Former Vice President Al Gore harnessed his star power Thursday to push global warming to the forefront of election politics, challenging the nation to embark on an Apollo-style project to convert all electricity production to wind, solar and other renewable energy within 10 years.
“So I ask you to join with me to call on every candidate, at every level, to accept this challenge - for America to be running on 100 percent zero-carbon electricity in 10 years,” the Nobel laureate said in a speech to an enthusiastic crowd of about 4,000 people at a Washington hall. “We need to act now.”
The likely Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, quickly took up the gauntlet.
“I strongly agree with Vice President Gore that we cannot drill our way to energy independence, but must fast-track investments in renewable sources of energy like solar power, wind power and advanced biofuels, and those are the investments I will make as president,” he said.
But Mr. Gore’s carbon-free battle cry pitted him against Capitol Hill Democrats struggling to curb rising gasoline prices and economic turmoil, crises that mostly sidelined environmental issues this election year.
As he warned that “the survival of the United States of America as we know it is at risk” and demanded an end to reliance on carbon-based fuels, House Democrats took up a bill they said would increase domestic oil production.
The Drill Responsibly in Leased Lands Act, or DRILL Act, would have canceled oil and gas leases on federal lands for energy companies that do not start drilling within five years. It failed to get the two-thirds majority vote needed to pass, but gave Democrats political cover for blocking the Republican push to end the ban on offshore oil drilling.
“This is not incompatible at all,” said Drew Hammill, spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.
“We are making every effort to switch to a more reusable [energy] future,” he said. “Oil is going to be part of that transition. It is inevitable. While we move forward on renewables we are going to have to increase domestic supply, that is why we had this bill on the floor today.”
House Minority Whip Roy Blunt said the former vice president set “a ridiculous goal.”
“It is exactly why we are in the trouble we are in now,” the Missouri Republican said, adding that the switch to alternative fuels will likely take 25 or 40 years to accomplish. “Neither Mr. Gore nor the leadership want to do the necessary things to get the economy on track … and find an economically healthy way to find energy alternatives we need in the future.”
In the speech, Mr. Gore said wind, solar and geothermal energy offer not only a solution to the “climate crisis” but also a cure to America’s economic woes and national security concerns that keep the country enmeshed in Middle East conflicts.
“We’re borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet,” he said. “Every bit of that’s got to change.”
He called on his supporters to join the “We Campaign,” a project within Mr. Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection that is dedicated to stopping global warming.
“This is a generational moment. A moment when we decide our own path and our collective fate,” he said. “We need you now. We’re committed to changing not just light bulbs, but laws. And laws only change with leadership.”