Who cares how big Al Gore’s house is?

Al Gore came back to Congress and was (mostly) welcomed as a hero with an important message. That feeling wasn’t quite expressed by Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), who chose to lecture, berate and attempt to bait Gore, rather than using his alloted time for questions and discussion. Like many on the rabid Republican Right, he had not interest in discourse, only in attack. But God bless that pint-sized dynamo Barabar Boxer, who is now Chairperson of the Senate Environment Committee.

When Inhofe seemed to forget that he was no longer running the committe, Boxer brandished her gavel in his direction, looking like she was about to ram it up his ass (which would require removing the giant — endangered, I’m sure — Redwood that is already planted there).

Now, we can debate global warming and climate change, though it seems pretty clear that the vast majority of serious scientific thought comes down on the side that human behavior has, and is continuing, to throw the planetary environment seriously out of whack. If they turn out to be wrong — fine. We don’t lose anything by moving to cleaner technologies, and we certainly don’t get harmed by finding more efficient ways to use the energy we’re already producing.

The Rabid Right’s latest drumbeat is the amount of energy that Al and Tipper Gore’s “Mansion” in Tennessee uses. Gore refused to take the bait when Inhofe asked him to pledge that his house would use no more than the “average American home” in energy within the next year — without using “cap trading” (offsetting your own carbon use by “buying” savings from someone else).

Now wait a fucking minute here. In all this debate, has Al Gore ever said that everyone should live in caves, give up their air conditioners and X-boxes? Not that I can recall. I sat there wondering if Inhofe drives around in small, cheap (but fuel-efficient) car. For the record, the Gores drive a Toyota Prius and a Lexus Hybrid SUV.

The point is not how much total energy the Gore house uses, or anyone else. Al’s a millionaire these days. He lives in a big house. So what? I use less energy than my sibling (who lives in a house), but my Dad (studio apt where he goes to bed early) uses a whole lot less than me. Al Gore can afford that Lexus, and he can afford to buy up what others are saving. Good for him. He’s also paying higher electricity rates to buy power generated from wind. Someday (probably soon), wind power will become more competitive with other power sources, at which point we can all afford it. (Remember when oil was cheaper than natural gas to heat with, or when solar power was “too expensive for homeowners.” Solar panels on individual rooftops have become a fairly common sight, and the additional cost of generating your own power has come within the reach of a lot of people. As Jimmy Carter is fond of saving, “life isn’t fair.” That’s just the way it is. People who have more money can afford to buy more things.

Gore’s point on conservation is that everyone can do something and that all those little somethings can add up to a big thing. I live in an apartment where almost all the lights use compact flourescent bulbs. Yes, they cost more initially — but they last a lot longer, and they lower my electric bill every day. And you know what — they’re just fine. Hard to tell the difference. I’m saving carbon and money and not giving up a damned thing to do it!

The State of California, taken by itself, would be the 4th largest economy in the world. Since the year 2000, the consumption of electricity in the state has dropped, while its economy has grown by leaps and bounds. Arnold Schwarzenegger, of all people, has become a leader in reductions of outputs of carbon dioxide, and deserves praise for his leadership position. Political leaders in several other states, and many major cities are also taking the lead. Major corporations are reducing their own emissions. The British are making major cuts in their own carbon output (even though they account for a small percentage of the world’s contribution to greenhouse gases), and are moving to ban incandescent lights entirely within the next few years.

As Gore pointed out before the Senate committee, we need to get China and India on board, and we need to get the developing countries all over the world on board as well. But Inhofe’s strident “do nothing” attitude smacks of political stupidity. Now, Barbara — where’s that gavel?

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