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“There are times in the history of our nation when our very way of life depends upon dispelling illusions and awakening to the challenge of a present danger.” The middle-aged, white American male who is speaking pauses in what seems an intentional effort to elongate the surreal moment. He does
not pause because of the moment’s oddity—the fact that he stands as Al Gore, mere global citizen, not a candidate for any public office, let alone for U.S. President as he did in the 2000 election. All of that is odd; however, the moment becomes surreal, because, in fact, the world is listening to what he has to say. In fact, in an era when reality is fleeting and on an issue in which scientific truth is difficult to locate, his words are sage.

Thanks to the remarkable success of the film Inconvenient Truth and a shared 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, Gore has by this point in July 2008 become a figure of unparalleled international influence on issues related to climate change and the environment. It is a big stick that he swings selectively and with great care. Thus, his pause can only be explained by the fact that he truly does believe the human species, and particularly its American variation, is at a crossroads. In fact, similar to a gambler, he has taken his public capital as a forward-looking problem solver and placed the proverbial stack of chips all in on one issue.

After listing many sociological, climatic, and weather issues facing the nation, he arrives at the crux of what has brought him before the world community: “If we grab hold of that common thread and pull it hard, all of these complex problems begin to unravel and we will find that we’re holding the
answer to all of them right in our hand. The answer is to end our reliance on carbon-based fuels.”

Gore has learned to use a scientist’s specificity when discussing such issues.
Therefore, his address made his purpose very clear when he continued:
That’s why I’m proposing today a strategic initiative designed to free us from the
crises that are holding us down and to regain control of our own destiny. It’s not the
only thing we need to do. But this strategic challenge is the lynchpin of a bold new
strategy needed to re-power America.

Today I challenge our nation to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewableenergy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years. This goal is achievable, affordable, and transformative. It represents a challenge to all Americans—in every walk of life: to our political leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, engineers, and to every citizen.

A few years ago, it would not have been possible to issue such a challenge. But
here’s what’s changed: the sharp cost reductions now beginning to take place in solar,
wind, and geothermal power—coupled with the recent dramatic price increases for
oil and coal—have radically changed the economics of energy. (Appendix 4).

Before he had even left the stage/bully pulpit, a significant portion of
the media was already dubbing him an alarmist whose plans would cost the
United States billions. In the balance, they argued, was America’s standing
in the world: an economic place largely built on the transformative effect of
burning cheap fossil fuels during the last century. Gore and his advocates ,
though, say that the international standing of the United States is one of the
primary reasons to shift to alternative power—before we are left behind by
nations that do so.

How will history view Gore and his vision of the future? Only time will tell. The following pages, though, demonstrate that in July 2008 Gore’s campaign became one of themost recent chapters in a critical debate over energy that has endured throughout the existence of the United States. How should Americans power their future? Are we poised at a transformative moment in energy use? What amount of economic cost and discomfort is reasonable to endure in such a transition?