Against a backdrop of eight American flags — ceremoniously arranged behind a podium emblazoned with the scales of justice — Al Gore took the stage at the New York University Law School early this afternoon to deliver what was billed in press releases as a “major policy address on global warming.”

Major it was — in terms of the media turnout, anyway. There were nearly a half-dozen cameras rolling and most major publications represented.

It was also major in terms of length (over an hour of factually dense commentary, sans visual aids) and gravitas (a more somber, more serious, dare I say more presidential Gore than the one we’ve seen pumping his fists and cracking jokes as he roars across the country on his climate lecture circuit). And major enough to have elicited rumors, as reported in the Independent yesterday, that the White House is hoping to steal Gore’s climate thunder.

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As with most policy addresses billed as “major,” the rhetorical flourishes were legion. Take, for instance, the way Gore framed the address:

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My purpose is not to present a comprehensive and detailed blueprint [of future climate policy] — for that is a task for democracy as a whole — but rather to try to shine some light on a pathway through this terra incognita that lies between where we are and where we need to go.

The light-shining theme came up again a few minutes later:

Many Americans are now seeing a bright light shining from the far side of no-man’s land that illuminates not sacrifice and danger, but instead a vision of a bright future that is better for our country in every way — a future with better jobs, a cleaner environment, a more secure nation and a safer world.

Having seen Gore’s lecture on climate no less than seven times, I can vouch for the fact that this effulgent optimism is a new theme for the Veep. The whole lecture, in fact, seemed a response to criticisms I’ve heard repeatedly about Gore’s stump speech and the movie that chronicles it, An Inconvenient Truth — that they are too heavily clouded in doom and gloom, giving inadequate attention to solutions (despite his repeated insistence that the climate crisis presents equal parts danger and opportunity).

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With the exception of a mention at the outset of new evidence of rapidly melting polar ice caps, this speech was all about solutions — with no shortage of wonky details. Much of it we’ve heard before: The “wedge theory” outlined by Princeton professors Rob Socolow and Steven Pacala, which would solve the climate crisis with existing technologies; the “25×25” proposal from the agriculture community, which would dramatically expand the use of biofuels and renewable energy; the promise of “flex-fuel, plug-in hybrid vehicles,” which can run on gasoline, biofuels, and electricity; and a decentralized electricity grid with smaller generators located closer to points of use.

But he also laid out some more specific proposals, including:

  • an “immediate freeze” of greenhouse gas emissions, a la the effective “nuclear freeze” of 25 years ago;
  • a Carbon Neutral Mortgage Association — “Connie Mae” (CNMA) — to help finance zero-energy, zero-emission buildings; and
  • elimination of all payroll taxes — including social security and unemployment compensation — to be replaced by the revenue from pollution taxes, principally on CO2. “The overall level of taxation would remain exactly the same,” says Gore, “It would be a revenue-neutral tax swap. But instead of discouraging businesses from hiring more employees, it would discourage businesses from producing more pollution.”

For more details on Gore’s vision for climate solutions, tune in to Muckraker this week!