Friday, July 18, 2008

Al Gore's Challenge

Last night I found a full length video of Al Gore's challenge speech and listened to it while I followed along by reading a transcript. The thank you's take up the first two minutes, with the speech actually starting at 2:19:

Here is a full length transcript annotated by a science reporter at the NY Times. He indicates statements in Gore's speech that are perhaps more hyperbole than fact.

Well, what did you think?

This speech did really speak to me, and I hope that people will rise up to the challenge. I believe this "generational moment" is a call to my generation - not in relation to age, but to attitude - and that it is time for us to shake off the "complacency" of the old guard, the old way of thinking. Naysayers can "step aside" and keep their no-can-do attitude to themselves.

I ask myself, who are these naysayers? Gore states that our current economic, environmental and national security problems are all held together by the same string and can be solved by ending "our dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels." Perhaps the naysayers are the very people that profit from the status quo, the war machine, and the desperate economy.

Gore calls for a mindset and push into bringing the cost of clean fuels down through increasing the scale of three energy sources: solar, wind, and geothermal. These technologies all exist and need refined and to be demanded by business and personal consumers.

Perhaps my favorite line is: "our democracy has become sclerotic at a time when the crises require boldness." The word sclerotic is related to the plant science term sclerenchyma, which is the lignified, or tough, tissues in a plant that makes it possible for the plant to stand up. These tissues are one obstacle to making biofuels.

The one alternative that he distinctly did not mention is biofuels. The biofuel concept is to use plants to harness the energy from the sun to convert carbon into either sugars, that can be converted into ethanol, or fatty acids, that can be converted into oils. This is still the old way of thinking - it is a carbon-based fuel. What do you think of the potential of biofuels?

The one concept missing from his speech were questions about and an impetus away from the environmental hazards in making solar panels, wind turbines, and digging for geothermal hotspots. I think these new technologies need to not create new problems. Of course, that can be easily outweighed by the decrease in oil drilling and the natural resources, such as metal ores. that go into getting oil out of the ground.

What if one of the American car companies converted their entire fleet to electric, and the electricity was made from solar and wind sources? Would that company then have any problems selling cars, or would they have problems keeping their cars on the lot, much like today's Prius and Hybrid Camry? I don't get why the auto manufacturers don't think this way? Are they so stuck, are they so vested in oil, are they joined at the hips to the oil companies?

I think this challenge can spark America's great ingenuity and innovation, traits that have lapsed since the times of the space race and the arms race. There is no red enemy now. The enemy now is ourselves, our bad habits, and our reliance on our leaders to do what is in our best interest. The race is a race against time.

To anyone who listens to the whole speech! Double bonus points to anyone who shares their (rationally and politely stated) thoughts, by clicking on the link below this post that says "comments." If you need to, you can create an account with Blogger. You won't get any junk mail or be sold out.

all statements in quotes are from Gore's speech



Hong said...

I recently found the "greenest" tips for pipettors sold by VWR international. But their 1ml tips are too soft for the eppendorf pipettors to eject.
Do you have plan to green up research labs? Lot of work need to be done there.

jhonaker said...

I think the reason Al Gore didn't mention bio-fuels is because they contribute carbon into the atmosphere.

I'm not a fan of bio-fuels--especially from corn. I think the algae-based bio-fuels are probably one of the better ideas, but still you are running the dirty internal-combustion engines to use them.

A few other reasons for my distaste for bio-fuels is because it takes more space. Time magazine did an article a few months ago about how since corn-based ethanol is now in high demand, countries who have tropical rain forests are tearing more forests down to make room for corn fields. Now, we in the US really can't control what other countries do (even with the hundreds of billions of dollars we throw at the problem). So, if we increase our demand for bio-fuels made from corn or sugar, it will encourage more deforestation to occur.

Also, there is the law of diminishing returns. You must use fuel to create the plants that are used create the fuel. With this scenario, you will eventually put more fuel into what you get back out.

The answer to me is clearly to invest more into generating electricity from natural resources, such as solar, wind, hydro, etc. And go to a 100% electric vehicle, PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) and regular hybrid electric vehicle fleet. These solutions to creating power are not as intrusive to the environment (even though they still take up space), and they don't create pollution like the production of bio-fuels does.

Ideally, everyone who uses power in the USA needs to have solar panels on their roofs to supplement the extra power demand that would be caused with electric cars. Only reduced costs by better solar technology, mass production of solar equipment, and government subsidization will allow this to occur.

There is tons of information out at Check out the FAQ section--there is a lot of great info out there.

Anita K said...

Thank you hong and jhonaker!

I am going to spread the word about these pipet tips. Lab work is certainly plastic-friendly. The best I could ever do was to change my habits, to use the least amount of materials- save the lab money too!

Yes, I am sure that biofuels are a slight alternative to petro-fuels. Not a radical change. I will check out these sites!