Is Al Walking His Talk?

Guest poster Terry Parker is a regular commenter here on Portland Transport

Recently a commentary appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle that was reprinted in March 7th edition of The Oregonian titled: “For Gore, it’s as I say, not as I spew”. Is this Al Gore’s very own incontinent truth about global warming and energy consumption?

The commentary questions the sincerity of Gore and other affluent notable people who champion environmental causes. It states “rich people burn a lot of energy”, suggesting affluent spokespeople do not walk their own talk. As an example, the Gores spend $30,000 a year on energy in their “suburban” Nashville home and burned 221,000 kilowatt-hours last year, about 20 times the national average. Even if cut by 50%, that would be ten times the amount of energy an average family uses.

The commentary also identifies Senator Dianne Feinstein and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, both as advocates for environmental causes, both owners of multiple SUVs (Arnold likes Hummers), and both for their use of private planes

Here in Oregon, Governor Kulongoski as of lately has been championing many energy and environmental bills winding their way through the state legislature. However he is chauffeured around the state in a big state owned Lincoln that is often accompanied by a full sized SUV, and resides in a Governor’s Mansion, a rather large dwelling, that is some distance from the Governor’s Office in the State Capital Building.

Is it fair to say that being affluent, and in many cases a public figure like a politician, a movie star or a corporate mogul can simply claim by purchasing energy credits or green power, that it offsets their indulgence of energy use, and makes their footprint on the environment just vanish?

Should the affluent show true personal leadership by being the first to cutback on their own energy consumption thereby reducing that smoke without mirrors? Not every choice people make is going to be the most energy efficient. That is part of diversity, and a normal part of personal interests and lifestyles. However, making self-sacrifices should be the absolute norm for anyone that is pushing for laws that expect other people to make sacrifices.

The question also must be asked, if the wealthy and affluent people in this country – the people who have seemingly unlimited resources to indulge in excess energy consumption – significantly cut back on personal energy use, to the point of near average energy consumption for individuals and families, how would that affect energy supply to the rest of the country?

31 responses to “Is Al Walking His Talk?”

  1. I find this line of reasoning to be disingenious and an attempt to distract from the real issues at hand with global warming. It is also interesting to note that it is often used by those who are in the global warming denial camp as a ruse to prevent other actions and serious debate.

    Should people who have a large carbon footprint do something to reduce it? Sure. But it’s not clear to me from reading this commentary where Terry stands. Are you serious about global warming? If so, are you suggesting that the most significant first action should be for wealthy people who care about this issue to reduce their carbon imprint? What’s the real point being made?

    The reason I ask is because the few times I see you writing about global warming is when it relates to a point you are passionate about (bulb curbs=bad) and I also see that you testified against LEV vehicles. It raises some questions about intent.

  2. By speaking up early and often Mr. Gore has done more to address global warming than just about anyone else on the planet. The truth is the truth, no matter how he leads his life. I have little patience with personal attacks that dodge the issue at hand. We are all imperfect.

  3. First of all, it’s probably not true. Anybody who trusts the figures provided by “conservative think-tanks” is ignorant, perhaps willfully, of their long, well-documented history of lying.

    Second, this smells like a RNC propaganda campaign handout. I mean, Al Gore has basically dedicated his life to educate the world about global warming, and you’re asking “is he serious? is he trying?” Give me a break. You consume electricity to watch TV. Al Gore consumes it to research the condition of our environment, document it, and educate the public about it. I say, go ahead.

    Does this factoid, and its incessant repetition, have any other purpose than to sully Gore’s reputation? It seems like for every potential Democratic presidential candidate, there’s a character-smearing campaign already underway, based on lies and innuendo, and a million conservative ditto-heads to whisper it.

    Congratulations on your contribution to American politics.

  4. Okay, do not continue this discussion until you’ve read this link:

    All about the “Tenesseee Center for Policy Research” — a tiny front organization for other ultraconservative propoganda groups, including our very own Cascade Policy Institute.

    And yes, the numbers are bullshit. The Chronical already “updated” their article, removing most of the actual numbers, but there’s still no independent corroboration that the remaining ones are at all accurate.

  5. OK, so we may have doubt about the facts behind the article.

    But… It seems to me there is still a real quesiton here. What is the responsibility of those of us advocating for reduction in carbon usage to walk our talk and demonstrate personal leadership?

  6. Assuming Gore’s house really does use more electricity than the average — has his consumption changed over the past decade or so? If, for example, his home had 40 times the average energy consumption in 1987, and he reduced it to 10 times the average by 2007, that’s a 75% reduction. An example well worth emulating.

  7. There is a real question here. Whether it is relevant or not is another matter. Isn’t the responsibility for walking the talk the same with this issue as any other? If I bike or drive all the time does that somehow disqualify me from being an advocate for public transportation? If I live in a single family home, does that mean that I can’t advocate for denser communities?

    I think that the deeper question is why this being called out in this instance and at this time. What is the motive behind the question and what agenda is pushing this line of thinking? There is a pretty clear trail in this instance and I don’t find the motives genuine or constructive.

    Finally, while we can all do something to reduce our carbon footprint it dodges the central question- that it is corporations, policy makers, etc. who can have the biggest impact on this issue. Let’s not continue to delay real action by tinkering around this edges and running down every rabbit hole put out there.

  8. Of course personal leadership is important. That is why Gore has devoted the last 6 years to this cause rather than take on some corporate robot job for the really big bucks. Besides, Gore seems to believe, and I agree in part, that structural changes to our tax code and regulatory regime can do a lot to make our economy more efficient while having little impact on the day to day lives of citizens. Plug in hybrids anyone? Feebates? Smart grid? There are millions of things that government can do to spur conservation investment. And yes, Gore and the rest of us can simplify or consumption oriented lifestyles too.

  9. It’s fine to say that Gore’s house uses more energy than the average American’s home … but, he isn’t the average American and he doesn’t own the average sized American home.

    So, how does his home compare with other’s of that size? If his home is using less than the average of that size, then to answer Chris’ question, that’s enough to convince me that he’s walking the talk.

    Oh … and just one more thing … being the former VP … do you think he has extra security equipment installed at the house that bumps up his energy usage? just curious…

  10. that bumps up his energy usage?

    Wasn’t the comparison of electricity used, not energy usage? How about we compare the amount of natural gas and fuel oil his mansion uses compared to the average house before we get too caught up in this discussion.

    I don’t know what to make of the claims that this group in Tennessee is a front for the Cascade Policy Institute, but the “research” is certainly worthy of that august institution.

  11. the real question is why are you now linking to right-wing smear jobs on the from page of portland transport? this talking point originated at a “conservative” think tank, and first appear on the drudge report. i always like reading my favorite websites and feeling like i am swimming in the sewer.

    debra j saunders is a well known oil-company flack and global warming denier, and she played a key role in the “goring” or gore in 2000. even noted al gore critic gregg easterbrook, after looking into the issue found that there was no “there” there. the carbon offsets that gore buys (terrapass) go towards covering landfills, to sequester methane, which is the most potent greenhouse gas, and he does this on top of purchasing green energy from his local utility (which is why his bill is so high).

    as to the question of whether rich people (or anyone) should live like ghandi just so there is no chance of hypocracy–this is another classic right-wing smear, and the obvious answer is no. everyone should do what they are capable of and put their energy towards changing the system as a whole, which will reap much greater rewards than what any individual could do by conserving as much as possible. anything more is truly commendable.

    unless you really think that we should all live like peasants so that no right-winger would ever have any ammo to attack us with. which isn’t true anyway, they would just attack us for being poor and lazy. anyway, i’m really glad this trash is now appearing on portland transport. way to go.

  12. Another thing to note is that his home is also his base of operations for his business/political activities, so it’s his workplace, and the workplace of his staff. As such, a fair comparison would be comparing the energy the average family uses at home and at work [which wouldn’t even really count the additional energy consumed by his staff for computers, copy machines, printers, heating or cooling their office spaces, etc.

    Regardless, I agree that the appropriate comparison is a per square foot comparison.

    The bigger issue is that large industry-wide and institutional changes in energy consuption practices are the target, not whether we all turn out the light when we leave a room. The little bits are distractions from the choices that will make a real substantive impact. He’s only a hypocrite if he’s demanding that we make specific changes in our lives that he’s not making in his, which I didn’t gather from his presentation when he spoke here in Portland.

  13. The Daily Kos has a great page on this issue:

    Al Gore does run a small office out of his house, and he pays a massive electricity bill so that he can buy carbon offset credits and use renewable energy for all of the power consumed at the facility where he and his wife live and where they plus his staff work.

    This is such an obvious smear campaign from the RNC, Karl Rove-ian types, I’m actually somewhat surprised how much traction it has received.

    I mean, really — how much power does Dick Cheney’s residence use each month? COngress has been trying to get Big Dick to pay his own power bills, but they are currently apparently still picked up by the Navy.

    Where’s the outcry there?

  14. garlynn,

    one word: IOKIYAR.

    “It’s OK If You’re A Republican”

    dik cheney’s energy bill was $186,000 in 2001, and it was mostly paid for by the navy (i think the house appropriated the rest).

    but cheney is cleared because he is a republican and does not believe in global warming. its ok to squander, if you deny wrong-doing, but if you acknowledge it, and try to do something about, the fact that you have acknowledged it makes you a hypocrite.

    meanwhile, reasonable progressives like chris smith respond to this vile smear with “But… It seems to me there is still a real quesiton here”.

    note to chris: “Comments become the property of Portland Transport”. this means you are now the proud owner of a right-wing smear job.

  15. Just as we lampoon McDonald’s for the obesity “epidemic” in America (McDonald’s is hardly the only contributing factor or even the single largest factor, but it makes for a convenient scapegoat) – Al Gore is a convenient scapegoat.

    That said, I do tend to lend less credibility to someone that argues that we should do something, but that “leader” turns around and does something else. I could care less about the “carbon credits” he buys; that just means he’s paying someone else off to deal with his problem.

    If a transit leader proclaimed we should all ride the bus and telecommute and this and that, but he showed up to work in a Cadillac Escalade each day, refused to ride the bus, and used his personal vehicle for work trips, you bet my ass I would lend him zero credibility. (Ironically this is how the new mayor of Los Angeles is being viewed, according to a recent Editorial in Metro Magazine, a transit and bus industry magazine.) Someone who complains about traffic congestion but continues to drive in rush hour traffic is a hypocrite. Someone who complains about pollution, but pollutes themselves, is a hypocrite.

    I think Mr. Gore has some explaining to do, and better yet needs to show true leadership by reducing his “carbon footprint”. I don’t care if he is a former Vice President of the United States; I don’t care if he is rich, a filmmaker, a former U.S. Senator, a lawyer, or whatever. None of that grants him any automatic exemption from what he feels is right to do for the environment, and he needs to accept that his actions do come across as hypocritical.

    Me? I don’t pledge to be perfect, but I live in an 800 square foot apartment, own one automobile (a mid-sized sedan) that my wife drives during the week and also uses to take my son to daycare and back, I ride a bus five days a week to and from work and only in rare circumstance do I step into my car between Monday and Friday, and I could go on and on. I rarely step on an aircraft; most of my trips are within 20 miles of my home and occassionally up to 50 miles (about once a month). The last trip I took out of the region was on a train. Being that I work for one of Portland’s two electric utilities, I am conscious of my own usage and reduce the amount of energy my home uses.

    Am I perfect? No. Could I do better? Yes. But why should I listen to someone whose home is much larger than mine, who owns multiple cars and has use of business jets, and whose work could obiviously be done in a home office within a home that is also 800 square feet, just like mine? I have a bit of a problem with someone trying to social-engineer me, so that they can live their lives as they please without interference, because of their power.

    And this goes regardless of party affiliation; I have a problem with George Bush and Dick Cheney and their “support” of war, or their personal lack thereof.

  16. the real question is why are you now linking to right-wing smear jobs on the from page of portland transport?

    Well, I appealed for guest posts to help out while I’m traveling and Terry was one of the few to respond. I believe in rewarding initiative :-)

    And as I said before, I think there’s a legitimate question of how each of us personally demonstrates leadership on these issues.

  17. Erik,

    Agreed with your point, but you say that Gore has some explaining to do. The problem with memes like this is that they continue to confuse and distract long after the facts are out.

    Gore has explained. He is taking personal leadership and responsibility in this area.


    You continue to contend that this is a legitimate question. That might be, but the question was not posed in a legitimate or responsible way. The “facts” are flat out wrong and misleading. Moreover, the author does nothing to address the question of “how each of us demonstrates leadership on these issues.” Ideed, the author does not even make a case that leadership is needed in this area, if he is taking leadership or responsibility or if others should. Instead inaccuracies and slime were tossed out into the blogsphere, none of which leads to constructive conversation or real dialogue.

  18. Erik,

    I think the question has been adequately answered with respect to Al. That’s the great thing about blogs, unsubstantiated information gets knocked down pretty quickly.

    I was responding to my motivations for the posting the guest piece to begin with, not to the subsequent conversation.

  19. Al Gore is not telling people to downsize into 800 sq.ft. apartments. He is advocating for government regulations which encourage market-based solutions to greenhouse-gas emissions. He utilizes currently-available market-based solutions, thus he is completely in line with practicing what he preaches. No explanation necessary.

    Now, whether a system of government enforced emissions caps combined with a trading system is sufficient to reduce greenhouse-gas output and create market-driven solutions remains to be seen. But right now, we aren’t even trying that baseline approach.

    Erik – I personally run my business from a place not much larger than yours, but I seriously doubt that Al’s public speaking and business interests could be adequately managed from an 800 sq. ft. apartment. If I had that full of a presentation schedule, plus political engagements plus teaching duties, plus hosting of dignitaries, I’d need a support staff and offices for them.

    – Bob R.

  20. Me? I don’t pledge to be perfect, but I live in an 800 square foot apartment, own one automobile (a mid-sized sedan) that my wife drives during the week and also uses to take my son to daycare and back, I ride a bus five days a week to and from work and only in rare circumstance do I step into my car between Monday and Friday, and I could go on and on. I rarely step on an aircraft; most of my trips are within 20 miles of my home and occassionally up to 50 miles (about once a month). The last trip I took out of the region was on a train. Being that I work for one of Portland’s two electric utilities, I am conscious of my own usage and reduce the amount of energy my home uses.

    There are plenty of people even in the United States, much less the rest of the world, who have a smaller energy footprint than that. Isn’t it hypocritical for someone to criticize Al Gore if they aren’t going to at least get their own energy consumption close to the average of the rest of the people in the world?

  21. show true leadership by reducing his “carbon footprint”

    Again – the claim is not about how much “energy” Gore’s house uses or his “carbon footprint”, the claim is about his use of electricity. And, apparently, he buys all his electricity from renewable resources. i.e zero “carbon footprint”. Can’t provide better leadership than that can you?

    I don’t really like Al Gore, but this isn’t really about Al Gore. Its an effort to discredit the ideas he supports.

  22. I work in a LEED Gold building with solar panels on the roof. On a per capita basis, the building uses more energy than my 1920’s 700 sq foot single family house that I live in by myself. What is ever sadder: the heat is on at my house for more hours of the week that it is at my office. I also shower daily at my house, where as the shower at my office is used by about 10% of the people on daily basis.

    What I don’t have in my house is a server room that needs it’s own AC, a bunch of laser printers that don’t sit idle long enough to ever go into standby when people are around, people leaving the loading dock door open for an hour while they load or unload a semi, and half a building dedicated to “the warehouse.” And as I said, we are LEED-Gold, it isn’t like we aren’t trying…

    Criticizing someone’s office is easy.

  23. Do we need to make improvement in our use of energy, you bet. Is everything that Al Gore telling us correct, NO, but he is one of the best salesmen out there, modivating the general public to our shared responsiblity to the environment.

    This in not a Democratic or Republican issue, as some would like to make it. This is less about Al Gore or George Bush it is about personal responsiblity.

    I find it hard to support negative thinking and acting people and causes. Casting stones that are personal is wrong and I see and read to much of it on this blog.

    I am a environmentally conscience Republican and there are a lot of us. I am senior and I want my grandchildren to breath good air and I am fighting to make that happen. So give this Republican break, I am not a bad guy.

    However the schrill sounds often coming from the radical left hurt the development of shared opinions and action and result in set backs of a lot of possible progress. On the environment many of us share 80% of the same goals.

    Everyone needs to cut down the BS and hug tree.

  24. mykle Says: a tiny front organization for other ultraconservative propoganda groups, including our very own Cascade Policy Institute.
    JK: How dare you call the Cascade Policy Institute “ultraconservative”:

    * they believe in personal freedom – don’t you
    * they believe in ENDING the drug wars (by de-criminalization) – do you disagree with this?
    * They think we should quit subsidizing developers – do you disagree with this?

    I suggest that you learn a little before making wild accusations. (Did you also get it wrong about the “Tenesseee Center for Policy Research”.)


  25. (I should be a good boy and actually respond to the article…)

    Terry says:
    “However, making self-sacrifices should be the absolute norm for anyone that is pushing for laws that expect other people to make sacrifices.”

    Gore doesn’t want people to actually make sacrifices, in fact far from it, he wants people to be more efficient. There is a big difference: Turning down the heat in your house is a good way to use less energy. Installing insulation will also use less energy, and while it does cost a little money up front, it tends to also be a good investment, (even if you don’t live at sea level.) One of those involves sacrifice, (being cold,) the other doesn’t…

    Look at refrigerators: They have actually gone down in price in the last 30 years, (relative to inflation,) AND they use about 1/4 of the energy. 30 years ago, the refrigeration industry said that that couldn’t be done, that if the standards were increased that refrigerators would become so expensive that nobody would be able to afford them, and that the models would be so unreliable that people would get sick from spoiled food, but guess what? They were wrong, our food isn’t spoiling, and even poor people can afford to both buy and RUN refrigerators.

    Likewise with cars, a hybrid car is still a car, and adds relatively little to the price of most new cars, but it has a huge effect on the gas mileage, (and it isn’t just hybrids, there are literally thousands of technologies that could be applied to cars to make them more efficient, however, hybrid is the more “visible” one.) The army, for instance, is experimenting with hybrid cars, (look at the Shadow RST-V) not because of global warming, but because delivering fuel to our troops takes a lot of effort, (and they are in the freaking middle east! It isn’t like they are thousands of miles from the oil wells like we are here.) When the army is suddenly “greener” than the people that are driving around civilian versions of the army’s vehicle’s, we aren’t talking about sacrifice…

    If Gore has no insulation in his house, and he isn’t using CFLs, and etc, then yes, he is being a hypocrite, (he shouldn’t be wasting energy.) However, just because he uses more energy that the average person doesn’t make him a hypocrite…

  26. After reading this thread, I decided to sign up for 100% renewable wind power from PGE. However, I do this by choice, not because my preferences for government regulation somehow obligate me to. I don’t want to free up cheap non-green power for someone else to use — why should they get an advantage from my choice? I would prefer PUC regulations that would encourage green power and charge all PGE customers.

    That said, I was disturbed by the implications in some of the comments. I think Terry asked some good questions, and subsequent comments provided useful insights into the article that he had read. I don’t think it is productive to question Terry’s motives. Deal with the issues in his questions. I first met Terry a good 30 years ago, when we were both on the “Banfield Transitway Citizens Advisory Committee” (resulting in the first MAX line). We haven’t always agreed, but he is not some devious political operative. Likewise I met John Charles, CEO of the Cascade Policy Institute, years ago when he was chief of the Oregon Environmental Council. Both John and Terry are sincere, honest individuals, who express their views in the political arena in ways they believe to be effective. Disagree with their opinions, disagree with their facts, but when commentators engage in the rhetoric of the reverse smear, they discredit their own position.

    Of course, perhaps I am reading in too much, and the vehemence is directed at those who originally misrepresented Gore’s electric usage, but that was not clear to me in several posts.

  27. Doug,

    In case you are speaking to my comments, let me be clear. My purpose was not to reverse smear Terry.

    My point, which may not have been clear is this: given the factual gaps and the source what was posted was not just an “interesting” question or even a “good” one. Given its rhetorical wrapping the entire piece is meant to be much more than interesting or good. Did Terry intend for that to be the case and did he just pass along something he read without questioning it much? I really can’t judge that and he wasn’t entirely clear about his intent in the post.

    Here’s my question: do people who post articles on blogs have a personal responsibility for sources, facts and being clear about their intent? I think that they do.

    Here’s my other question: global warming was considered serious enough that the City of Portland actually initiated a global warming strategy in 1993. What has happened between then and now? Instead of dealing with facts we have constantly been dealing with polemics and the willingness of many to make philosophical, political and cultural points instead of taking action. Who has responsibility for that and what are we all going to do about it so that we can move on as a society and deal with the issues at hand?

  28. “I am a environmentally conscience Republican and there are a lot of us. ”


    fyi, my comment about republicans (IOKIYAR) was directed at dick cheney and his political cronies, not citizens like you. i really don’t care what box a person checks on their registration card.

  29. I wonder, why wasn’t this group calling attention to some of the corporations that want to clean up their act, and especially GE, who sees a way to make money. One of the remaining Class I railroads, Union Pacific, has been working on ways of cutting Diesel emissions, and not just by buying new Locomotives. They have also been testing new filters on older locomotives.

  30. If you don’t walk the talk, then you should just shut up.

    After all, people vote with their dollars and cars, not a ballot. And apathy rules.

    that being said…

    While I don’t expect a celebrity to stop taking showers and only riding a bicycle to work and press conferences, there are intermediate steps they can take to minimize their impact on the environment – including more efficient cars, environmentally friendly products and organic food, donating money to various NGOs, speaking outloud to advocate for change (lobbying), etc.

    So these basically ARE ‘walking the talk.’

  31. Hey, I’m perfect! I:

    -live in a tent in the backyard of a house in inner SE
    -grow all of my own vegetables during the summer/fall
    -root around in trashcans for food during winter
    -don’t take showers
    -ride a bicycle around town instead of taking a bus or driving.
    -it’s a 60 year old Schwinn
    -buy all of my clothes from goodwill
    -compost my own waste

    See?! You guys have a model citizen to base your own lifestyles upon! Want to become carbon neutral? I just showed you the way!

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