Oil Money is Bad Money, Except When…
Al Gore has just released a new book — The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change — and is on a media tour to promote it. But he has had to face some very uncomfortable questions involving a charge that has been around for a while: That Al Gore is a hypocrite.
The hypocrisy charge has been raised against Gore over the years. Until now, the most infamous incident of apparent hypocrisy took place in 2007 when it was widely reported that Al Gore’s mansion had a utility bill about 20 times more than the average family home. (See Al Gore’s ‘Inconvenient Truth’? — A $30,000 Utility Bill). I found the news troubling; after all Gore was the Conservationist-in-Chief but he certainly didn’t appear to be walking his talk.
But I also wrote that if he was running a staff out of his home, then the higher electric bills were more understandable. I also learned at the time just how rabidly partisan people can be when discussing Gore. Some on the left would not tolerate criticism of Gore, and I was vilified for saying that I was disappointed in his behavior.
But, I really wanted to like Al Gore. I thought of him as someone who was making a positive impact by calling attention to a serious problem, and getting people to conserve. I defended him when people noted that Gore traveled around the world in fossil-fueled jets. After all, I argued, if he traveled halfway around the world but convinced 500 people in a foreign country to become involved and take action, then the net impact could easily be lower carbon emissions as a result of his travels.
I even have an award on my desk signed by Gore. In 1996 I traveled to the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. and received the 1996 Green Chemistry Challenge Award as part of Professor Mark Holtzapple’s research team at Texas A&M. The award was presented by Carol Browner, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and it was autographed by Vice President Al Gore. I imagined at the time that some day Gore would become president, and I would show that award with pride to visitors.
I say all of this, because I want to make it clear that I didn’t set out to dislike Al Gore. But I have come to the conclusion that he is in fact one of the worst hypocrites I have ever seen.
Hypocrisy: When a Climate Change Crusader Sells Out to Fossil Fuels
Gore has vilified fossil fuel usage for decades. In his new book, he writes “Virtually every news and political commentary program on television is sponsored in part by oil, coal and gas companies — not just during campaign seasons, but all the time, year in and year out — with messages designed to soothe and reassure the audience that everything is fine, the global environment is not threatened.”
(Read More: Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions — Facts and Figures)
But what did Gore turn around and do? He sold his Current TV network to Al Jazeera for $500 million. Gore reportedly pocketed $100 million, and in another widely reported story he is alleged to have pushed to get the transaction completed before higher tax rates kicked in on January 1 of this year.
So what’s the problem? The problem is that Al Jazeera is funded by Qatar, which receives the bulk of its wealth from fossil fuels. Gore was grilled over this apparent hypocrisy, first by Matt Lauer:
Lauer challenged him on the fact that he had criticized the influence of fossil fuel money in television, but then got very wealthy selling his network to another network that exists because of fossil fuel money. Al Jazeera had the money to pay Gore $500 million because of fossil fuels. Lauer asked Gore if he saw a contradiction in his position. While Gore said he understands the criticism, he disagrees with it because Al Jazeera is a great network and has won major awards.
Now, someone can correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t ever recall Gore saying that it was OK to take fossil fuel money in television as long as the network is a good network or is one that has won awards. He is engaging in the logical fallacy of special pleading, which is where someone applies a special exemption to their rules when those rules contradict their actions. For example:
Al Gore: “You should never run a red light.”
Me: “But you just ran a red light.”
Al Gore: “Yes, but I was in a hurry.”
I can apply the same special pleading to any oil company and justify consuming their oil since they make charitable contributions and invest in renewables.
Gore was also grilled on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show (one of the only TV programs I regularly watch). Jon was polite with the questions, but he went after Gore several times over the apparent hypocrisy:
Here is an excerpt of their exchange:
Jon Stewart: “You had an opportunity to make a statement, probably, about your principles, and some people would feel, and for me as well, I thought it was an odd move. Not because of some of the other things, but because it is backed by fossil fuel money.”
Al Gore: “I get it. I get it. I get it. But it was an easy choice after doing the diligence on the network itself.”
Jon Stewart: “Can you see how people at home might think — but he’s asking me in my life to make choices about light bulbs and a cost-benefit analysis for the purpose of sustainability when I just want to see my book. That’s the issue.”
Al Gore: “I’m very, very comfortable with it. I completely get the criticism, but this was a good choice and the net benefit for the U.S. is going to be very positive.”
Yes, Al Gore appears to be very comfortable in selling out his principles for a $100 million profit. And at least he “gets” the criticism. He disagrees that it is hypocrisy, apparently on the basis that he doesn’t like the word hypocrisy.
Stewart highlighted the fact that Gore could have made a statement about his principles, but at the end of the day Gore determined that the cost-benefit analysis benefited him enough to be comfortable with taking fossil fuel money.
Cost-Benefit — For Whom?
What Gore doesn’t seem to understand is that this is the same cost-benefit analysis that results in the world’s rising use of fossil fuels. He is like many environmentalists who don’t seem to understand the real reasons we are dependent upon fossil fuels. They would rather blame the fossil fuel companies and their various lobbying and subsidies than blame the real culprit — the desire of consumers to have affordable and reliable energy.
Poor people across the developing world determine that their contribution to climate change is insignificant relative to the benefit they will receive from introducing heat and electricity into their homes. Every day millions of people around the world determine that the benefit of them filling up with gasoline and driving to work outweighs the cost of their fossil fuel consumption. Everyone — Mr. Gore — can argue that the cost-benefit analysis favors their usage of fossil fuels. People from all walks of life — including staunch environmentalists — use fossil fuels every day and justify it based on the cost-benefit to themselves. Even Bill McKibben once admitted that he was a hypocrite, but like you he rationalized his hypocrisy.
(Read More: Climate Change and Developing Countries)
And that, in a nutshell, is why the world is so dependent (and becoming more dependent) upon fossil fuels. People determine that the benefits of using fossil fuels outweigh the cost. You aren’t special Mr. Gore. You did what others do every day. The only difference is that you have used a bully pulpit for years to urge people to sacrifice and make different choices. Yet when faced with the same cost-benefit analysis, you proved to the world that you are the hypocrite many always believed you to be.
Al Gore’s “activism” has been a money maker on a tremendous scale. He has made a mint selling indulgences — er, I mean “carbon offsets” — and in some cases even sold them to himself in order to claim that his (very high) carbon footprint was neutral. So while he’s busy taking the high road telling people what to do, he himself not only goes and profits off of that (creates network, sells it) but his profit comes from the very same people/industry he built his reputation on by vilifying and imploring people to avoid.
I realize that Saint Al can do no wrong in some people’s eyes, and some will (wrongly) conclude that this is a partisan attack. It is nothing of the sort. But I will never attempt to defend Gore again. I also hope to never hear his voice again. It grates on my nerves now, because all I hear now are the ramblings of a hypocritical windbag.