The March 1863 Enrollment Act permitted wealthy men to legally dodge the Civil War draft by paying a $300 commutation fee to the U.S. Government. This controversial loophole fueled public perception of a “rich man’s war, but a poor man’s fight.”
The sight of well-dressed men during the 1863 New York City draft riots prompted angry crowds to derisively call out, “There goes a $300-man.”
It is, therefore, somewhat odd that Al Gore has ventured to become a latter-day $300-man in his crusade against global warming, especially since he touts himself as courageously leading the charge for wide-spread personal sacrifice.
At the end of Gore’s movie, “An Inconvenient Truth,” viewers are asked, “Are you ready to change the way you live”? Following this line of thinking, the movie’s web site suggests many ways that you can “reduce your impact at home,” including using less heating and air conditioning, buying expensive fluorescent light bulbs, using less hot water, using a clothesline rather than a dryer, carpooling, flying less and buying cost-inefficient hybrid cars.
Given that Gore calls the fight against global warming a “moral imperative” in the movie, you might reasonably think that he practices what his movie’s web site preaches. But you’d be wrong.
In the wake of the movie winning an Oscar last month, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research reported that Gore’s Nashville mansion consumed more than 20 times the electricity than the national average. Last August, the Gore mansion burned more than twice the electricity in a single month as the average American family uses in an entire year. Gore’s heated pool house alone uses more than $500 in electricity every month.
These latest revelations are reason enough to rent the movie just to see Gore standing before an enormous bar-graph comparison of individual carbon emissions by nationality while sanctimoniously tut-tutting about how the average American’s energy use is greedily off the charts.
A Gore spokesman tried to deflect the charges of “do as I say, not as I do” by stating that the Gores “purchase offsets for their carbon emissions to bring their carbon footprint down to zero.” Gore himself has been very public about this approach to carbon neutrality, but not only is this claim not exactly true, it’s quite meaningless in terms of global warming.
First, Al Gore doesn’t purchase carbon offsets out of his own pocket and the actual economic cost, if any, to him is unknown.
The actual offset purchaser is a London-based investment firm, Generation Investment Management (GIM), that Al Gore co-founded with former Goldman Sachs executive David Blood and others in 2004.
GIM supposedly purchases carbon offsets for all 23 of its employees to cover their personal energy use, according to a March 7 CNSNews.com report. These offsets, then, would be provided to Gore more as an employee benefit, thus requiring very little sacrifice on his or his family's part.
Trading and or purchasing carbon offsets is an emerging business, and CNSNews is also pursuing an investigative story into whether Gore or his company are making money from these offsets. It’s quite possible, for example, that GIM’s offsets actually produce financial benefits for the Gores either through tax deductions or even business profits.
A Gore spokesman refused to shed light on the personal net financial impacts to Gore, instead telling CNSNews that Mr. Gore, "as a private citizen, does not release his private income.”
Financial matters aside, what are the environmental impacts of Gore’s offsets?
I was surprised to find that even a leading advocate of carbon offsets acknowledge that they have no impact on global climate.
The Carbon Neutral Company – one of the two vendors that sell offsets to GIM – says that offset purchases “will be unable to reduce greenhouse gas emissions… in the short term.”
Instead, they merely: (1) demonstrate commitment to taking action on climate change; (2) add an economic component to climate change; (3) help engage and educate the public; and (4) may provide local social and environmental benefits that help to encourage the use of low-carbon technologies.
The real design behind offsetting, then, is to impact the public debate, not to avert the dreaded global warming. This purpose is consistent with what I heard Al Gore say about the Kyoto Protocol following a private presentation of his climate slide show I attended at the Americans for Tax Reform offices in January, 2006.
“Did we think Kyoto would [reduce global warming] when we signed it [in 1997]?… Hell no!” said Gore. He then explained that the actual point of Kyoto was to demonstrate that international support could be mustered for action on environmental issues.
But it’s the carbon offset purchases through which Gore really validates application of the $300-man epithet to him. His company buys the offsets for their employees. There’s no cost to him. He benefits politically – and perhaps financially, as well – from them. He then advocates that the rest of us who cannot so easily offset are carbon production suffer myriad personal sacrifices.
While Gore relaxes in his posh pool house and heated pool, you should be taking shorter and colder showers, and hanging your laundry outside to dry. As Gore jets around the world in first-class comfort to hob-nob with society’s elites about his self-declared “moral imperative”, you should travel less and bike to work. You should use less electricity while Al and his wife, Tipper, use 20 times the national average. Now that’s a real carbon offset.
“Are you ready to change the way you live?” Gore literally meant you – and only you.