Precious Cargo

Refreshingly Bitter And Twisted Observations On Life's Passing Parade.

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Location: Valley Village, California, United States

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Is Al Gore A Hypocrite?

A good example is the best sermon.
Ben Franklin

Monday, right after Al Gore won his Oscar, a right-wing web site calling itself The Tennessee Center for Policy Research issued a story that first appeared on The Drudge Report and metastasized through the echo chamber of Fox News and talk radio. The TCPR’s story claimed that Al Gore lives in a 20 room mansion and uses 20 times the amount of energy used by the average American home in one year. Therefore, Gore is a hypocrite when he advocates reducing carbon emissions and encourages conservation.

Just as predictable as the right’s readiness to uncritically accept and circulate this story has been the left’s zeal in jumping to defend Gore. For background, here are links to two posts from the Huffington Post defending Gore that also recap the TCPR’s allegations.

David Roberts, author of the most recent of these articles, offers several bullet points defending Gore:

Gore's electricity company has no record of being contacted about his bills.

The "average" home electricity use quoted by TCPR is a national average that includes apartments and mobile homes. In Gore's climatic zone, the East South Central (Dept. of Energy PDF), the average is much higher, thanks to hot, humid summers and cold winters. Within that zone, Gore's usage is three (not 20) times average, and his per-square-foot usage is squarely average.

The Gores are not an average family. He's an ex-VP with special security arrangements, and has live-in security staff. He and his wife both work on their many business and charitable undertakings out of their house, so they have space for offices and office staff. All that would be tough to cram in an average size house.

On his blog, Roberts writes:

Moreover, Gore lives in a large home (10,000 sq. ft.). If you look at the data, it's clear that Gore's energy usage per square foot (even assuming the 221,000 kWh number is accurate) is well within the average range for his climate region. So all this accusation boils down to is a claim that it is somehow "hypocritical" for Al Gore to live in a large house.

What Al Gore wants people to do is reduce the carbon footprint of their residence as much as possible and then purchase carbon offsets to reduce the remaining footprint to zero. Gore has installed solar panels in his home, he uses fluorescent light bulbs and other energy saving technology, and he purchases his energy from Green Power Switch, a provider which utilizes solar and wind power. He then purchases carbon offsets to reduce his remaining carbon footprint to zero.

I happened to first hear this story being circulated by Kevin James, host of KABC’s 1-5 AM talk show. He also was throwing in the usual disingenuous quips that supposedly disprove global warming, saying, “They just had an ice storm back East,” etc. So I immediately Googled and discovered that this story actually originates with Peter Schweizer, author of an “expose” of liberal hypocrisy. I e-mailed Kevin James with the link to the Schweizer story and some comments about global warming and later left similar information in a comment at the blog of book review editor Frank Wilson.

However, the more I read about this story, the uneasier I’ve become. I no longer feel comfortable defending Gore.

It is disingenuous to defend Gore by saying that his energy usage per square foot is about average. Gore’s energy use per square foot may be average, but the total area of his house is way above average, so he uses, as even Robert’s most conservative calculations prove, three times the national average.

Does Gore really need to live in a 10,000 square foot home? I just Googled some rental listings for homes in my area and found a 2 bedroom, 1.5 bath home in Toluca Lake that sounds very much like ours. It occupies 1,300 square feet. I don’t know what the national average is, but our house is nice. I would consider a 2,000 square foot house very spacious.

The easiest way to reduce the carbon footprint of your residence as much as possible is to live in a smaller home before implementing the use of solar panels, flourescent bulbs, etc. and carbon offsets (which strikes me as an abstract concept-how can you physically transfer the combustion byproducts generated by burning fossil fuels?). All else being equal, Gore could have cut his energy usage down to the national average by simply living in a 3,300 square foot house. But let’s even cut him some slack. How about a 5,000 sq. ft. home? That’d be pretty splendid and still be half what he occupies now. He could also lessen his energy usage by moving to a part of the country with a more temperate climate. As for the secret service, security and personal staff, I would say, relinquish the secret service. I’ve never understood why ex-presidents and their families deserve secret service protection. Gore and his wife can share one home office and I see no reason why his collaborators can’t work from their homes using whiteboard software and web cams. What ever happened to the promise of telecommuting? As someone who believes strongly in personal conservation, I would think Gore should be in the forefront of encouraging corporations to let as many of their workers telecommute, thus saving enormous amounts of energy wasted driving to and from offices every day.

You can talk carbon offsets and green energy sources (does his power utility derive all their electricity from renewable sources?) all day long, but the very idea of a couple living in a 10,000 sq. ft. home appears very extravagant, and as is often said in the context of political ethics investigations, it is not just impropriety but the appearance of impropriety that is troubling.

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