Former vice president Al Gore was in New York today preaching more “inconvenient truths” about global warming before a packed audience at New York University.
While Gore’s enumeration of the profound ecological tipping points we face—from accelerating polar ice melts and glacial earthquakes to raging forest fires and record temperatures here in the U.S.—was fairly boilerplate, what stood out was the fact that he chose to make this address with ex-CIA chief James Woolsey.
More recently, Woolsey has been urging the Bush administration to bomb Syria—stances that put him at odds with Gore’s own pronounced criticism of the “strategic miscalculations” and “serious misjudgments” that led us to war in Iraq, not to mention Gore’s critique of the use of pre-emptive war.
But Woolsey is also a founding member of Set America Free, a new coalition of conservatives, neocons, and environmentalists sounding the alarm about U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
“This is the only war—this long war against terrorism—in which we get to pay for both sides,” Woolsey told the crowd of mostly NYU law students and MoveOn allies.
“You are paying for it every time you go to the pump,” he said, meaning, for instance, the fundamentalist maddrassas funded by Saudi oil money.
Woolsey’s recent championing of electric cars, biofuels, and increased fuel efficiency standards has now brought him into an improbable alliance with Gore and the eco crowd.
He jokingly described Set America Free as a coalition of “tree huggers, sod busters, evangelicals, cheap hawks, venture capitalists—and now Al Gore.”
(In fact, Woolsey advised Gore on intelligence matters when Gore was a senator and helped script his speech supporting the 1991 Gulf War. But the two would appear to have drifted far apart on foreign policy matters since then.)
Though critics have long assailed Gore as a wonk, Woolsey praised his foresight on the environment as well as his “sense of strategy” and “mastery of technical detail.”
Looking greyer and chunkier than in those soft-focused closeups in his movie, Gore received a standing ovation as he took the stage. The would-be prez spoke for more than an hour before a simple backdrop of American flags instead of his usual graph-laden PowerPoint presentation.
Gore laid out a host of ideas and innovations for curbing both greenhouse gasses and dependence on foreign oil, among them ratifying the Kyoto treaty to freeze carbon dioxide emissions and subsidizing Ford and GM to retool their factories to produce “flex fuel” hybrid cars. He also advises reducing our reliance on large coal plants and vulnerable coastal oil refineries by creating a localized power network fueled by small windmills and solar cells that could be mounted on homes and individual businesses.
Gore drew a big round of applause for his proposal to replace all payroll taxes with a tax on the pollution companies generate—a move that Gore said would be revenue-neutral but would penalize businesses for creating pollution rather than jobs.
He pointed to California’s recent decision to sharply limit CO2 emissions as evidence that the “inertia and fear of change” surrounding global warming was lifting. “This is a time for bipartisanship and transcendence” Gore told the audience. “It is not a question of left versus right but right versus wrong.”
Of course many environmentalists question whether the “rosy” future Gore predicts if we do “act now” is even feasible, given the environmental devastation already wrought.
Gore and Woolsey skipped off before the audience could pose more difficult questions about how we’re supposed to afford all these groovy environmental initiatives while folks like Woolsey have sunk us in a quagmire in Iraq and are now gunning for attacks on Syria and Iran. Are wars and saving the environment really compatible?
And why was Woosley boosting ethanol, which in its corn-based version arguably doesn’t save energy at all?
There’s still plenty to debate here. But if global warming can bring Woolsey and Gore back together, perhaps there’s hope after all.