Al Gore has written a nice op. ed. piece in the New York Times wherein he lays out his ideal energy plan. Gore describes a five-part plan to transform our nation’s electricity infrastructure over the next decade into something wonderfully nationalistic: a self-contained, distributed grid of electricity producers and automobiles to match. The subtext of this piece is this: coal and oil have to go.
Now, I like Al Gore. I’m inclined to believe that his plan is something we as a nation should work towards, but I’m dismayed by the way his piece reads. Gore ignores the plight of the millions of Americans who currently work in various parts of the United States that produce coal and oil. While I agree that we must refurbish our grid to make it possible for wind and solar to be feasible, Gore seems to have forgotten about the American workers. What are they to do? Should we ask millions to move West to work in the new wind and solar facilities we’ll build?
I believe that any comprehensive plan runs the risk of offending people; we are discussing the change of the status quo here. However, I also believe that compromise is the heart of democracy and a middle ground can be found. To wit, I think that our nation should invest heavily in the gasification of coal. While Gore dismisses “clean coal” as a pipe dream, a pragmatist must include a coal strategy in an effective energy plan for our country. Gasification of coal is not the most practical use of coal of course, but it does address two major concerns that middle Americans like me have: foreign oil and concerns for existing jobs. If we convert our coal industry into a gasoline/diesel-producing industry we have a major source of leverage with regards to foreign oil producers (e.g. Middle Eastern countries, Russia, and Venezuela). One must realize that it may be decades before the last gasoline-based car leaves the road (let alone a diesel truck), so we must provide a way to rid ourselves of dependence on foreign oil without asking all citizens of America to instantly change. By producing coal-based gasoline we can move in the right direction.
Regarding hybrid vehicles, I invite the Obama administration to charge Congress with a radical idea: put your money where your mouth is. By mandating that all future purchases of vehicles for civilian use by the federal government produce zero emissions (or radically lower emissions) the “Big 3″ will respond in kind. If instead we continue to purchase gas guzzlers from Ford while saying “you really need to create more efficient, lower emission vehicles” we effectively become hypocrites. I know Mr. Gore has himself been criticized (in my opinion unfairly) about his use of an energy inefficient cars while promoting his ideology. Our government needs to start using clean vehicles to do its work; everything from driving Senators to work to delivering our mail should be done in a low-emission vehicle. This is real trickle-down economics, for this follows an old principle: if our government mandates that they themselves use lower emissions, higher efficiency vehicles the consumer-class of America will follow in their footsteps.
Finally, a comprehensive energy package needs to involve and address the air-travel industry. This is an area that demands further research; how can air travel become more efficient without risking safety? I’m certain the engineers at Boeing and Lockheed will do our nation proud by following the examples defined above.