Al Gore challenged the nation to transform the way it produces electricity, moving to a 100 percent renewable and non-carbon system within 10 years.

Annotated highlights from Gore’s speech on energy, via the New York Times:

Our major problems are connected:

I don’t remember a time in our country when so many things seemed to be going so wrong simultaneously. Our economy is in terrible shape and getting worse, gasoline prices are increasing dramatically, and so are electricity rates. Jobs are being outsourced. Home mortgages are in trouble. Banks, automobile companies and other institutions we depend upon are under growing pressure. Distinguished senior business leaders are telling us that this is just the beginning unless we find the courage to make some major changes quickly. . . .

Yet when we look at all three of these seemingly intractable challenges at the same time, we can see the common thread running through them, deeply ironic in its simplicity: our dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels is at the core of all three of these challenges – the economic, environmental and national security crises. We’re borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that’s got to change. . . .

All of these problems share a common solution:

The answer is to end our reliance on carbon-based fuels. . . . [W]hen you connect the dots, it turns out that the real solutions to the climate crisis are the very same measures needed to renew our economy and escape the trap of ever-rising energy prices. Moreover, they are also the very same solutions we need to guarantee our national security without having to go to war in the Persian Gulf. . . .

Today I challenge our nation to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years. . . .

To those who say the challenge is not politically viable: I suggest they go before the American people and try to defend the status quo. Then bear witness to the people’s appetite for change. I for one do not believe our country can withstand 10 more years of the status quo. . . .

We have to deal with transitional fairness issues:

America’s transition to renewable energy sources must also include adequate provisions to assist those Americans who would unfairly face hardship. For example, we must recognize those who have toiled in dangerous conditions to bring us our present energy supply. We should guarantee good jobs in the fresh air and sunshine for any coal miner displaced by impacts on the coal industry. Every single one of them.

Of course, we could and should speed up this transition by insisting that the price of carbon-based energy include the costs of the environmental damage it causes. I have long supported a sharp reduction in payroll taxes with the difference made up in CO2 taxes. We should tax what we burn, not what we earn. This is the single most important policy change we can make. . . .

The political right (predictably wrong) will now disparage the messenger to kill the message. More seriously, there will be challenges to the plan’s feasibility and costs – $1.5 to $3 trillion. Can we accept Gore’s optimism about development rates and declining costs for renewables (we thought that would happen 20 years ago), or the necessity of substantially transforming America’s coal industry? Such radical upheavals occur only, as in WWII, when the public accepts the need for national mobilization, and we are clearly not there. But what of the alternatives?

It is only a truly dysfunctional system that would buy into the perverse logic that the short-term answer to high gasoline prices is drilling for more oil ten years from now in areas that should be protected.

We’ll need more emphasis on promoting efficiency/conservation and electricity rate reforms to enable customer-based energy savings and production. Though in his plan, efficiency and conservation got just a throw away line, and it wasn’t connected to rate reform, but this is a no-regrets winner that makes everything else easier.

Gore’s proposal for offsetting carbon and payroll taxes is vital. The idea is to tax what you want to discourage – whether it’s oil use or carbon emissions — and recycle the revenues back to those hardest hit. A carbon tax is presumably unpalatable but one is implicit in a “cap and trade” approach, which Obama endorses along with middle class tax cuts.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley

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