Well, here I am, against my better judgment, up at 6:30am, gulping down coffee, getting ready to watch Gore testify to the House. How did my life come to this point? Didn’t I used to be cool?
If you want to geek out along with me, you can follow along with the webcast here. Let the liveblogging dorkery begin! (Below the fold.)
Man, Dingell is a cranky-looking dude.
They’re starting with Joe Barton?! And he’s starting with a “parliamentary inquiry”? You will not make this boring, you bastard!
Lordy, they’re talking about who gets to sit where. Dingell: “Barton, STFU.” Barton: “I have two more parliamentary inquiries.” Kill me.
Holy mother of god. Barton is complaining that he got Gore’s testimony late! “How are we supposed to prepare questions?” Dingell: “Barton, STFU.” Are we in grade school?
Ten minutes in, and we’re still quibbling about rules. More … coffee …
The minority leader of the Science committee, Hall, is ranting about how there’s an attack on fossil fuels. We need to defend them from this attack! He’s looking forward to Lomborg’s testimony. Frequent mention “Kyoto-like” policies. “Pro-Kyoto, self-styled experts.” “Shipping our jobs to China.” Good God, this is going to be ugly.
Hey, look, there’s Al! At least I think that’s him amidst the cameras. He’s being introduced by his successor. Quite the kiss-up.
Finally, Gore speaks. It’s an “emotional occasion,” he says. They’re joking back and forth. All smiles for now!
Here he goes: “planetary emergency,” “moral imagination,” “relationship between man and our planet,” etc. 1. There are lots more of us. 2. Our technology is immensely powerful. 3. Short-term thinking has come to dominate our society.
“It’s an unusual time.” Wait, is he referencing the movie 300? Does that make Dingell Leonidas? Now he’s citing WWII. I’m pretty sure there’s a law that everyone with a cause must cite WWII. Marshall Plan, steer by the light of the stars, blah blah. “Taxes were involved” … hm? The t-word? Now citing the Cold War. Why always wars? Is that the only time we do great things?
Now he’s citing his post cards. “This is building — building in both parties, faith communities, business communities,” etc. “These are not normal times.”
He’s getting emotional. “I promise you, a day will come when our children and grandchildren look back and ask one of two questions. Either, ‘what in God’s name were they doing? What was wrong with them? Did they think all the scientists were wrong? What were they thinking?'” … or … “‘How did they find the uncommon moral courage to rise above politics and redeem the promise of American democracy and do what some said was impossible and shake things up and tell the special interests, OK, we heard you, we’ll take your considerations into account, but we’re going to do what’s right?'”
“I’m going to make sure you have all the support you need. If you’re in tough districts, I would ask you to walk through that fire.”
Ah, good, now to specific suggestions. Or so I thought. Citing new studies showing Arctic ice melting faster than predicted. “This problem is burning a hole in the top of the world.” Now citing “glacial earthquakes” because of what’s happening in Greenland. Apparently they’ve doubled. Now explaining why the IPCC left Greenland and Antarctica out of their projections. Now citing methane trapped in ice. Now citing wildfires, drought. Get the to the policy, dude!
“We do not have time to play around with this.”
No. 1: immediate carbon freeze! Then a program of reductions — 90% reductions by 2050! Wow, that’s ballsy.
Second: reduce taxes on employment and production, and make up the difference with pollution taxes, mainly CO2. I understand this is considered politically impossible, but part of our challenge is to expand what’s possible. This is a longer-term shift, but we should start. It would make us more competitive. Discourage pollution while encouraging work. But carbon pollution is not priced into the marketplace. They’re externalities. But I internalize air and water, as do you.
Third: a portion of the revenues must be earmarked for low-income people who will have a difficult time making this transition.
Fourth: strong global treaty. I like Kyoto, but I understand that Kyoto, as a brand, has been demonized. I worked on nuclear arms control. SALTII was demonized. But then Reagan realized we needed it, came up with a new name for it, and it passed.
We should work toward “de facto compliance with Kyoto.” We ought to move forward the start date of the next treaty, from 2012 to 2010, so the next president can use his or her political good will to act immediately. We have to build more confidence that China and India will join sooner rather than later.
Fifth: a moratorium on construction of any new coal-fired power plant not compatible with carbon capture and sequestration. Wowzer.
Sixth: develop an “electranet” — a smart grid. Just as widely distributed info processing led to a big new surge of productivity … we need a law that allows widely distributed energy generation to be sold into the grid, at a rate determined not by a monopsony, but by regulation. Then, you may never need another central power generation plant. This is where Dave has a wonkgasm.
Seventh: raise CAFE standard. Yes, Dingell, I heard you, it should be part of a comprehensive package. It’s only a slice of the problem, but it is a big slice. The problem is “cars, coal, and buildings.”
Eighth: set a date for the ban of incandescent light bulbs. Give industry time to prepare, but set a date. They’ll adjust.
Ninth: create Connie Mae, a carbon-neutral mortgage association. All the things we do to cut carbon add to upfront selling price, but don’t pay off for a few years. The market discriminates against them. Connie Mae will help put those costs aside.
Tenth: SEC ought to require disclosure of carbon emissions in corporate reporting. Cites the recent call from Calpers. “It’s a material risk.”
Closing: Chinese crisis symbol means danger and opportunity (uh, no it doesn’t). This is both a danger and an opportunity. Some people look around and see current suffering (genocide, starvation, etc.) and say we have to do that first. But solving the bigger problem will give us moral wisdom to solve our other problems. That’s the greatest opportunity of all: the chance to develop moral wisdom.
“I can’t overstate the amount of hope and good feeling people feel toward this Congress. I’m going to be out there raising support for you.”
Dingell opens it up to questions.
Gordon: you said we could save money by solving this problem. Explain.
Gore: On July 7, we’re going to launch a mass persuasion campaign. This isn’t going away.
Now about costs: shout out to Amory Lovins! Plus sign, not minus sign. Sweden made buildings more energy efficient — it more than pays for itself. That’s an example. There are solutions that cost. But if we pick and choose correctly, we can improve economic performance and save money. “Pollution is waste!”
Cites Stern Report. Over in U.K., the Tories are competing with liberals to present most effective solution!
Now, Barton: I disagree with you, but commend your passion. “Your testimony differs from your written testimony. Could we get your legislative proposals in writing?” Gore: sure.
Back to Barton: attacking the science in the movie. Gawd. This dumbass discussion again? He’s really going after the hockey stick again?
Oh crap, my webcast connection just died!
Dang, I just missed that whole exchange!
OK, I’m back. Gore is explaining basic science. Again. Like Barton could learn if he just read the damn IPCC report. Damn, Gore knows this stuff forwards and backwards. Poor Barton. So outclassed.
Gore now addressing hurricanes. Acknowledged no connection to frequency. Acknowledged no particular storm is “caused” by warming. Time runs out.
Boucher: we’re planning a GHG control measure. We’re evaluating alternatives. What advice do you have? Nice question! C’mon, Al, push for the carbon tax! Wait, Boucher’s still talking. He said Europe’s carbon trading system is flawed. He asks what they did wrong. What could they do better? Is cap-and-trade something we should consider?
Gore: I do recommend cap-and-trade. The European system is in fact working. They’re going to meet their Europe-wide target. They just adopted tougher binding targets last week. Here’s what they did wrong: they miscalculated their base year. And their start-up period was way too long. But they’ve adjusted both those, fixed them. This is the No. 1 issue over there, and it’s bipartisan.
It’s a difficult challenge for the U.S. But if the U.S. joins trading, global markets will get much more efficient.
A note on Gore’s demeanor: he seems completely serene and confident. Pitch perfect so far.
Now to Hall: Al, I respect you, blah blah. But I disagree. You say it costs nothing. But Lomborg says it’s expensive! Kyoto! Kyoto! Are you worried the U.S. will be at a competitive disadvantage if we have to act and China, India, and other developing countries don’t? How do we protect U.S. manufacturers?
Gore: I love you too, blah blah. We need to recreate bipartisan support for environment. On China and India: every global treaty since WWII has had same design — developed countries are in a different category. Developed countries lead. Developing countries are starting to realize it’s in their best interest. China’s getting filthy; they’re having mass demonstrations. Their leaders have made important speeches in just the last few weeks. We just have to lead.
Lampson from Tex.: If we take action to address climate change, don’t we also improve other problems like air pollution, energy independence, and traffic congestion?
Lampson: coal is cheap and abundant. TXU, etc. What do we need to do to make clean coal viable?
Gore: congrats to people of Texas for blocking TXU’s plants. On coal: we need to accelerate development of carbon capture and sequestration. We need to avoid pretending that using it for oil recovery is enough. Problem is, you need the right geography close to the coal to make it feasible. Norway and Iceland are doing it well. “Coal’s future depends on getting an accurate price for carbon in the marketplace, and accelerating carbon capture and sequestration.”
Hastert: Costs, costs, costs. You can tax the American people, or you can have economic activity and investment. Huh? Lots of your recommendations are more taxation and regulation — that will depress the free market. [I read it in an Econ. 101 textbook once.] I agree about basic climate change, though I’m uncertain about human contribution. Now you’re a movie star …
Gore: “Rin Tin Tin was a movie star. I just have a slideshow.”
Hastert: 50% of our energy is coal. We have the potential to drill and mine, drill and mine! We can’t keep up with our energy needs without drilling and mining. How do we meet growth? Mostly individual investment. Blah blah. Is there a question? Nuclear rules, blah blah. Yucca Mountain, blah blah. Droning … where’s my coffee … “I think there are answers.” Yes, but is there a %$#! question? As we increase regulation and cut CO2 emissions, we lose jobs. [CO2: they call it pollution, we call it jobs!]
Gore: Let me be brief [ulike you, jackass]. On the choice between taxes and investment: I don’t think we should raise taxes, I think we should shift them from individuals and small businesses to polluters. Often, reducing pollution is a road to finding more competitive industry.
On nuclear: I’m not an absolutist. I think it will play some additional role, but not big. The costs are too big. Plants only come in one size, extra-large, and that’s a risk in this energy market.
Butterfield: CO2 is a minute fraction of GHG gases. Explain.
Gore: yeah, water vapor is stronger and more common. But it only spends a few days in the atmosphere. Secondly, it is “slave to CO2.” It goes up and down depending on the warming driven by the CO2, at least in the time frames we’re dealing with.
Butterfield: There’s a perception that China is doing nothing. But that ain’t so. What are they doing?
Gore: they’ve announced grand plans, but the proof is in the pudding. Top leadership is “seized of this issue,” they’ve made big speeches, they’re concerned about the Olympics, the Yellow River is dying, Tibetan ice plateau melting is a problem, etc. Their scientists are on the cutting edge. They are “riding a tiger” — their growth is so rapid. I think they can do this if they want to, and they’re preparing, but the way to improve their odds is by the U.S. showing leadership.
Butterfield: is it too late to stop CO2 levels from reaching 450ppm?
Gore: No. “I think the present level is too high!” 450 would be “exceedingly dangerous.” What’s considered politically feasible now falls short of the minimum that would beat the problem. We need to shift our momentum.
Inglis from S.C.: as a conservative, I believe in markets. We need to internalize the externals. That’s not just economics, that’s Biblical. [Hm?] We’ve got wonderful conservative opportunities with things like net metering. [Yes!] As a conservative, you teach your kids to do the right thing. So yeah, we need China and India, but you do the right thing regardless. [Yes!] We need to “dynamically score” the “can-do American spirit.” [Hm?] We can find new and better sources of energy. This can be a winning proposition for our economy. The question is, how do we get there? A case study to put before you: Jim Rogers of Duke Energy. He has to build, in S.C., either a nuclear plant, which he would prefer, or a coal-fired plant. But it’s difficult to get the ducks in a row for a nuclear plant. Would you agree that it’s important to make it possible for Duke to build that nuclear plant? Can we agree on that?
[I like this Inglis guy.]
Gore: I yearn for the day when there are more of you on your side of the aisle, so we can have productive conversations on this. Faith traditions are great, blah blah. On conservative principles: one is decentralization — put more options in the hands of small businesses and individuals. Thus, net metering rules. That will help Jim Rogers avoid that choice.
But, on that choice: I’m not opposed to nuclear. I have questions and concerns. I used to be enthusiastic about it. I used to represent Oak Ridge. The stoppage of the nuclear industry was less about protests and more about uncertainty in the energy market — OPEC sent oil down, electricity followed. Uncertainty is the reason utilities don’t want to place all chips on one big bet. There may be smaller plants from the new technology. We may solve waste.
Inglis: in this case, we have a company hot to build the plant. And it would be better than coal, no? Last question: internationally, could we force companies who want power plant permits here to obey our regulations when they build plants in China and India?
Gore: sure, fine. But a cap-and-trade system that puts a price on carbon is preferable.
Barrow from Georgia: this is the eighth hearing we’ve had on this. There’s a pattern. When experts are here, there’s not much debate. When policy people come, suddenly Congressfolk attack the science! What do you say to people who say natural emissions overwhelm human emissions?
Gore: CO2 molecules have a chemical signature. They can tell the extra amount in the last century is man-made. Blah blah, basic IPCC stuff — we’re at fault.
Upton from Mich.: Many of your recommendations we R’s can support. I especially appreciate your support for clean coal. I want to help the auto industry. Blah blah. And … we’re back to nuclear energy. [Do conservatives have anything else to talk about?] Yucca Mountain, blah blah. Nuclear vs. coal, blah blah. [Hasn’t Gore already answered this, twice now?]
Gore: let me say all the same stuff about nuclear again. If we let the market allow the most competitive options to surface, we’ll see decentralized, renewable energy. [Dave wonkgasm No. 2.] Nuke plants are expensive, complicated, they take a long time to build. We can solve operator error, we can solve waste (though Yucca Mt. is not that solution). I’m not opposed, just skeptical.
Waxman from Calif.: if gov’t did nothing, there’s no reason any business would want to reduce emissions. So “market forces” without gov’t intervention? Stupid. Yay, a shout-out for “efficiency”! References his Clean Climate Act. We call for 1990 levels by 2020; 80% below that by 2050. Do you think those kinds of reductions are those the scientists are calling for, whether or not they’re politically palatable?
Gore: yes. I like your legislation. Your reduction levels are in keeping with what scientists recommend. I think current CO2 levels are already dangerously high. [This is a good recurring talking point.] A few years from now, the world will look so different. The range of things we’re talking about now are going to look small and silly. The trajectory of awareness and demands is headed straight up, and it’s bipartisan.
Waxman: should we not also work to address conventional pollutants?
Gore: yes. The so-called “four pollutant” approach is the right one. Utilities should address all at once.
Waxman: I hear people worry about destroying the economy. That sounds like fear. I also hear an almost theological support for nuclear. I agree with your view — let’s unleash the ingenuity of the marketplace. But we have to insist on those reductions.
Bartlett from Md.: it’s probably possible to be conservative without appearing to be an idiot. [Ha!] National security folks are with you. Peak oil folks are with you. [First mention of that.] Those worried about manufacturing jobs are with you. Greens are with you. I’m a member of each of those groups. How can we get those groups together? Also, I went to China, and they’re planning incredibly advanced stuff. Are we adequately reaching out to them?
Gore: we’re not. Bush’s Asia treaty is all talk. There are aspects of this problem beyond CO2, e.g. methane, that might could pull them in earlier. It’s a negotiation. If they’re the outlier, they’ll join.
As you’ve said, one of the keys to bipartisan dialogue is focusing on market failures. If polluting is free, the market is misleading. We’ve got to internalize those costs. As soon as carbon has a price, there will be a huge wave of investment. Morgan-Stanley just initiative carbon trading for post-2012. [Hm?]
Markey from Mass.: CAFE helped, but it’s stagnated. NAS says CAFE could help more. Talk about fuel economy.
Gore: I support your legislation, and congratulate you on your select committee. My fondest dream is that this Congress will put together a series of proposals that add up to bold action. I understand that Dingell doesn’t want auto industry singled out. I support CAFE as part of a comprehensive package. Carbon restrictions could lead to interesting deals with the auto industry.
I’ll say something controversial: lobbying for the lowest possible fuel economy standards has hurt the auto industry.
Markey: what you were saying 30 years ago now makes you look like a prophet. That’s why you’re here today. Congress should listen. History has borne you out.
Dingell: we’ll cut off questions after this, we’ll go vote, and we’ll return for the next witness.
Whitfield from Ky.: this is a polarizing issue. You’ve made some strong statements about how catastrophic the danger is. Some people say that overstates our certainty about the future. People disagree about the urgency. Some even accuse you of “shrill alarmism”! Not me, mind you. Some. Lomborg says other issues should come first. How can we come to agreement on limited resources?
Gore: I never endorsed the “we only have 10 years” line. I never said anything like that until last year, when Hansen started repeating it. The evidence does now show that we only have 10 years before our “ability to forestall it is lost to us.” That’s referring to the ice caps, and the methane trapped in ice.
Arctic ice cap: it’s melting rapidly. That means the ocean is absorbing more heat — quickly. If it goes completely, it will become the biggest heat sink on the planet. If that happens, our ability to preserve this heat balance will be lost.
On Greenland: that’s enough ice to make a 7 to 8 meter sea level rise. If Greenland’s ice sheet goes, game over. West Antarctica: more stable than Greenland, but same deal. It’s moving faster than anybody predicted. If that goes, another 6 to 7 meters.
On methane in ice: if that goes, game over.
Gore concludes by expressing his thanks.
My immediate gut judgment: Gore knocked this out of the park. Hit all the right notes. Remained level-headed and jovial. Never lost his cool. Stressed bipartisanship. Round one to Gore. Lomborg’s up in 15 minutes or so. I’ll blog that in a separate post.