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There are promising alternative energy solutions to address global warming

By Al Gore

This past fall scientists announced alarming new evidence of the rapid melting of the perennial ice of the north polar cap, continuing a trend of the past several years that now confronts us with the prospect that human activities, if unchecked in the next decade, could destroy one of the earth's principle mechanisms for cooling itself. Another group of scientists recently presented evidence that human activities are responsible for the dramatic warming of sea surface temperatures in the areas of the ocean where hurricanes form.

These findings come after last summer's record breaking temperatures and the hottest twelve-month period ever measured in the U.S., with persistent drought in vast areas of our country. Scientific American introduced the lead article in a recent special issue with the following sentence: "The debate on global warming is over." Each passing day brings yet more evidence that we are now facing a planetary emergency, a climate crisis that demands immediate action to sharply reduce carbon dioxide emissions worldwide in order to turn down the earth's thermostat and avert catastrophe.

We in the United States have a particularly important responsibility because the world still regards us-, in spite of our recent moral lapses,- as the natural leader of the community of nations. Simply put, in order for the world to respond urgently to the climate crisis, the United States must lead the way. No other nation can. So, what would a responsible approach to the climate crisis look like if we had one in America?

Well, first of all, we should start by immediately freezing CO2 emissions and then beginning sharp reductions. Merely engaging in high-minded debates about theoretical future reductions while continuing to steadily increase emissions represents a self-delusional and reckless approach.

A responsible approach to solutions would avoid the mistake of trying to find a single magic "silver bullet" and recognize that the answer will involve what Bill McKibben has called "silver-buckshot"--numerous important solutions, all of which are hard, but no one of which is by itself the full answer for our problem. There are already some solutions that seem to stand out as particularly promising.

Small windmills and photovoltaic solar cells distributed widely throughout the electricity grid would sharply reduce CO2 emissions and at the same time increase our energy security. Likewise, widely dispersed ethanol and bio-diesel production facilities would shift our transportation fuel stocks to renewable forms of energy while making us less dependent on and vulnerable to disruptions in the supply of expensive crude oil from the Persian Gulf, Venezuela and Nigeria, all of which are extremely unreliable sources upon which to base our future economic vitality.

Just as a robust information economy was triggered by the introduction of the Internet, a dynamic new renewable energy economy can be stimulated by the development of an "electranet" or smart grid, that allows individual homeowners and business-owners anywhere in America to use their own renewable sources of energy to sell electricity into the grid when they have a surplus and purchase it from the grid when they don't.

Shifting to a greater reliance on ethanol, cellulosic ethanol, butanol, and green diesel fuels will not only reduce global warming pollution and enhance our national and economic security, it will also reverse the steady loss of jobs and income in rural America. Several important building blocks for America's role in solving the climate crisis can be found in new approaches to agriculture. As pointed out by the "25 by 25" movement, we can revitalize the farm economy by shifting its mission from a focus on food, feed and fiber to a focus on food, feed, fiber, fuel, and ecosystem services.

Wind energy is already fully competitive as a mainstream source of electricity and will continue to grow in prominence and profitability. Solar photovoltaic energy is, according to researchers, much closer than it has ever been to a cost competitive breakthrough, as new nanotechnologies are being applied to dramatically enhance the efficiency with which solar cells produce electricity from sunlight. 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.

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.

For The Record is an excerpt of a speech by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore to the New York University School of Law in September 2006. Mr. Gore's campaign on the issue of global warming is featured in the documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth."

March/April 2007