In the recent firestorm of criticism from the right about Al Gore's utility bill, it seems that there are some inconvenient facts that have been ignored.
Begin with the credibility of the source, and their apparent willingness to lie in order to get a headline-- and more to the point, not just the credibility of this source but of right leaning sources who simply jumped on a press release from an organization they probably didn't know much about without checking their facts.
The press release from The Tennessee Center for Policy Research (a previously obscure right-wing attack group whose only known address is a P.O. Box in Nashville) stated that Gore's electricity bill was $1,359 per month on average, and stated that they got the figure from Nashville Electric Service. NES spokesperson Laurie Parker however responded that the company was never asked by the center, and never gave it, any information. Additionally, the figure was wrong; it turns out to be closer to $1,200. While $1,359 is in the ballpark and likely represents an educated guess (though a bit high) it certainly brings into question the veracity of any claim that might be made by an organization of people who apparently are willing to invent data in order to make their case. While the exposure of the made up data by Parker has since been reported in some media, it has gotten a lot less attention than did the original report. One has to wonder if this is the new 'journalistic standard' by those on the right (particularly since this report appeared, unquestioned, on any number of right wing blog sites.) And the truth is that Gore's energy bill is not out of line for someone at his income level (as I reported several months ago Gore has become very rich while not serving as President, working as an advisor to Google and in other capacities).
Additionally, the report is misleading since Al Gore does (as he has for several years now) pay for 'green' electricity, mostly from a program available in Tennessee. Where he can't do that he makes donations equal to what he uses specifically for electricity from renewable resources.
And that leads to the real hypocrisy-- the right, either by intent or by ignorance continues to propogate the 'freeze in the dark' view of green electricity and other use of natural resources. In other words, they argue that environmentally responsible energy means a reduction in lifestyle. They argue that to be 'green' means to use less, and that is all it means, and that if you are living with any modern uses of energy (be it electricity, a car or whatever) then you cannot be an environmentalist.
But this is absolutely false. Being 'green' means being cleaner and leaner-- but this does not have to mean any kind of a reduction in lifestyle. It is true that in terms of conservation, it means using less energy. But conservation means to reduce waste. Waste by definition is resources expended but not used. So, for example, if you turn off the television after your favorite show, keep your tires fully inflated in order to improve your gas mileage and reduce wear on the tire, turn down the thermostat when you are not at home, or caulk your windows so you will use less gas then you have conserved-- but it is hard to argue that any of these conservation measures impacts your lifestyle.
These of course are individual choices. Then there is societal environmentalism. This is environmentalism at the public policy level, and is more what a person like Al Gore is pushing. Even President Bush, after fighting it for a long time, reversed himself in January in his State of the Union address where he pushed for, among other measures, higher CAFE standards on automobiles. This means designing cars to use less fuel. The technology is already there, and in fact all other major industrialized countries (as well as China) have higher fuel standards on vehicles than the United States. If all cars were designed to have, say, five mpg better mileage, then the result would be less gasoline used resulting in less emissions, less demand resulting in lower fuel prices (so people would save on both ends-- by using less gas and paying less for what they used) and in the bargain less dependence by the United States' economy on the political stability of feudal monarchies like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait or feeding the regimes of people like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Hugo Chavez. Conservatives have long opposed these standards (and blocked their implementation in Congress) because of a desire by oil companies to keep prices higher and sell more product.
But it begs the question: If the car you buy in ten years is designed according to the higher standard and, for example, gets 30 mpg instead of 25 mpg, how exactly will that impose on your lifestyle choices? For that matter, if a practical electric or hydrogen vehicle is developed and put into large scale production how would having one, and say having to charge it periodically instead of pump gas, affect your lifestyle? It's hard to see how it would.
Electricity is another example. 'Green' electricity is not the same as no electricity. It means 1) electricity from renewable sources such as wind, solar, and hydroelectric (all of which are in fact in practical use today in a number of places in America, despite claims by conservatives in past generations that they would never be practical) or 2) if fossil fuel is burned, then state of the art emissions technology. A smashing example of success had to do with the 'acid rain' battle of a generation ago. The discovery that nitric and sulfuric acid in power plant emissions was killing forests in North America and Europe led to the installation of technology that cut emissions of both of these pollutants way down. The result is healthier forests and cleaner air. Even statues and buildings are not being eroded by acid rain as they once were.
Again, how is breathing cleaner air an imposition on your lifestyle?
What about mass transit? In a rural area like where I live it may not be that practical (though there is a local taxi company and some communities on the reservation have at times had bus service). But in larger communities, an investment in mass transit makes a lot of sense. Not only does, for example, one bus use less gas and cause less congestion on the road than a dozen or more individual cars, but often the people who use the bus would otherwise be driving older cars-- which tend to be the most polluting, inefficient cars on the road. And a 'miniature' form of mass transit is the formation of car pools. Some municipalities actively encourage this, for example by designating special highway lanes or waiving tolls for carpools. If there are more buses, light rail, car pools or other forms of mass transit then it still won't affect you if you want to drive someplace all by yourself, but simply give you and everyone else a choice. So again, how is it an imposition on your lifestyle?
So Al Gore's use of electricity (like mine or yours) is no sin. If you waste electricty then, well, you will pay for it. But it is a sin not to press for policy initiatives that can, without causing anyone any real inconvenience, improve the health of the planet and of all of us.