a physical trainer run five miles then light up a cigarette believing the two cancel one another out.
The truth is inconvenient, or at least it should be, and the truth is that Gore will do more harm than good for the environment. One study that would suggest as much appears In the book Freakonomic's. An Israeli daycare center, in order to encourage parents to pick up their children on time, began applying a $3 fine for those that were more than 10 minutes late. This was to be added on to their monthly bill of about $380. The result? The number of late pick-ups went from an average of 8 to an average of 20. Why? The daycare had substituted an economic incentive (a fine) for a moral incentive (the guilt parents felt when they arrived late to an empty room save one lonely kid, and an impatient daycare worker.) Interestingly though, when they did away with the useless fine, the damage had already been done. The daycare had sent the message to the parents that being late wasn't that big of a deal. So the number of late pick-ups remained high. Gore is also sending a powerful message, but, like the daycare, I'm not sure it is the one he intends.
Gore has recently come under criticism for his alarmist language by scientists who are climate change believers themselves. Their charge is that, An Inconvenient Truth overstates the case. In other words, Gore isn't being exactly truthful. So when beaches don't disappear, when the hurricane season isn't as bad, when tsunamis don't occur, when global warming doesn't turn out to be as bad as WWIII or the curable diseases that we know are ravaging developing nations right now, how will people react? Like the townspeople who'd heard "wolf" yelled one too many times.
Gore should be able to ride the wave of global warming fear for a while longer, but eventually to remain credible he will either need to sell his material possessions and move up to the top of a mountain, or come down off the pedestal where everyone is handing him golden statues. Meanwhile, avoiding a nonexistent apocalypse (at best) or largely unavoidable one (at worst) will have it's consequences, true believers who dismiss Gore's actions and simply listen to what he is saying will make decisions about where they spend their charitable giving, and following their leader's word, they will leave little Javier, who leaves the environmental footprint of a kangaroo rat, out in the cold. That is if they don't unwittingly decide to throw him under a bus.