Seventy-one-year old Albert Arnold (Al) Gore Jr., is an American environmentalist politician from Tennessee.
The Early Years
He’s not a “bandwagon”, spur-of-the-moment environmentalist: his interest in environmentalism began when he was a teenager.
By the time he joined the U.S. House of Representatives in 1976, his interest in environmental issues had fully blossomed. In his first year in Congress, to increase public awareness of climate change, he reportedly held congressional hearings on climate change, and co-sponsored hearings on global warming.
In January 1993 he became the 45th U.S. vice president and served eight years with Bill Clinton at the helm. By October 1993, he had already influenced the Clinton Administration to unveil its signature environmental policy: The Climate Change Action Plan (CCAP), which consisted of over 50 new or expanded initiatives that the administration estimated would bring U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions back to 1990 levels by 2000.1
As the Clinton Administration’s “point person” on environmental issues, he strongly pushed for Congress to pass the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Kyoto Protocol), which he signed on behalf of the U.S.
In an emotional speech in Kyoto, Japan, days before countries adopted the protocol, he said, “We have reached a fundamentally new stage in the development of human civilization, in which it is necessary to take responsibility for a recent but profound alteration in the relationship between our species and our planet. Because of our new technological power and our growing numbers, we now must pay careful attention to the consequences of what we are doing to the Earth – especially to the atmosphere.”2
The Kyoto Protocol set binding greenhouse gas (GHG) emission targets for the major industrialized countries.
However, the Republican-controlled Congress rejected Kyoto because it did not also compel developing nations to cut emissions, and the U.S. acrimoniously withdrew from the treaty in March 2001.
Almost President Gore
In 2000 Vice President Gore faced-off former Texas oilman George W. Bush in a closely fought presidential election race.
In the speech to declare his candidacy for the presidency, Gore said as president he would never cut back on environmental protection and let polluters off the hook. The differences in their environmental stances became clearer on the campaign trail.
Bush primarily wanted to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, not reduce America’s dependence on oil. Therefore, he strongly campaigned for oil exploration in Alaska’s oil-rich Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and the use of royalties from that exploration to fund energy conservation programs and empowering programs for the poor.
Conversely, Gore campaigned to reduce America’s dependence on oil, not only foreign oil.
He vehemently opposed oil exploration in ANWR and promised that environmental protections will be at the core of his presidency. To that end, he pledged a whopping 171 billion dollars in tax credits and subsidies over ten years to develop renewable energy technologies, to reduce America’s dependence on oil, and to reduce environmental pollution.
However, he never got the chance to fulfill his promise as he lost the controversial 2000 election to Bush.
Imagine President Gore
What if Al Gore had become president?
Vice President Al Gore couldn’t get the Kyoto treaty through Congress. Given that he was so involved in the emergence of the treaty, President Gore would have tried another push for its passage in Congress.
And he would have failed again.
Exasperated, he would have begun to use executive orders to implement his environmental agenda in a piecemeal manner to incrementally move the U.S. towards its emissions reduction targets.
First, he would have issued an executive order to ban oil drilling in ANWR and other sensitive offshore areas.
Then he would have announced multi-billion-dollar tax credits and research and development spending to develop clean technologies and encourage the use of renewable energy in all sectors of the U.S. economy.
Since Kyoto had various emissions cap-and-trade proposals, President Gore would have established a carbon emissions trading system that allowed companies and municipalities to gain and trade emission credits domestically and internationally.
Since American automobiles were the biggest consumers of oil, President Gore would have issued an executive order to hike fuel efficiency standards, especially for SUVs and lights trucks, which were the biggest guzzlers of petrol.
Vice President Gore would have remembered how the Republican-controlled Congress rebuffed the Clinton administration’s annual efforts to renew Superfund1 taxes that expired in 1995.
Since he had promised during the presidential campaign to not let polluters off the hook, President Gore would have issued an executive order to bypass Congressional objections and somehow empower the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to go after environmental polluters.
Perhaps Hollywood would still have made in 2006 the Oscar-winning environmental movie, An Inconvenient Truth, about President Gore’s dogged crusade to bring global awareness to global warming and its effects on climate change. Perhaps.
But the United Nations would probably still have awarded President Gore the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, which he shared with the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
And the Nobel Committee would still have described President Gore in the October 2007 press release for the award as, “probably the single individual who has done the most to create worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted,” to tackle climate change.