On Nov. 23, 2005 I moved to The Hague from Washington, DC. This is my new Dutch life.


Do As I Say Not As I Do

Et tu, Al?

A one-man, conservative "think tank" got his paws on Al Gore's 2005 and 2006 utility bills and called foul this week. Seems that Al and Tipper Gore racked up a $30,000 utility bill in their Tennessee home(stead) last year. Yow! ABC News breaks down the figures. Nutjob uber-conservatives are using this information to call out the Gores for a hypocritical lifestyle. Be that as it may, it doesn't change the fact that anthropogenic global warming is a major problem.

But let's take a closer look at the data. Here's what I see, based on what I spent in Alexandria, VA in 2005.

I lived in a 750sq. ft. ground-floor flat down the road from the Pentagon. The Washington, DC area has four defined seasons including snowy, icy winters and stinky, hot summers. Having spent considerable time in Northern Alabama, I can attest that Tennessee is no less wintry (sometimes worse b/c Southern states get more ice than snow) and is even stinkier than DC in the summer.

I worked outside my home, and had a busy lifestyle that often kept me out of the house at night and on weekends. Most of my time at home was spent sleeping. I was very careful to turn off lights when I wasn't around, but I did have various electronics that probably sucked electricity in their standby state. I had an EnergyStar dishwasher, but my fridge was about 8 years old. I rarely cooked, and when I prepared food at home I usually made sandwiches. I only paid for electricity. Water and gas were including in my condo fees. I probably consumed less electricity in the summer than most people in the DC area because my condo was naturally cool. My average electricity bill was around $120/month. That is $120 per month for barely being in my one bedroom condo. Interestingly, when my condo was empty while I tried to sell it, the bill plummeted to about $30/month. Even just sitting around, we're expensive creatures.

No credible source is reporting on the square footage of the building in question (only nutjob right-wing bloggers who don't cite their sources), but the Gores' utility bills are based on a 20 room main house and a pool house (it's not clear how big the pool house is and whether or not it contains their pool). Just looking at the home, the Gores paid $544/month in 2006 for electricity and gas*. That's only $424 per month more than my electricity-only bill, and they own a structure that is many, many times bigger than my home. He and his wife also work from their home, so to be truly fair one should look at comparable figures for office space where computers and office equipment as well as lights and such are on all day. My conclusion is that foot-for-foot and figuring that they probably spend more time at home than I did, their bill is really comparable to mine.

But the heart of the matter is whether or not it's hypocritical for the Gores to live in a giant home while encouraging less energy consumption by Americans. I have to conclude: no. Here's my reasoning.

1) I do think a pool house is a bit excessive. Then again, my parents are pretty average and they have a pool that has a heater. An awful lot of Americans have backyard pools. I don't see a reason why the Gores can't have one too, and anyway he never said people shouldn't have pools.

2) A 20 room house also feels excessive. But, if it's energy efficient, the size of the house doesn't necessarily matter. The ABC News article reports that Gore is renovating the home to be more efficient, particularly since it's older. They already purchase green power and are installing solar panels. They have taken other measures to make the house more efficient. These technologies will allow us to keep our big American homes. In anything, they're going to show us how to do it.

3) If the Gores don't live in that house, someone else will. That someone else may or may not make energy efficient improvements to it. Should the Gores build a new one? No. From an environmental impact standpoint the cost of building a new house, even a really green one, can be higher than retrofitting an old one. New homes require new timber and other materials processed from raw materials (extraction and processing have big impact), transport costs for materials and workers, energy use during construction, the removal of trees and shrubs from the property itself, the reinstallation of landscaping (garden centers use energy and excessive amounts of water), etc. etc. The list goes on. We already know that it's better to reduce and reuse before recycling, meaning that even building a new home with some recycled materials is more impactful than updating an old one.

4) Al Gore's message is about presenting the facts of global warming and its impact on our planet. His home doesn't change that. He also does a great job pointing out that individuals can make small changes that have a big impact. I caught him on Oprah a few weeks ago going through a Home Depot shopping for energy-efficient home improvements. For something like $30, you can make your home 30% more efficient. My point is that he doesn't advocate wholesale changes (though I think he should). He doesn't tell people to move out of their McMansions. There's a lot you can still do without upsetting your lifestyle, and that's his message. Who wants to bet that many hypocrite finger-pointers haven't even seen "An Inconvenient Truth" or read the book? Who's the hypocrite?

5) I agree with those that say that this new "study" is the last breath of the global warming naysayers. These are not people that are holding Gore up to a higher standard. These are people who want to dig their head in the sand. Really what's the point of calling someone a hypocrite anyway? Do you feel that it gives you an excuse to ignore the advice? Does it really make his message less potent? If you want a reason to cop out and this is it, you're the one that's lame and, frankly, you suck. You are not contributing to solving the problem by calling Gore names. Al Gore is doing something, and you are not. You are actually the hypocrite.

6) Some people say that this affects Gore's credibility. Huh? That makes no sense. He didn't do the research and come up with the facts. He's just talking about them. I can't stress this enough: none of this business about his house changes the message. This is a classic case of shooting the messenger. Just because you don't want to hear it, doesn't mean that you shouldn't listen. Vilify Al Gore all you want, it's not going to make the problem go away. Period.

* I compared my 2005 bill to Gore's 2006 bill for a few reasons. I left the US at the end of 2005, so that's the only data I have. Also, the difference in costs between 2005 and 2006 could reflect cheaper gas prices in 2006. Because I don't know how much gas I used, I thought it would be better to give the Gores a bit of a handicap. However, even with their higher 2005 bill, I think my point remains the same; foot-for-foot they're not leading excessive lives.



Blogger PeeKay said...

thanks jen, well put. i actually had lunch with a few people the other day who were all excited about this gore bashing finding. it made me laugh to think of their excitement. i wish i had you there to refute their words. i didnt have the #s, but i was like hey even if those facts are true. he is "TRYING" to do something about it and also trying to make a better world. so my stance is, maybe all this education has opened his eyes to what he can do to turn green and you dont do that overnight. so i agree with you and thanks for putting it down in a very nice easy to read format. like a recipe for rebuff! i will dig out my bill too and post that stat.

8:44 PM GMT+1

Blogger akaijen said...

Thanks Peekay! Glad someone agrees with me. ;) You can always forward a link to my blog to these Gore bashers that you know.

I really hate Gore bashing. The guy is seriously a well-intentioned and great guy. I often think about how much better the world would be today if not for Nadar voters and people who voted against the guy they thought was "boring." Man, what I wouldn't give for boring.

I was just discussing this with B-, who btw is a real life expert when it comes to climate change mitigation (I didn't move to hell for no reason), and he was very quick to point out that if you buy green energy, then it doesn't matter how big your electric bill is - there's no impact. If you offset what you can't buy from the grid, still no impact.

BTW, offsetting your carbon footprint is CHEAP and EASY. I will send out a post tomorrow with links.

Can you tell this issue is important to me?

10:39 PM GMT+1

Blogger Reid said...

I have a friend who often says that she realized that you almost always have to be a hypocrite, even if you believe incredibly strongly in it. It's very true.

I do hope that the Gores look to green that house a little more. But it's ridiculous for require anyone to live their opinions 100%. Almost no one does.

The carbon offset is a perfect analogy. A lot of people believe that carbon offsets are a bad thing; that they encourage people to just throw money at a problem instead of changing their ways. And really, that's true. It's not at all ideal. But what it comes down to is realizing that sometimes you can make a difference without turning your life upside-down. If the only choice that people ever have on anything is to completely change their lifestyles to do good, or to just ignore the problem and keep their current lifestyles, they'll always choose the latter. So let them live in between. It's not the best solution, but it makes more of a difference than no difference.

4:39 AM GMT+1

Blogger akaijen said...

Reid, your friend has an interesting thought about anyone who believes in something is a hypocrite. A religious person would say that's why God forgives. Anyone else would (should) say that no one is perfect.

But the problem is that people pick and choose what they want to see in black and white and what they want to see in gray - usually to suit their own ideology. But People who cast stones, blah blah blah.

I'm not going to sit here and say that I haven't called people hypocrites. I'm the first to snicker at evangelical ministers when they fall from grace. I was gloriously happy when Rush Limbaugh came out with his drug problem. But I can't help but to defend my name-calling a bit b/c those people take a superior moral high-ground and get a thrill from pointing out the problems and defects of others. What made me so pissed off about Rush was that his attitude towards drug addicts was so toxic and unforgiving. This is often the case with Evangelicals; I can't stand anyone who tells other people they're going to hell. That's toxic as well.

Gore, on the other hand, isn't finger pointing. He manages not to blame even though the evidence against the US is damning. He has the grace and patience that I certainly don't have, and I'm amazed at how kindly he's delivering the message.

About carbon offsets, I could talk for hours on this. But for me the bottom line is that you have to walk before you can run. Unfortunately, the technology (and infrastructure) isn't there to make the really big changes that would make offsets unnecessary. Plus, a lot of offsets projects are doing a lot of good in areas that would otherwise not receive any funding. B- recently worked on a sanitation project for townships in S. Africa that may otherwise not have received any funding were it not for the offsets market.

1:03 PM GMT+1


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