How Al Gore was Wrong

With the publication of his book Our Choice, it’s a good time to look back at Al Gore’s political career and its impact

As a politician Al Gore was a journalist. I’m one myself, and recognize one of my own. A journalist tells stories, and hopes that in telling the story he or she can convince people to do or support the right thing, whatever we perceive that right thing to be.

That’s what Gore did during his career in public service, and that’s what he did with An Inconvenient Truth. Like a good journalist he laid out a compelling case. He had the facts at his command, and he assumed that people would make the correct, rational choice.

Trouble is, people aren’t rational. We’re built of emotions, intuition, biases as well as brains. Any argument we make has a counter-argument. The difference between this and journalism in its truest sense is that the counter-argument need not have a grain of truth in it, inconvenient or otherwise.

If you warn people that their grandchildren may die unless they sacrifice today, most will be unmoved. They will seek a political response to your argument. They will be swayed by bias and emotions. And this is precisely what happened in the wake of Gore’s book.

It’s a lot easier to make a counter-argument based on bias, intuition and emotion if you have a lot of money behind you. Fossil fuel advocates have not just “a lo”t of money but nearly all the money. With oil selling at $110 per barrel, with coal and natural gas worth more than ever before, with the value of reserves depending on maintaining political control of the argument, there is every reason to believe that argument will continue to be made, and will continue to succeed.

How else is it possible that natural gas obtained by fracturing underground rock formations and destroying water tables can be called “green power” and by a Democratic President?

Fortunately for the planet, there’s another argument to be made. An economic argument. The real choice Gore has made is to make that argument, starting with this “book,” which as reviewers note is really better as an app than something printed on paper.

It took a lot of programming help, a lot of technology, to bring Our Choice to the market. And in his own life, Gore has committed himself to technology, and to business. He’s probably seen more renewable energy deals in the last three years than any dozen other VC advisers, but those he declined to back probably found capital elsewhere, and that’s what’s most important here.

Warren Buffett said it best recently, that the answer to the oil crisis is to use less oil. Billions of dollars can now be made on efficiency technologies, thanks to high oil prices. Billions more can be made on solar and wind and geothermal technologies, again thanks to high oil prices.

As a politician, Gore said that cap-and-trade programs, or gas taxes, would spur the investment and innovation needed to win this fight for the Earth. Politics made us reject those programs, but economics, and war, have done that work for us.

Now all we need to do is follow through, and profit every step of the way. Profit is the best revenge. When an intractable problem can be turned into an irresistible opportunity, that’s when change happens.

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