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Hitler was a vegetarian

We (faircompanies) just received an invitation to an event with Al Gore. My first thought when I read the focus of this “1er. Encuentro Internacional de Amigos de los Árboles
(1st international meeting of Friends of the Trees) and their promise
to convene national and international celebrities here in Barcelona to
talk about the need for a new “culture of the tree”, I assumed it would
be yet one more event of well-meaning talk.

Upon further reading of the invite, I was impressed that not only did
the event have a clear purpose- the planting of 100 million trees as a
natural barrier against climate change-, but they’re not planning to
outsource this good deed to some developing nation- the focus of so
many carbon offsetting companies (more on this in an upcoming article)-
and instead they are planting, with the help of Spanish sustainable
forestry company Maderas Nobles de La Sierra de Segura, in their own backyard: Southern Spain.

All the big NGOs will be at the June 23rd event- Greenpeace, WWF,
Friends of the Earth, etc-, but the guest of honor is Al Gore. Now, if
you’ve been reading any of his American press this past couple months,
you may think he’s lost some of his “green” cred, or perhaps you’ve
moved beyond his personal carbon-footprint-gate, but if not, I want to
take this opportunity to elaborate my philosophy on the personal lives
of politicians.

A $30,000 annual utility bill

Perhaps it is a result of my past couple years in Europe, where
politicians’ personal lives aren’t criticized like they are in the US
(Mitterrand’s lover standing with his “official family” at his funeral
is the classic example), but when I read the sensational headline “Al Gore’s Personal Energy Use Is His Own ‘Inconvenient Truth’
and the related details of Gore’s $30,000 annual utility bill, I was
disappointed, but not ready to attack the messenger behind one of the
most important and policy-changing documentaries in history, especially
with our current examples of personal and political mismatch.

Schwarzenegger the man                                                  Schwarzenegger the politician 
Drives a hummer                                        
                     Signed bill to bring California in line with Kyoto

Bush the man                                                                   Bush the politician 
Bush has a passive solar, geothermal, off-grid ranch           Refused to sign Kyoto Accord

The case against Gore

In case you haven’t heard already, the day after An Inconvenient Truth won the Oscar a Tennessee research center
released the details of the Gore family energy bills, showing that in
2006, their home used nearly 221,000 kWh— more than 20 times the
national average. Drew Johnson, the center’s president, proclaimed, “As
the spokesman of choice for the global warming movement, Al Gore has to
be willing to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, when it comes to
home energy use.”

A $1,359 monthly electric bill makes me wonder what goes on in the Gore
mansion: it has to be more than just that fact that both Tipper and Al
work from home.

How big is too big for a carbon footprint?

While they may be over-heating, and over-airconditioning, their 20
room, and 8 bathroom home, Gore claims to be living a “carbon-neutral
lifestyle”. That’s a tough statement to swallow, especially after
hearing that last August the Gores used more than twice the electricity
that the average American family uses in a year, but with a 10,000
square foot house, perhaps Gore just has what his spokeswoman calls a
“different carbon footprint”.

Gore’s example is actually a fascinating example of the complexity, or
some may say hypocrisy, involved with the option to go “carbon
neutral”. Besides using compact fluorescent light bulbs, driving a
hybrid (though also an SUV) and currently installing solar panels, the
Gores offset their energy use through a “green power” program.
Basically, they calculate how much energy they use for their home, cars
and plane travel and then pay for the equivalent in renewable energy

As opposed to some of the major international- and in my opinion more
problematic- carbon offsetting companies, the Gores use a local
service, Green Power Switch,
which provides electricity generated by renewable resources such as
solar, wind, and methane gas to the Tennessee Valley, though not
necessarily to those who have paid for it. Since these sources are more
expensive, the Gores pay a premium for green energy. While that’s not
enough to account for their huge bill, with a $4 surcharge for every
150-kilowatt-hour block (12% of typical household energy use), their
108 blocks costs them an extra $432 per month.

While it’s better than using energy without paying the consequences, it
seems just a bit too convenient to let the wealthy pay to waste;
shouldn’t there be a limit on the size of a carbon footprint? Green
energy usage does help to neutralize our effect on global warming-
Green Power Switch claims that “an investment of an additional $8 per
month on your power bill buys enough Green Power Switch to equal the
environmental benefits of planting an acre of trees in the Tennessee
Valley”-, but it’s not a panacea; even the service admits that “no
source of energy is impact-free.”

In Gore’s defense

He is trying to get his personal life in line with his politics. Just
two days ago, the Gores were given approval to install 33 solar panels
on the roof of their Nashville area mansion. They had to petition for
approval since the upscale community of Belle Meade had blocked their
initial application. The permission stipulates that the panels must be
placed where no neighbor can see them.

While Gore is also upgrading the furnace, windows, and light switches,
and installing new floor radiant heat and solar vents, his spokesman
argues that his home began with a handicap since it is over
70-years-old and doesn’t benefit from newer greener building techniques.

Beyond the 33 solar panels

Gore has never claimed to try to lead by example. Granted his film and
slide-show are focused on convincing people that global warming is real
and that we all need to help make a difference, but his own efforts go
beyond the personal.

Gore has gone beyond just neutralizing his own energy usage, he’s also a founder of Generation Investment Management
(http://www.generationim.com), a company that invests in sustainable
energy projects worldwide. It’s not just a way to do-good, according to
the firm’s investment philosophy,
this is good business. “This is the best method of long term investing
to protect the interests of our clients. We also believe that just as
economic success must be sustainable, sustainability must include
economic success.”

The fact that Gore is a Democrat is a key point. Republican’s, who,
with their anti-big government rallying cry, believe individuals should
be responsible to effect more global change, should be held more
accountable for their individual actions. Gore, and other Democrats,
who believe that governments, and even markets, should be held
accountable for wide-scale change, shouldn’t be scrutinized as closely.

Can global action minimize local inaction?

There’s no doubt that Gore is having a global impact on climate change.
If he’d been elected president, it’s certain that Gore would have
signed the Kyoto Accord and wouldn’t have allowed drilling for oil in
the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and, currently, as an influential
citizen, there’s no doubt that he’s having a global impact on climate
change. Even without the powers of office, he is attempting to change
the way we think so perhaps, the next time we vote, we elect a more
sustainable president.

Gore is also using his voice to try to change the way we view markets. He argues in a Wall Street Journal editorial,
along with his Generation Investment Management co-founder David Blood,
that we need to change our national system of accounting and that our
current idea of gross domestic product is a relic of the 1930s.”While
this system was precise in its ability to account for capital goods, it
was imprecise in its ability to account for natural and human resources
because it assumed them to be limitless.”

Thanks to Gore and the “Inconvenient Truth” team, more and more of us
are realizing that natural resources aren’t limitless and that our use
of fossil fuels is radically affecting our planet. He and Blood argue
that “not until we more broadly ‘price in’ the external costs of
investment decisions across all sectors will we have a sustainable
economy and society.”

Bush’s “transference of heat and cool”

Of course, Gore’s more global-minded focus on saving the planet isn’t a
blank check for unlimited personal energy usage, but it somehow makes
him less of a hypocrite. Perhaps we should look at a carbon footprint
as not a factor of your personal energy consumption, but of your
ability to influence global usage as well.

Using this equation, Gore beats out his opponent a thousand-fold,
particularly if you factor in one’s ability to communicate the
sustainable message. Below is a transcript, provided by the White House, of an interview with Bush on his ranch. 

Q   So this is environmentally friendly —

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, very much so for a couple of reasons.  One, it’s
got a natural water collection devices all around it, and it’s got a
heater and cooling system that takes water and circulates it and
transfers the cold water to the heat and the heated water to the cold…

Q   Those aren’t solar panels on the roof, it just looks —

THE PRESIDENT:  No, no, no, no.  No, those aren’t solar panels.  That
technology isn’t quite worked out. But even more efficient, however, is
the transference of heat and cool as a result of circulating water
below the — it’s called thermal heating and cooling — okay. Thank you
all for coming.  We’ll see you.