In one short speech Al Gore compressed the time frame for generating all electricity without the use of fossil fuels from perhaps 40 years to only 10 years. He believes that 10 years is the maximum for the country to set a goal and that a massive effort should be undertaken to increase the use of renewable energy such as solar, wind, and geothermal. Considering that only a tiny fraction of our electricity now comes from solar, wind, and geothermal his challenge appears to be a tall order to say the least. According to The New York Times Gore said that the “goal is achievable, affordable and transformative.” Everyone would probably agree that it is transformative. Far fewer would agree that it is achievable and affordable. As do many people, Gore seems to emphasize the wonders of technological innovation as a key element in solving the global warming problem as well as the energy dependence problem. However, it appears that existing technology can take us pretty far.
Realistically, it seems that the only way fossil fuels can be phased out as a source of electricity in the near future is for the demand for electricity to sharply decrease. Initiatives such as The 30% Solution and The 2030 Challenge are aimed at doing just that as well a reducing the use of fossil fuels (oil and natural gas) for heating buildings. These initiatives are based on the use of stricter building energy codes. More efficient building can be built without the need to develop new technologies. Extremely energy efficient buildings are already being built. What we need is all new buildings to be built in this manner. Many buildings are also being renovated to make them far more energy efficient. Again, what we need is all new significant renovations to be done in this way.
Gore’s call for a phase out of fossil fuels for electricity within 10 years will probably just cause more apathy because it seems impossible and probably is. The trick is to call for changes that really are achievable but are still drastic enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to solve the climate crisis. It appears that Gore has yet to find the right formula.