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Finding Solutions To The Climate Crisis

by Al Gore, former Vice President of the U.S.A., Nobel Peace prize 2007

Three Mile Island nuclear plant. Document Ohio Citizen.

Better management of energy sources (III)

Many believe that a responsible approach to sharply reducing global warming pollution would involve a significant increase in the use of nuclear power plants as a substitute for coal-fired generators. While I am not opposed to nuclear power and expect to see some modest increased use of nuclear reactors, I doubt that they will play a significant role in most countries as a new source of electricity.

The main reason for my skepticism about nuclear power playing a much larger role in the world's energy future is not the problem of waste disposal or the danger of reactor operator error, or the vulnerability to terrorist attack. Let's assume for the moment that all three of these problems can be solved. That still leaves two serious issues that are more difficult constraints.

The first is economics; the current generation of reactors is expensive, take a long time to build, and only come in one size ­ extra large. In a time of great uncertainty over energy prices, utilities must count on great uncertainty in electricity demand ­ and that uncertainty causes them to strongly prefer smaller incremental additions to their generating capacity that are each less expensive and quicker to build than are large 1000 MW light water reactors. 

To see : Nuclear Power Plant of the World (ICJT database)

Newer, more scalable and affordable reactor designs may eventually become available, but not soon. Secondly, if the world as a whole chose nuclear power as the option of choice to replace coal-fired generating plants, we would face a dramatic increase in the likelihood of nuclear weapons proliferation. During my 8 years in the White House, every nuclear weapons proliferation issue we dealt with was connected to a nuclear reactor program. Today, the dangerous weapons programs in both Iran and North Korea are linked to their civilian reactor programs. Moreover, proposals to separate the ownership of reactors from the ownership of the fuel supply process have met with stiff resistance from developing countries who want reactors. As a result of all these problems, I believe that nuclear reactors will only play a limited role.

The most important set of problems by that must be solved in charting solutions for the climate crisis have to do with coal, one of the dirtiest sources of energy that produces far more CO2 for each unit of energy output than oil or gas.

Sources of emissions and stocking of carbon dioxid.

Yet, coal is found in abundance in the United States, China, and many other places . Because the pollution from the burning of coal is currently excluded from the market calculations of what it costs, coal is presently the cheapest source of abundant energy. And its relative role is growing rapidly day by day.

Fortunately, there may be a way to capture the CO2 produced as coal as burned and sequester it safely to prevent it from adding to the climate crisis. It is not easy. This technique, known as carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is expensive and most users of coal have resisted the investments necessary to use it. However, when the cost of not using it is calculated, it becomes obvious that CCS will play a significant and growing role as one of the major building blocks of a solution to the climate crisis.

Interestingly, the most advanced and environmentally responsible project for capturing and sequestering CO2 is in one of the most forbidding locations for energy production anywhere in the world ­ in the Norwegian portions of the North Sea. Norway, as it turns out, has hefty CO2 taxes; and, even though there are many exceptions and exemptions, oil production is not one of them. As a result, the oil producers have found it quite economical and profitable to develop and use advanced CCS technologies in order to avoid the tax they would otherwise pay for the CO2 they would otherwise emit. The use of similar techniques could be required for coal-fired generating plants, and can be used in combination with advanced approaches like integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC). Even with the most advanced techniques, however, the economics of carbon capture and sequestration will depend upon the availability of and proximity to safe deep storage reservoirs. Nevertheless, it is time to recognize that the phrase "clean coal technology" is devoid of meaning unless it means "zero carbon emissions" technology.

CCS is only one of many new technological approaches that require a significant increase by governments and business in advanced research and development to speed the availability of more effective technologies that can help us solve the climate crisis more quickly. But it is important to emphasize that even without brand new technologies, we already have everything we need to get started on a solution to this crisis.

In a market economy like ours, however, every one of the solutions that I have discussed will be more effective and much easier to implement if we place a price on the CO2 pollution that is recognized in the marketplace. We need to summon the courage to use the right tools for this job.

For the last fourteen years, I have advocated the elimination of all payroll taxes ­ including those for social security and unemployment compensation ­ and the replacement of that revenue in the form of pollution taxes ­ principally on CO2. The overall level of taxation would remain exactly the same. It would be, in other words, a revenue neutral tax swap. But, instead of discouraging businesses from hiring more employees, it would discourage business from producing more pollution.

Global warming pollution, indeed all pollution, is now described by economists as an "externality." This absurd label means, in essence: we don't to keep track of this stuff so let's pretend it doesn't exist.

And sure enough, when it's not recognized in the marketplace, it does make it much easier for government, business, and all the rest of us to pretend that it doesn't exist. But what we are pretending doesn't exist is the stuff that is destroying the habitability of the planet. We put 70 million tons of it into the atmosphere every 24 hours and the amount is increasing day by day.

To check : Point Carbon

Analysis, trends and carbon market

Pollution generated by the industrial activities is the main source of green house gases and increases the global warming. Documents anonymous and DEC/NY.

Penalizing pollution instead of penalizing employment will work to reduce that pollution. When we place a more accurate value on the consequences of the choices we make, our choices get better. At present, when business has to pay more taxes in order to hire more people, it is discouraged from hiring more people. If we change that and discourage them from creating more pollution they will reduce their pollution. Our market economy can help us solve this problem if we send it the right signals and tell ourselves the truth about the economic impact of pollution.

"Zero Carbon", a moral and economical challenge

Many of our leading businesses are already making dramatic changes to reduce their global warming pollution. General Electric, Dupont, Cinergy, Caterpillar, and Wal-Mart are among the many who are providing leadership for the business community in helping us devise a solution for this crisis.

Leaders among unions ­ particularly the steel workers ­ have also added momentum to this growing movement.

Hunters and fishermen are also now adding their voices to the call for a solution to the crisis. In a recent poll, 86% of licensed hunters and anglers said that we have a moral obligation to stop global warming to protect our children's future.

And, young people ­ as they did during the Civil Rights Revolution ­ are confronting their elders with insistent questions about the morality of not moving swiftly to make these needed changes.

This landscape recorded in 2004 shows what remains of Muir glaciers in Alaska compared to this image recorded in 1941. After 60 years of global warming, Muir lake replaced the glacier and only remains for a while the Riggs glacier in the background. Documents William Field/USGS and Bruce Molnia/USGS.

Moreover, the American religious community ­ including a group of 85 conservative evangelicals and especially the US Conference of Catholic Bishops ­ has made an extraordinary contribution to this entire enterprise. To the insights of science and technology, it has added the perspectives of faith and values, of prophetic imagination, spiritual motivation, and moral passion without which all our plans, no matter how reasonable, simply will not prevail. Individual faith groups have offered their own distinctive views . And yet --- uniquely in religious life at this moment and even historically --- they have established common ground and resolve across tenacious differences. In addition to reaching millions of people in the pews, they have demonstrated the real possibility of what we all now need to accomplish: how to be ourselves, together and how to discover, in this process, a sense of vivid, living spirit and purpose that elevates the entire human enterprise.

Individual Americans of all ages are becoming a part of a movement, asking what they can do as individuals and what they can do as consumers and as citizens and voters. 

Many individuals and businesses have decided to take an approach known as "Zero Carbon." They are reducing their CO2 as much as possible and then offsetting the rest with reductions elsewhere including by the planting of trees.

At least one entire community ­ Ballard, a city of 18,000 people in Washington State ­ is embarking on a goal of making the entire community zero carbon.

This is not a political issue. This is a moral issue. It affects the survival of human civilization. It is not a question of left vs. right; it is a question of right vs. wrong. Put simply, it is wrong to destroy the habitability of our planet and ruin the prospects of every generation that follows ours.

What is motivating millions of Americans to think differently about solutions to the climate crisis is the growing realization that this challenge is bringing us unprecedented opportunity. 

I have spoken before about the way the Chinese express the concept of crisis. They use two symbols, the first of which ­ by itself ­ means danger. The second, in isolation, means opportunity. Put them together, and you get "crisis." 

Our single word conveys the danger but doesn't always communicate the presence of opportunity in every crisis. In this case, the opportunity presented by the climate crisis is not only the opportunity for new and better jobs, new technologies, new opportunities for profit, and a higher quality of life. It gives us an opportunity to experience something that few generations ever have the privilege of knowing: a common moral purpose compelling enough to lift us above our limitations and motivate us to set aside some of the bickering to which we as human beings are naturally vulnerable. 

 America's so-called "greatest generation" found such a purpose when they confronted the crisis of global fascism and won a war in Europe and in the Pacific simultaneously. In the process of achieving their historic victory, they found that they had gained new moral authority and a new capacity for vision. They created the Marshall Plan and lifted their recently defeated adversaries from their knees and assisted them to a future of dignity and self-determination. They created the United Nations and the other global institutions that made possible many decades of prosperity, progress and relative peace.

In recent years we have squandered that moral authority and it is high time to renew it by taking on the highest challenge of our generation. 

In rising to meet this challenge, we too will find self-renewal and transcendence and a new capacity for vision to see other crises in our time that cry out for solutions: 20 million HIV/AIDs orphans in Africa alone, civil wars fought by children, genocides and famines, the rape and pillage of our oceans and forests, an extinction crisis that threatens the web of life, and tens of millions of our fellow humans dying every year from easily preventable diseases. And, by rising to meet the climate crisis, we will find the vision and moral authority to see them not as political problems but as moral imperatives.

This is an opportunity for bipartisanship and transcendence, an opportunity to find our better selves and in rising to meet this challenge, create a better brighter future ­ a future worthy of the generations who come after us and who have a right to be able to depend on us.

This speech was presented by Mr. Al Gore to New York University School of Law on September, 18, 2006.

Layout, illustrations, links and references were added by T.Lombry. Reproduction rights granted worldwide as long as credit is given without suppression or addition of text.

For more information

Al Gore (son site web)

An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore, Rodale Press, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore (Torrent)

Speech d'Al Gore à propos du film "An Inconvenient Truth"

Trailer du film "An Inconvenient Truth"

Une vérité qui dérange, Al Gore (le livre et le DVD)

Le juge Burton relève 9 erreurs dans le film d'Al Gore (sur mon blog)

Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit, Al Gore, Jr /Al Gore, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000

California Fuel Cell Partnership

Human Activities and their Impacts

ZeroCarbonCity, British Council, in French

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, GIEC)
UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

UN Environment Programme (UNEP)

Global Change Master Directory, NASA/GCMD

Global Change, GCRIO

Mission to Planet Earth, NASA

World Climate Research Programme, WMO

International Geosphere and Biosphere Programme (IGBP)

Millenium Ecosystem Assessment

International Global Atmospheric Chemistry (IGAC)

International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP)

World Climate Research Programme (WCRP)

National Geographic - Earthpulse

Point Carbon

Worldwatch Institute


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