Reading about Al Gore’s house clicked something into perspective for me.
The basic facts are simple; Gore uses a lot of energy in his 10,000 sf residence. He’s invested in energy-efficiency, but his lifestyle is still energy-lavish.
He’s not alone; many of the leading advocates of environmental propriety have both a Prius and an Escalade, to make an automotive metaphor. The Prius makes them feel good about themselves, while the Escalade is both roomy, comfortable, powerful, and enough of a status object that it meets the intangible needs that cars also seem to have to meet.
Gore’s response is that a) he’s done everything he reasonably can to mitigate his energy use, by
1) Gore’s family has taken numerous steps to reduce the carbon footprint of their private residence, including signing up for 100 percent green power through Green Power Switch, installing solar panels, and using compact fluorescent bulbs and other energy saving technology.
2) Gore has had a consistent position of purchasing carbon offsets to offset the family’s carbon footprint … a concept the right-wing fails to understand. Gore’s office explains:
What Mr. Gore has asked is that every family calculate their carbon footprint and try to reduce it as much as possible. Once they have done so, he then advocates that they purchase offsets, as the Gore’s do, to bring their footprint down to zero.
With due respect, as someone who’s read Amory Lovins for quite some time (‘Soft Energy Paths’ is a favorite book), if you can afford a private jet and a 10,000 foot house, you can afford to do a lot more than just “installing solar panels, and using compact fluorescent bulbs and other energy saving technology” (and yes, I know about Bush’s house in Crawford – that’s not the point here).
First, I’ll ignore the notion that the very wealthy can afford – among other things – the moral righteousness of buying indulgences for their profligate ways – without actually, you know, doing anything that actually pinches to make them less profligate. Things like this lead to guys nailing things to doors, and we all know where that ends up.
Second, I’ll suggest that what it suggests is that to many, environmental righteousness can best be compared to something from the past…
Created in 1783, the Petit Hameau was a mock farm area, complete with farmhouse, dairy, and poultry yard … all areas traditionally associated with women.
When visiting this ersatz farm, Marie Antoinette and her attendants would dress as shepherdesses, and play at milking the cows and tending other docile animals. The farmhouse interior was more opulent, featuring all of the luxuries expected by the Queen and her ladies.
The Petit Hameau was part of the landscape of the “natural” English garden, but it was also a reflection of France’s cultural values on the eve of the Revolution. This artificial nature retreat mirrored the moral values associated with natural simplicity and virtue.
Novelists, playwrights, and moralists encouraged the aristocracy to act their part by giving a helping hand to the deserving poor in well-staged events that would reflect well on them. The poor had a tendency to take the aristocrats to court if they failed in their traditional duties, and they often won their cases.
Sadly, we can’t do that to our current aristocracy…
Look, we own a hybrid (even if the license plate announces that it’s an ‘eco fraud’). We bought it, nakedly, for the convenience of access to HOV lanes (which in crowded Los Angeles is a convenience indeed), as well as because we no longer needed the larger Honda minivan that we’d driven for seven years. If not for the HOV stickers, we probably would have bought a conventional Civic, rather than a hybrid one….but we probably would have bought something like a Civic regardless.
We could afford a lot of cars. But the reality is that I’ve BTDT with automotive ‘prestige’ (impressing the parking valets, as I once said…), and that I genuinely believe that we do all need to reduce our energy footprint in ways that doesn’t imply that we’ll live in fairy-tale rural communities.
Collapsing that make-believe is an important part of dealing with these issues; I’ll give Gore credit for hammering home the point that these issues are serious. Now if we could only get him out of the milking shed long enough to start talking about what we need to do about them.