NEAL CONAN, host:
This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. With gas prices high, and everybody says going higher, amid global competition for energy, and in the midst of deepening economic gloom, is this the moment to challenge the country to take bold, and maybe expensive, steps to fight global warming? And after all the lectures and slide shows, panel discussions and speeches, can activists cut through green fatigue and sell the message?
In a moment, we'll talk about that first subject with Al Gore. The former vice president and Nobel Peace Prize winner makes a major address today on energy and global warming. A bit later, we'll focus on selling the green message with people who make advertisements and movies. What does it take to break through the green fog? Or if you're just plain sick of it, what does it take to overcome green fatigue?
Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our blog. That's at npr.org/blogofthenation. Later in the hour, photographer Warren Zinn reflects on the iconic photograph he took of an American soldier in Iraq, and that soldier's subsequent suicide. But first, former Vice President Al Gore joins us from DAR Constitution Hall, where today he delivered a speech on global warming, and Mr. Vice President, nice to have you on the program.
Former Vice President AL GORE (Bill Clinton Administration): Well, thank you for having me.
CONAN: And you've called today that America produce all its electricity by process of renewable sources, like solar and wind, within 10 years. And it's nice to know that you still have a lot of ambitions.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Vice Pres. GORE: Well, the cost of solar power and wind power and geothermal power has come down dramatically as the price of oil and coal have gone up dramatically. They're now competitive, and the cost reductions are continuing and accelerating, because the fuel is free, the sunshine and the wind and the natural geothermal energy from the Earth. And the scientists and engineers are finding more ingenious ways to make the equipment that translates that energy into electricity much more effective and efficient.
CONAN: So, this would call for all electrical generation to be by those renewable sources. Plus, I would suspect, nuclear power as well, phasing out coal and natural gas, and oil-fired plants, but of course, we'd still be using a lot of petroleum for American cars.
Vice Pres. GORE: Yes, but once we have a unified, national grid, with a renewable electricity-production system, it become possible to shift over to electric vehicles. Automakers in Detroit, and Japan and Germany and elsewhere have massive plans now to shift to the production of electric vehicles. There are many new vehicles in the works. And no wonder, because with gasoline at four and five dollars a gallon, it's possible to run an electric car on the equivalent of one dollar a gallon of gasoline. And as we shift our electricity grid over to more renewable resources, the electric car is going to be a much bigger part of our fleet.
Vice Pres. GORE: Now, that'll take some time. That'll take a little more time, and the quickest and best way to start using renewable energy is in the electricity-generation sector.
CONAN: And as you know, Americans are stinging from the price that fuel costs them now, and it's certainly likely to get worse come winter time, when they have to pay to heat houses as well. Is this the time? And a lot of people saying, this is going to cost money. This is going to be more expensive than what we've got now.
Vice Pres. GORE: Well, no. Nothing could be more expensive than continuing to import 70 percent of our oil from foreign countries. When China and other growing economies are bidding up the price on a daily basis, it's going to continue to go up in price, and the growth in demand is completely overwhelming the declining rate of new discoveries. The only way to get relief from rising gasoline prices is a breakout strategy, to break free of the trap that we're in, because of our over dependence on fossil fuels, principally, oil and coal. Luckily, we do now have alternatives that are cost effective, and in a few short years. a national commitment to renewable energy can bring the cost of car travel down by shifting over to renewable energy.
CONAN: Yet, as we go ahead on this, sacrifices - is the country in the mood for sacrifices now, as we face difficult economic times? And a lot of people don't agree with you there's going to be a painless transition.
Vice Pres. GORE: Well, the oil companies don't agree. And the fact is, people are making sacrifices now to pay these high gasoline prices, and 70 percent of the money is going overseas. If we make a national commitment to install solar panels and windmills and geothermal plants, that money stays here and strengthens our economy. When we burn more oil, the price goes up. When we build more solar panels and windmills, the price of renewable energy goes down. So, it's the investment that makes sense, and it will pay itself back many times over.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get some callers in on the conversation. Our guest, of course, former Vice President Al Gore, who made a major speech today here in Washington, D.C., on global warming and energy. 800-989-8255, email is email@example.com, and Jody's on the line, Jody with us from Birmingham, Alabama.
JODY (Caller): Yes, sir. Thank you very much for letting me go on your show. I enjoy it so much.
CONAN: Thank you.
JODY: My comment is, Mr. Vice President, is what had happened to American ingenuity? We used to look at challenges by saying, we're going to roll up our sleeves. We can tackle it. We're going to win. Now we're presented with a problem, and as a nation, we collectively say, it's too tough. We can't deal with it. I'll listen off the air. Thank you very much.
CONAN: Thanks for the call, Jody.
Vice Pres. GORE: Well, I agree with you, and yet there are so many of us who share that sentiment that we're now beginning to see a change. We do need leadership, and we need a commitment at the national level, to build a unified, national electricity grid, and to put in place the policies that will speed up this transition to renewable energy. The spirit of innovation is alive, and the good news is that, particularly since oil and coal prices have gone up, the amount of private investment flowing into the creation of new, renewable resources has really grown dramatically.
CONAN: Let's get Jerry on the line, and Jerry's calling us from Detroit, Michigan.
JERRY (Caller): Hi. I just got back from Germany yesterday, and I rented a car, drove from Berlin to the Baltic Sea, and was amazed to see how many windmill farms there were along the Autobahn. And it made me realize just how far behind we are. And my question, to you, Mr. Gore, is what is the big hurdle with politicians of why we can't get this passed through? I mean, I know you were a - you've been a proponent of this for a long time, but nothing happened while you were under Bill Clinton's administration. So, my question is, why couldn't you get anything passed through? And what's it going to take today to get our leaders to get this kind of policy through?
CONAN: And just to clarify, I'm sure Jerry's talking not about those picture-postcard windmills, but the ones that are used to generate from the wind electricity. Vice President Gore, go ahead, please.
Vice Pres. GORE: Absolutely. And I've made a trip similar to that one, and I, too, was astounded at how many of these modern windmills are in use in Europe, and especially in Germany. And by the way, they have far more solar panels than the entire United States, even though they're a much smaller country. And the reason is they have national laws to encourage the use of renewable energy. I tried hard to get such laws passed here in the United States. It was not for lack of trying that the Congress did not take my recommendations, and that experience is the explanation for why I'm devoting my life now to trying to change the public opinion in America to encourage the politicians in both parties to support such policies. This initiative in our current political system really does require a demand from the people. When that comes, the politicians will respond.
CONAN: Thanks for the call Jerry. Let's see if we can go now to Jane, and Jane is calling us from - are you in New York?
JANE (Caller): Hello?
CONAN: Go ahead, Jane.
JANE: Yes, hello?
CONAN: Go ahead. You're on the air.
JANE: Wonderful. What an honor to talk to Mr. Gore. I get your newsletter. I get your emails. I love it. I am calling because - and I'll take my answer off the air - our current president has proposed that we drill for (unintelligible) protective lands, just to make the price of oil go down. I would like to know what you would do if he put you in charge of that program, which, I think, is a super idea if we put you in charge of that. So, I'd like to know what you would do. And I'll take my answer off the air. Thanks.
CONAN: Jane, thanks for the call.
Vice Pres. GORE: Yes, Jane, thank you for your kind words before your question, and I personally believe that there's a logical disconnect between the idea of opening up these protected areas to oil drilling and the desire to bring short-term gasoline prices down. The two don't connect up because, first of all, the demand for oil is growing so rapidly that the price is almost certainly going to continue to go up until we shift away from a dependence on oil and coal and towards renewable energy.
None of that oil would be produced for at least 10 years, and so it would not have any effect on the price of gasoline. And even then, it could simply be shipped farther west and sold to China, because they're bidding up the price of oil and buying a lot of oil away from us. Giving more money to the oil companies is not a way to bring down gasoline prices. Shifting to renewable energy and electric vehicles is the way to get the equivalent of one-dollar-a-gallon gasoline.
CONAN: We just have one minute left with you. I know you've got a bunch of interviews scheduled for today, but I do need to ask you that, gee, wouldn't the vice president's office be a swell place to push this agenda? If Senator Obama called, would you take his call and maybe take a suggestion?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Vice Pres. GORE: Well, thank you for the question, but I've imposed a personal term limit of only two terms as vice president.
CONAN: And you've all ready served those two?
Vice Pres. GORE: Correct.
CONAN: Al Gore...
Vice Pres. GORE: And more seriously, I believe my role is to build a public opinion and support of solution to the climate crisis, and that's what I'm going to do.
CONAN: Well, thanks very much for bring with us today. We appreciate your time.
Vice Pres. GORE: Thank you.
CONAN: Former Vice President Al Gore, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. I think he got an Oscar, too. He joins us today from DAR Constitution Hall here in Washington, D.C. Coming up, we move from the green message itself to selling that message. We'll talk with some of the creative brains of the Martin Ad Agency next. And we'll still take your calls. How do you cut through green fatigue and the confusion about all these goals, green fog, if you will, and get people to come onboard, the un-persuaded who may not have been listening to Vice President Gore at DAR Constitution Hall earlier today? We'd appreciate your phone calls, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.