As the House Energy and Commerce Committee completes its work on the Waxman-Markey climate bill, Al Gore’s army is mobilizing to support it.
Gore hosted a North American Summit late last week in Nashville, convening 500 of the 2,600 volunteers he’s trained to deliver his “Inconvenient Truth” presentation. Five hundred was the maximum number that could crowd into the ballroom of the Hudson Hotel for what amounted to a pep rally for long-overdue climate action in Congress.
The purpose of the summit was twofold. Gore and his roster of speakers gave his volunteers fresh ammunition for their public education efforts, including information on the public health implications of global warming and a review of current science by Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and co-winner of the Nobel Prize awarded to Gore and the IPCC.
The summit’s second mission was to encourage the thousands of volunteers Gore has trained to join his “Repowering America” campaign, launched some months ago after he proposed that America receive 100 percent of its power from renewable energy within 10 years.
Repowering America is being administered by another Gore organization -– the Alliance for Climate Protection -– best known for the series of television spots it has aired on climate action. Now, the Alliance is organizing volunteers to hold town hall meetings, write letters to the editor, contact members of Congress and recruit more people in support of bold action on energy and climate policy. As one Alliance speaker told the Summit, “TV ads show you have money. A grassroots movement shows you have passion.”
While Gore didn’t specifically tell his volunteers to lobby for Waxman-Markey, he praised the bill’s progress as an indication that the moment for serious climate policy finally has arrived in Washington. And in the days leading up to the Nashville gathering, he told the media that Waxman-Markey is a “good start” and proof that climate legislation “has now reached the stage that a lot of people thought it never would.”
Other summit speakers, including Larry Schweiger of the National Wildlife Federation, told Gore’s troops that while Waxman-Markey now includes compromises that make it weaker than the original bill, it is a foundation on which more aggressive action can be built.
The Nashville bivouac came at virtually the same moment that a group of distinguished former military leaders, under sponsorship of the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA), issued an urgent new warning that America’s security is compromised by our dependence on fossil fuels — the announcement I reported in “The real Patriot Act.”
In addition to making the air-tight case that fossil fuels and climate change are threatening national security, the 12 former generals and admirals delivered two other important messages in the report they released Monday.
First, the U.S. military must do its part to help us shift away from fossil fuels. The retired officers recommended that the Department of Defense become a “technological innovator, early adopter and test bed” for the clean energy future. They concluded the military must pay attention to its “carbon bootprint”, and energy consumption at military installations must be transformed with “aggressive pursuit” of efficiency, smart grids and electric vehicles.
Those goals have big consequences for the entire energy marketplace. The Department of Defense is the biggest energy consumer in the U.S. government, which is the biggest single energy consumer in the world.
The second message was an unusual “Direct Appeal” to the American people, which reads in part:
National security is not solely the responsibility of our military. American civilians know this, and have always shown the capacity and willingness to participate in meaningful efforts to help our country in times of need.
In World War II, a concerted effort helped civilians understand their role. Recycling rubber and metal scraps preserved key materials for an industrial buildup. Growing food locally in Victory Gardens meant industrial food production facilities could focus on food shipments to soldiers overseas; it also saved the fuel used for domestic transport of canned fruits and vegetables. Conserving fuel at home left more of it for our troops. These steps could be described as sacrifices, frugality, lifestyle changes— the wording depends on the era and one’s perspective. Whatever the terminology, these actions made the totality of America’s war effort more successful. They shortened the war and saved lives.
Today, all Americans can help us meet our emerging security challenges. Each of us can help make our country more energy efficient. Using less electricity in our homes and offices reduces stress on a fragile electrical grid; it also reduces carbon emissions. Supporting efforts to rebuild our electrical grid can make us less vulnerable to domestic attacks, and can allow us to develop a rich diversity of non-carbon energy sources. Each of us can help end America’s addiction to oil. Using less fuel in our cars and trucks reduces overall demand, and helps us meet the President’s goal of eliminating foreign oil imports; it also reduces carbon emissions. We can support efforts to electrify personal transport, with liquid fuels used primarily for aircraft and the military.
These steps, taken individually, may seem small. Collectively, they can make us more secure. Americans made clear sacrifices during World War II for reasons that are obvious in hindsight: they understood the stakes, and they were asked. With this report, we have tried to make known the current stakes by clearly articulating the need to establish energy security and plan for the effects of climate change. This will require a commitment to conservation and a willingness to reconsider old ways. It will require discipline and the broadest participation possible. All of us have a role to play in making our nation more secure.
The juxtaposition of Gore’s Nashville summit and the latest CNA report brings to mind the Victory Speakers of World War II. In August 1942, the U.S. Office of Civilian Defense began recruiting hundreds of thousands of local speakers to rally their neighbors to action with short presentations about the war effort. Because I was still several years away from being conceived, I was unable attend any of these presentations. But as I understand it, Victory Speakers were everyday Americans who were respected in their neighborhoods and who volunteered to give talks at local events ranging from intermissions at the movies to meetings of women’s clubs and local farm bureaus.
A government brochure explained it this way:
There are two ways whereby the mass of citizenry can churn and digest ideas: Private conversation and public speaking. Democracy needs especially to develop public speaking before small audiences of a dozen to a hundred people. In such groups questions from the floor come easily. Discussion can be frank and spontaneous.
The humblest citizen of any democracy, if he is armed with the facts, and if he has earnestly tried to solve a public problem, has a place on the platform. He may become a most effective agent of good government. He may not have a reputation for oratory, but if he has a reputation for honorable living his influence on his neighbors will often be greater than that of any printed word or radio speech. We are ourselves convinced when we see that our neighbors are profoundly stirred. No one can remain cold in the visible presence of sincere emotion.
Gore’s mobilization of volunteer speakers for climate action is this generation’s Victory Speakers campaign. Now it has been joined by the “visible presence of sincere emotion” in the appeal of the 12 military leaders who dedicated their careers to their country and who urge all Americans join a campaign comparable to the war effort more than a half-century ago. As they say in their report:
There is room for differences and for debate. We know this, because we’ve had these arguments ourselves. But there are moments in a nation’s history when the confluence of events suggests that the time is ripe for action. Even as the debates rage, as important differences in opinion are surfaced, there is a quiet consensus that the time has come. The American people—all of us —through our energy choices, can contribute directly to the security of our nation.
Author’s Note: Anyone interested in joining the Repower America campaign can start by visiting the organization’s web site here.