Join 3,572 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Al Gore's slideshow reprise, now with 100% more urgency!
April 8, 2008 2:43 PM   Subscribe

At TED this past March, Al Gore once again presented the Mother of all Power Point Shows. This time around, there is a renewed sense of urgency, with updated slides about Arctic sea ice loss, among other things. More so than in the past, Gore specifically focuses on the necessity for laws to change, and how before that can happen, politics, especially American politics, must change as well. Another theme of Gore's latest TED appearance is how climate change is also a tremendous opportunity for a new heroic generation, to be remembered as the ones who solved the greatest crisis of human civilization.
posted by [expletive deleted] (30 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hmm, I probably should have mentioned that this is a new presentation, not a rehash of the old one, and that it is significantly shorter.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 2:45 PM on April 8, 2008


Thanks. TED shows are almost always good, even if it's on a subject you know nothing about. I'm currently working my through them all, have a few dozen left (one a day). It's really one of the best things on the web. Here is Gores 2006 speech at TED.
posted by stbalbach at 2:48 PM on April 8, 2008


Thanks for this, [ex de]; Mr. Gore is a true visionary-- I hope he has the ear of the next President, be it Rep or Dem...
posted by Dizzy at 2:51 PM on April 8, 2008


I hope he has the ear of the next President, be it Rep or Dem...

If Obama makes it, Gore will have his ear.
"Sen. Barack Obama said Wednesday he would give Al Gore, a Nobel prize winner, a major role in an Obama administration to address the problem of global warming.

At a town-hall meeting, Obama was asked if he would tap the former vice president for his Cabinet to handle global warming.

'I would,' Obama said. 'Not only will I, but I will make a commitment that Al Gore will be at the table and play a central part in us figuring out how we solve this problem. He's somebody I talk to on a regular basis. I'm already consulting with him in terms of these issues, but climate change is real. It is something we have to deal with now, not 10 years from now, not 20 years from now.'" *
posted by ericb at 2:57 PM on April 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thanks, ericb.
Anyone know if Hillary made similar promises?
I just assumed she would be all over this, due to their shared political history...
posted by Dizzy at 3:17 PM on April 8, 2008


Thanks for this -- great presentation.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 3:33 PM on April 8, 2008


Gore just briefly mentions this idea, but the concept of replacing income tax with a carbon tax is fascinating to me. It gives people a way to directly reduce their taxes. It more accurately prices the cost of coal power plants. The sticker price of all products go up, but so does available income. The relative prices of local products become cheaper. Ease it in over five years or so, completely eliminating income taxes and replacing them with taxes on dirty electricity generation, natural gas, and gasoline. It'll tear the airline industry all to hell, but that seems inevitable anyway.

What do economists say about pollution taxes? What are the biggest disadvantages?
posted by Llama-Lime at 3:46 PM on April 8, 2008


GOR CRUSH!
posted by tkchrist at 3:47 PM on April 8, 2008


The mother of all Powerpoint shows?

Must've had more bullet points & animated transitions than you could point a stick at!
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:49 PM on April 8, 2008


Rush Limbaugh must be rolling over in his water bed.

Another great post, the front page is looking really good today.
posted by nola at 4:02 PM on April 8, 2008


Llama-lime,
Among other obstacles to a carbon tax:
1) How much should the tax be? Pick one too high and quality of life will decline more than it has to. Pick one too low and the crisis won't be averted. The right number is a very complicated thing to figure out - even if everyone were really on board with it. Other global warming solutions might be better if they require less difficult things to figure out.

2) Who will bear the burden of the tax? Generally speaking things like transportation, utility use, and food make up a larger share of the poor's spending. Furthermore, they don't have as much discretion in buying those products. This means that a carbon tax would probably fall disproportionately on the poor and be a regressive tax. Some proposals would rebate the first X thousand dollars carbon tax money back to consumers so the poor won't be hit as hard but will still change their behavior to save money. Obviously this obstacle would be a political football just as the income tax is today.

3) The carbon tax has all the problems of many of the other solutions - it won't really work if most of the world doesn't sign on to a compatible solution. For example, how do you apply a carbon tax to imports if you don't know how much carbon was used?
posted by seejaie at 4:04 PM on April 8, 2008


Another theme of Gore's latest TED appearance is how climate change is also a tremendous opportunity for a new heroic generation, to be remembered as the ones who solved the greatest crisis of human civilization.

Alas, we are long past the time when politicians were into nation building and grand schemes. Unless you're building some other nation, a long way away, I guess. There are some very, very interesting technologies for alternative power generation coming along now, from hot dry rock geothermal, to CETO wave energy, to Solar Towers. The commitment of governments? Through some pathetic amount of money towards "further research", mumble that they might be ready for deployment in 30 years. Man, just put your cards on the table and take a risk, because the science is telling us there's not much to lose. Build the damn things.
posted by Jimbob at 4:16 PM on April 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Calculating the tax rate should be fairly straightforward if the goal is to replace all personal income tax revenues with carbon tax revenues, as emissions should be nearly as stable as incomes. If I'm reading the IRS spreadsheet correctly (and that's tenuous) personal income tax accounts for about $1 trillion in revenue, and taking the earlier Metafilter thread's US emissions at 1.5 billion metric tons, we get approximately $650 per metric ton, or ~$3000 for an average person's carbon footprint. Also, that is about $6 in carbon tax per gallon of gas. Hmmm... If this has the desired effect (and keeping that $6 in your pocket is much more of an incentive than getting back $6 that you never saw from wage withholdings), then the rate would have to go up as decrease.

You're right that such a tax does have the potential to be very regressive. The lifestyle of the wealthy clearly outputs much more carbon (which some have attempted to use to paint Gore as a hypocrite), but perhaps not proportionally with their income, so my uninformed speculation is that it is more regressive than the flat tax proposals of previous years.

I could see taxing imports using the known carbon emissions from competing domestic products. Take the median, or if one thinks that the other country's methods are dirtier, the 75% or 95% quantile of domestic methods.

Gore specifically mentioned revenue neutral carbon taxes, which seems to be quite different. They tax carbon at some arbitrary amount, and then give tax deductions so that the government's revenue stays the same. Probably way more practical politically, but not nearly as fun to think about as a more radical scheme.
posted by Llama-Lime at 4:34 PM on April 8, 2008


I don't mean to be pedantic, but Gore's on the board of Apple. It has to be Keynote, right?

Don't start giving PowerPoint any positive press. Unless you're trying to make the brand a generic.

Does Gore actually want to be involved at the White House level? There's something very Jimmy Carter about how much good he's done and how frank he's been able to be since he got away from DC.
posted by Gucky at 4:37 PM on April 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


This means that a carbon tax would probably fall disproportionately on the poor and be a regressive tax.

Potentially quite a lot more regressive than the present distribution of carbon emissions would imply. After all, it is relatively easy to almost entirely stop personally generating large quantities of CO2 if you're sufficiently wealthy to buy as many electric cars and solar panels as it takes. So, for that alone I think it can not entirely replace income tax, much as I'd like to see income tax go away. However, it seems reasonably to provide some encouragement to those people to buy solar panels and electric cars, along with whatever other technology comes along in proportion to how much good it does at reducing CO2, so I still think a "carbon tax" is a fine idea. It gets more painfully regressive the higher it is, but it needn't be that high, and can be compensated for by other measures. As for deciding the level of such a tax, simply start small and see how it goes.

Strange to think that 32% of Americans cannot claim to believe that human emissions of greenhouse gas are causing the atmosphere to warm up. Almost one in three! One might have expected the Internet to have improved the level of knowledge among the people beyond that, but instead its contribution to the erosion of any recognition of 'authority' on such questions leaves plenty of room for people to believe whatever they like, and then find any amount of propaganda designed to support it. So I guess that just makes it take longer than it otherwise might for the truth to win out.

Not that Al Gore's spin on it is necessarily near the whole truth. Changing light bulbs does not strike me as particularly useful, except as a symbolic gesture.
posted by sfenders at 4:37 PM on April 8, 2008


There is a big problem with the idea of a revenue neutral carbon tax: that if it is effective at reducing carbon emissions it will cease to be revenue neutral. Say having a carbon tax gets people to reduce carbon emissions by 20% then the 'tax base' has shrunk and you have to increase the rate to compensate. But it is trickier than that because the increased rate will provide an increased disincentive for cutting carbon which means that you have to crank up the rate again and so on and so on. This makes the acceptable rate very unpredictable. This is not to say that it is a bad idea, it is a very good idea, but it is not a simple thing to implement.
posted by I Foody at 4:56 PM on April 8, 2008


Strange to think that 32% of Americans cannot claim to believe that human emissions of greenhouse gas are causing the atmosphere to warm up. Almost one in three! One might have expected the Internet to have improved the level of knowledge among the people beyond that, but instead its contribution to the erosion of any recognition of 'authority' on such questions leaves plenty of room for people to believe whatever they like, and then find any amount of propaganda designed to support it. So I guess that just makes it take longer than it otherwise might for the truth to win out.

Roughly 32% of Americans have a disconnect with reality, you say?
posted by clearlynuts at 5:53 PM on April 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Most Americans would not be able to significantly reduce their carbon footprint in the time span of a year. The easiest way is to live someplace where you don't need a car on a daily/weekly basis, and that's impossible for a huge swath of the country until neighborhood structure and zoning laws change. So until there's a disruptive technology or combination of technologies that makes a drastic reduction in emissions feasible, properly setting a carbon tax rate seems to be a workable proposition. I would think that we'd have at least a year or two of warning before disruptive technologies could be in deployed for widespread use, so with careful monitoring I don't see setting the carbon tax rate as a huge problem.

The redistribution of tax burden to lower income groups could be much more harmful and disruptive to our economy and society, I think, but if we maintain the income tracking system of our tax system, we could potentially implement a credit scheme for lower incomes.

Eventually, we're going to need to become carbon neutral rather than just freezing the rate that we're emitting. So a carbon tax may only be a temporary measure to effect a revolution, at which point we can either phase back the income tax, or maybe confront some other societal behavior problem. If our solution to maintaining CO2 equilibrium involves significant sequestration, the carbon tax may have to stay around in order to provide the proper incentive in the form of tax credits.

Politically, it seems like just the right carrot for the segment of the population that considers climate change irrelevant. Not only will we lessen income tax, but we stop threatening them with the ever scary federal regulations. Boo!
posted by Llama-Lime at 5:54 PM on April 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Most Americans would not be able to significantly reduce their carbon footprint in the time span of a year. The easiest way is to live someplace where you don't need a car on a daily/weekly basis, and that's impossible for a huge swath of the country until neighborhood structure and zoning laws change.

Huh? I work in Cupertino, CA, live an hour away and I'm planning to move within biking distance if there's still any market to sell my house into. Between my wife & I (who also works in Cupertino), we'll still want one car for shopping, but we'll be able to get by with one and I'll be able to walk my kid to (elementary) school.

Cupertino and the parts of Sunnyvale, Santa Clara & San Jose that are close to work are dang expensive, but if I figure the cost (even unburdened by conscience or carbon tax) of driving and sending the kid to private school, it starts to look more reasonable. If I wanted to buy only for what I can sell, I could live in a smaller house on a smaller lot or live further away but still within bus distance. The 10 hours per week I get back are worth it.

Now, Santa Clara Valley is flat so biking is easy, but even if you don't want to live in an apartment so you can listen to your music loud and zoning doesn't allow mixing business & residential, houses built in 50's-60's style <1/4 acre lots seem to be dense enough to be car-fewer if not car-free.
posted by morganw at 6:18 PM on April 8, 2008


Well, you're in ideal biking country, morganw, both in terms of climate and local support for the cause. And perhaps there's only one person in your household that needs to get work? And you're close enough to your school that your kids can walk, or you've somehow convinced your teenager to take the bus? For a lot of families, even moving to a much more expensive apartment/house won't cut it unless they can find two jobs in close proximity, and until better public transportation is in place there's not a lot they can do. And even if there were a mass migration out of remote housing developments, suddenly those workable apartments and homes start to rise precipitously in value, pricing people out. Until we rework neighborhoods, I really don't think we're going to see big changes in carbon emissions. I think the fastest way to get people to act is to give them a financial incentive, and even then neighborhoods can't be reorganized overnight.
posted by Llama-Lime at 6:46 PM on April 8, 2008


I missed February's news of British Columbia implementing a carbon tax. It seems that even when fully implemented they'll only be dipping a toe in the waters, but it's still nice to have precedent.
posted by Llama-Lime at 7:05 PM on April 8, 2008


Carbon tax is probably a bad idea, it will actually make things worse because it won't be possible for new technologies to develop quickly enough in such a strict environment. Over-taxing is known to stifle growth and innovation. The best method is a carbon cap and trade - let the free market solve the problem. Carbon tax is a top down solution. Cap and trade is a bottom up that taps into free market forces. It essentially makes the old fossil way of doing things equally costly as solar/wind etc.., so then people have a financial incentive to do it even better. It's positive re-enforcement for innovation, not a negative one like taxes that kills innovation.
posted by stbalbach at 7:43 PM on April 8, 2008


As gasoline prices broke records in 2007, Americans cut back on their driving for the first time in more than 20 years, according to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration. Total travel fell 0.4 percent to 3.00 trillion miles from 3.01 trillion miles in 2006.

Automakers are already seeing a shift in product mix, with a steady increase in the sale of small cars, even as big pickups and SUV lose market share.

The EIA forecasts a decline in motor gasoline consumed this summer, despite the decline in energy per volume due to adding more ethanol.

Carbon tax or not, people are going to be driving less in the future.
posted by sfenders at 8:12 PM on April 8, 2008


Strange to think that 32% of Americans cannot claim to believe that human emissions of greenhouse gas are causing the atmosphere to warm up. Almost one in three!

I watched Al's first movie and was convinced. Then I read a few critiques of his facts and wasn't as convinced. I'm not a climate scientist, and I admit I just don't know. I've heard convincing arguments on both sides. Perhaps the debate is over and I just need to educate myself more. This link caught my eye recently.

Carbon tax or not, people are going to be driving less in the future.


Heh heh. When oil goes to $250 a barrel, you'll have you yer carbon tax.
posted by kevinsp8 at 8:39 PM on April 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Definitely Keynote.
posted by Scoo at 9:47 PM on April 8, 2008


Carbon tax or not, people are going to be driving less in the future.

We drove a lot less in the early 70s, as I recall (okay, as my dad recalls) but gas got cheap again. I wonder if gas will get cheap again if alternative technologies gain a larger foothold and threaten to put the oil companies out of business -- or if this is just the beginning.

It's so much easier with hindsight, obviously, so let's all regroup twenty years from now and see if any of us were right.

Incidentally, I'm about to buy a car -- and even though I've selected a car that gives me everything I want and need for my family and intended use, and even though I'd previously ruled out a Prius because the cost is higher (even factoring in gas, as I will be driving it around 5500 miles a year, having moved much closer to work) and the utility is lower, but this presentation is making me reconsider again. I just can't shake the nagging feeling that ten years from now there'll be news reports of the "California Hybrid Battery Disposal Problem", and that I might be contributing to it if I buy a Prius.

Sigh.
posted by davejay at 11:01 PM on April 8, 2008


Stbalbach: Carbon tax is probably a bad idea, it will actually make things worse because it won't be possible for new technologies to develop quickly enough in such a strict environment. Over-taxing is known to stifle growth and innovation. The best method is a carbon cap and trade - let the free market solve the problem. Carbon tax is a top down solution. Cap and trade is a bottom up that taps into free market forces. It essentially makes the old fossil way of doing things equally costly as solar/wind etc.., so then people have a financial incentive to do it even better. It's positive re-enforcement for innovation, not a negative one like taxes that kills innovation.

Positive reinforcements are good, but I don't agree that this can be solved by a 'bottom-up' method due to the nature of the problem which is both non-immediate/long term, urgent and potentially devastating. Bottom-up solutions are very good for solving local immediate problems (consider an analogy of state to person where deliberative conscious decisions are the government level and instinctual bodily reactions are grass roots level). Basically the man on the street just doesn't care about the next hundred years. He has more pressing issues to deal with.

Market forces do not motivate 'better' or more efficient products so much as 'more popular' products that will sell more. If a carbon tax makes low carbon products more popular (due to being cheaper or more fashionable) then it seems a good way to play into market forces. Since tax is already punishing, you may as well punish the right thing. Moreover, you would presumably give carbon tax breaks to companies developing clean-energy products (requiring serious energy expenditure in development). Overall you want to force the financially most beneficial solution to be the cleanest one. And I think that can only be done in a very artificial way with top-down planning.

By the way, some very good posts here!
posted by leibniz at 1:31 AM on April 9, 2008


This means that a carbon tax would probably fall disproportionately on the poor and be a regressive tax.

Since the idea was to replace income tax with a carbon tax, why not stop taxing based on income alone but still use income as a metric to offset the regressiveness? I.e. use tiered carbon taxing.

If you make 0 - 10K per year, you pay $x per unit.
If you make 10K - 25K per year, you pay $x + y per unit.
...and so on.

It wouldn't be a straight *income* tax, since that isn't what's being taxed. This would actually encourage those with the most money to go out and support alternative energy sources like hybrid cars and solar panels.

Joe Millionaire doesn't like having to pay $250 per unit consumed? He has the money to install solar panels or buy a Prius, and if he does either he will not only be reducing his footprint but he won't be having to pay as much carbon tax afterward.

Joe Bluecollar may only be paying $25 per unit consumed, but he's probably already taking the bus to work anyway.

Net benefits all around.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 4:34 AM on April 9, 2008


Llama-Lime: I missed February's news of British Columbia implementing a carbon tax. It seems that even when fully implemented they'll only be dipping a toe in the waters, but it's still nice to have precedent.

It's being phased in over three years, starting in July, to give people time to adapt; and there's refundable tax credits to reduce the impact on poor people. I'll post updates to devoter.com once we see how things work out.

Advantages of a carbon tax vs. cap-and-trade, including international harmonization (under a cap-and-trade system, how do you allocate carbon permits to countries?).

A respected business economist just proposed a revenue-neutral federal carbon tax for Canada.
posted by russilwvong at 10:53 AM on April 9, 2008


BTW -- this week's Newsweek magazine's cover story regards "Environmental Leadership":
Just the Tree of Us -- "Driven by public concern, all the candidates agree that action is needed to slow global warming. No matter who's elected, America's policy will be different a year from now."
Related article:
A Leadership Reality Check -- "Oratory is not enough. It often takes a national crisis to persuade Americans to make sacrifices."
posted by ericb at 9:39 AM on April 10, 2008


« Older Frank Newsome leads the congregation at the Little...   |   What the IFPI tries to conceal... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments