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Is Al Gore a hypocrite?
Scripps Howard News Service


March 21, 2007
Wednesday AM

If Al Gore is a hypocrite, does it matter? No sooner had "An Inconvenient Truth" won an Oscar for best documentary feature than the Tennessee Center for Policy Research accused Gore, when he's not flying around the world in a private jet to preach self-righteous sermons on excessive energy consumption, of living in a Nashville mansion that consumes about 20 times as much energy as the homes of average Americans.

But the case isn't clear-cut. The Tennessee Center for Policy Research supports principles on its Web site that are rigorously conservative and reflect a perspective that we don't ordinarily associate with concern over global warming. Their figures about Gore's energy consumption are construed to make him look as bad as possible. They also appear to be more or less accurate. Clearly, Gore, champion of energy efficiency and decreased consumption, does consume an awful lot of energy.

gif Gore's Hypocrisy

Gore's Hypocrisy
Artist Gary McCoy, Cagle Cartoons
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

On the other hand, his defenders argue that by buying so-called "carbon offsets," Gore manages to compensate for his energy use, effectively "zeroing out" his impact on the environment, which is what he calls for in "An Inconvenient Truth." Few of us can make that claim. In fact, if all of the world's citizens were willing and able to do that, global warming wouldn't be an issue at all. Of course, not everyone accepts the "carbon offset" argument and, frankly, it does seem like a bit of a stretch.

It's important to remember that serious global-warming non-believers are likely to be unmoved by Gore's message, regardless of his personal lifestyle. Even if Gore lived in a log cabin powered entirely by wind and solar and drove an electric car, I suspect that his critics would be more likely to dismiss him to the lunatic fringe than to be persuaded by his message.

Because his message isn't easy to listen to. If Gore is right - or even half right - the next four or five decades are going to be difficult and chaotic. Either we'll experience a remarkable alteration in our climate that includes some version of the catastrophes that Gore portrays dramatically in his film or we'll manage to prevent those catastrophes by extraordinary alterations to the comfortable, consumption-based life that hydrocarbons have made possible. Both alternatives are equally daunting. Gore's is a message that no one wants to hear.

Therefore, it's not hard to find columnists and commentators who are willing to ridicule the message and the messenger or to find a few scientists who are willing to swim against the tide of scientific consensus about global warming. In fact, you can even find commentators who admit that global warming is real and that we are contributing to it, but who argue that it's actually going to be good for us.

These naysayers should be listened to. But we have to remember that we have a very strong emotional incentive to hope that they're right: our desire that our lives go on just as they are and that disasters don't lie ahead, even in the face of a lot of evidence.

Nearly a year ago, on April 14, 2006, The Chronicle of Higher Education began a review of five new books on climate change with this lead: "The scientific evidence that the earth is getting warmer, and that human activity is at least partly responsible, is overwhelming. Almost no climatologists now dispute the idea that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are heating up our planet."

And in its Feb. 16, 2007, issue, an article titled "Scorched Earth" reports on the findings of the 1,200 scientists who contributed to the climate assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The article points out that a number of respected scientists argue that the panel's grim assessment of our climate future is much too conservative and that our prospects are actually dimmer than we might hope.

So is Gore a hypocrite? In the face of what a lot of serious scientists are telling us, and only a few are denying, it doesn't matter. The real question is whether we let our judgment of what seems to be happening to us be overwhelmed by our desire to keep things just as they are.


John M. Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. E-mail:jcrisp(at)
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