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Sharpe: An inconvenient ‘footprint’ reveals many inconvenient truths
Poor Al Gore can’t catch a break. When his “Inconvenient Truth” sequel came out in August of last year, he absolutely got hammered by his critics for his hypocritically humongous energy footprint.
According to the National Center for Public Policy Research, his 10,000 square foot mansion in Nashville uses more than 20 times more energy than the national average. In his defense, he points to the solar panels he installed after Inconvenient Part I which provide a portion of the power.
Further, he claims to buy enough emission credits to be carbon neutral on the balance of his energy use.
At the end of the day, people may want to reduce their carbon footprint, but they absolutely don’t want to sacrifice their energy footprint. Here is the story of his (and our) inconvenient energy footprint.
1. Al Gore and 95 percent of scientists have a point. There is absolutely no question that CO2 concentrations have skyrocketed since the beginning of the industrial age, and there is no question that the earth is on a significant warming trend. Deniers will say that the two are unrelated, citing a half of dozen potential natural causes for the warming. Me, I’ve got 7.5 billion reasons I believe man is impacting the environment. I’m sure there are other factors affecting global temperatures, but it would be hard for anybody to argue that the CO2 is helping matters.
2. There is NO easy fix. Absolutely everything takes energy. It’s not just the cars and the planes and the furnace and the lights… even that cotton “Earth Day” T-shirt that Gore likes to wear was farmed with diesel tractors, milled in a natural gas driven factory, trucked to a lit up Target store where he drove his hybrid to buy it.
3. Gore’s energy footprint is not his fault. Al has the misfortune of being rich, and the reality is, he has to do something with his money. He may buy enough energy credits to cover the heating and lighting of his various mansions, but it takes a lot of T-shirts and such to fill up a 10,000 square foot bungalow. Make that two, as he recently bought another mansion in California, from which he jets back and forth.
4. On a global scale, we are all just as guilty of energy gluttony. Americans, on average, use almost six times as much energy as the world average. But we don’t compare ourselves to the world, we compare ourselves to Al. The definition of someone who uses too much energy (or makes too much money) is almost always going to be someone who uses more than we do (or makes more than we do). We drive a hybrid and recycle, so we give ourselves a check mark for “doing our part” to preserve the world. When we talk about energy (and economic) equality, we want to bring the world up to our standards, not lower our standard of living to meet in the middle.
5. Buying emission credits is a feel-good charade. The renewable industry is adding wind and solar farms just as fast as they absolutely can, which is not fast enough. Even with the dramatic recent investment in that arena, wind and solar only account for 2.7 percent of total U.S. energy use. There is only so much to go around. The bottom line is that buying emission credits does not increase the overall ratio of renewable energy to carbon energy, and can only be afforded by the Al Gore’s of the world to help them feel better about their energy-sucking lifestyles.
6. The ECONOMY runs on energy. Our high energy use allows the US to be significantly more productive than the rest of the world. As an illustration, a comparison of GDP per capita is a direct mirror of energy use per capita. Al really doesn’t need another tee shirt (or a house for that matter), but the cotton farmer and the truck driver and the cotton mill and the Target store sure hope that he keeps buying them. The bottom line is, if we were to reduce our energy use to the world average, we would be reducing our standard of living to the world average, and stopping our economy in its tracks.
In summary, our energy use is tied directly to our standard of living. Just like Al, the average American is not going to voluntarily choose to reduce their standard of living so they can save energy. So our collective energy footprint is not going to get smaller.
Like Al, most of us would like to be able to continue to use all the energy we want, but we wish that the energy would come from alternative sources that have NO impact on the environment. But wishing does not make it so. First, there are no such sources, as all sources impact the environment in some way. Second, no matter how fast alternatives continue to grow, it will be decades, if ever, before we can rely on them for the majority of our energy. Therefore, no matter how efficient your hybrid is or whether or not you buy green credits, at least for the foreseeable future, your energy footprint is going to come with a large carbon footprint. How inconvenient.
My next article will suggest a possible path forward, which includes higher energy prices and some economic sacrifices. You won’t like it, either.
George Sharpe of Farmington is an investment manager at Merrion Oil & Gas in Farmington.