Al Gore at TED: How to live a carbon neutral life

Al Gore speaking at TED
For those of you that were still searching for a pen at the end of An Inconvenient Truth, the nice folks at TED have posted Al Gore’s post-slideshow talk. There are some good tips in here, including the mantra we like which is “reduce what you can, offset the rest” as well as a perspective for business leaders.

Alternatively, you can see Al and Bender from Futurama hamming it up in a hilarious spot that has been downloaded over 600,000 times:

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  1. Ryan - June 28, 2006

    I was wondering the other day, if you drive a bio-diesel truck is that carbon neutral? I mean the plants tooks the carbon out of the air to begin with, so except for whatever was wasted in manufacture and transport that would seem to be pretty close to a null set.
    But on the other hand that seems way too simple a solution for me to be the first one to come up with it, so am I missing somthing here?

  2. Matt - June 28, 2006

    Should we come up with an amount of carbon we want in the atmosphere first before restricting carbon output? Were not fossil fuels carbon above ground at one point and burning them now just replaces the carbon in the atmosphere?

  3. Tom - June 28, 2006


    Biodiesel (b100) is widely considered to be one of the most efficient biofuels, but it doesn’t quite reach carbon-neutrality. Some estimates put it at 80% reduction over regular diesel, but several factors can affect this: the crop used, nitrogen used in agricultural process, fuel additives, energy used in processing, and transportation of the fuel. There are no universally accepted protocols for biodiesel calculations, but everyone is working toward them.

    Still, if you own a diesel car, its one of the simplest things you can do to fight global warming.

  4. Tom - June 28, 2006


    Good question and one that policy wonks are debating. Most climate scientists consider anything over 2 degrees C average warming highly dangerous, and back out that we should keep emissions below 450 ppm by 2050 to avoid that (we are in the 380s now, up from 280s pre-industrialation — note I am on a train now, so forgive me if these numbers aren’t exactly right).

    The time to reduce is now — business as usual scenarios show us in 700’s and much higher unless we change things.

  5. Anonymous - June 28, 2006

    I have been running a biodiesel car for about a year and a half. to check out some educational movies that my wife and I made go to sometimes its a hassle getting the biod but it has been a really wonderful learning experience about changing my own habits first before I demand anything from anyone else. Really no one solution is going to save us so we have to be diverse in new ways to power the future

  6. Chris - June 28, 2006

    I mean the plants tooks the carbon out of the air to begin with, so except for whatever was wasted in manufacture and transport that would seem to be pretty close to a null set.

    Unless I’m mistaken, I believe the carbon taken up during the plant’s growth is released when the plant dies, so I don’t think that counts as an offset.

  7. Tom - June 28, 2006


    The carbon released during burning comes from carbon that was absorbed from the recent atmosphere (versus digging up dead dinosaurs)

    That’s the theory of biomass energy.

    And that’s a little different from an offset. An offset is a project that reduces emissions from a business as usual case. So if you undertake a project to switch to biofuels, there may be a case for generating and selling an offset from that project.

    In fact, biofuel is one way the city of Berkeley has dramatically reduced its carbon footprint.

  8. pradwastes - June 30, 2006

    P.V. energy system (Solar) are substantially subsidised by the state and electric utilitiy so the return on investment allows a payback of less than ten years. It will reduce or elimitate all but the five dollar monthly bill. The price of natural gas, fuel oil and coal are going up in price constently and you can be protected against this because you will generating your own electricity. The brighter the sun the better it works and that is when air condioning is used. Have a south facing roof that is not shaded by tall trees at your home or business? Have a small fuel efficient car and other things such as replacing half of your incondecent bulbs?

    Congratulations, you are carbon neutral.

  9. DCA - July 4, 2006

    Thought you all might be interested in this one below. I have heard that the only biofuel that is, in general, going to be helpful is some types of algae grown hydroponically which is not what is being used by most. (Besides sources from reused cooking oil I think.) I have read several places that a lot of what is going on now in relation to biofuels is really not the best as using more fuel to make the stuff than getting back from it. Need a lot more talk about conservation, more trains, more folks staying home and doing nothing ;-), more sleeping in late, less lawn mowing, less flying, more carpooling, more walking, more weatherstripping of homes, more concern about the exploding population and on and on.

    GM WATCH daily

    Following on from Bush’s “addicted to oil” speech,
    plant-derived ethanol and biodiesel are being heavily promoted by the biotech industry as a much-needed – and environmentally friendly – outlet for the glut of genetically modified crops that consumers are rejecting, but…

    The Biowatch Bulletin – May/June 2006 [excerpt]
    A new study from the University of Cornell and the University of Berkeley, California has found that turning plants, such as maize and sunflowers, into fuel, uses much more energy than the resulting ethanol or biodiesel generates. The study analysed energy input-yield ratios of producing ethanol from maize, switch grass and wood biomass as well as for producing biodiesel from soybean and sunflower plants. The report of the study, published in Natural Resources Research (Vol.14, 65-76) found that:
    * maize needs 29% more fossil energy than the fuel it produced
    * switch grass needed 45% more fossil fuel than fuel produced
    * wood biomass needed 57% more fossil fuel than fuel it produced
    * soybean plants needed 27% more fossil fuel than the fuel produced
    * sunflower plants needed 118% more fossil fuel than the fuel produced
    Swiss multinational Syngenta recently applied to the South African Department of Agriculture for permission to import genetically modified maize (event 3272) for conversion into ethanol. The maize will not be planted in South Africa. It will be imported in a ground form but Syngenta acknowledges that event 3272 could contaminate the food and feed chain. The company is also applying for permission to import event 3272 in the United States of America, the European Union and China. Grain SA has objected to the application.

    Worse Than Fossil Fuel
    December 6th, 2005
    Biodiesel enthusiasts have accidentally invented the most carbon-intensive fuel on earth
    By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 6th December 2005

  10. Bernadette - July 5, 2006

    Another great way to hear what Al Gore has to say is to listen to the Center for Social Innovation’s podcast of his talk at the Stanford Graduate School of Business:


  11. Regular Guy - August 12, 2006

    Can Al Gore really think this is a crisis? He owns three homes (one at 10,000 square feet) when he only needs one, fly’s around the country in a private jet when commercial would get him anywhere he wants to go, and pollutes a local stream with his Tennessee zinc mine. When Al starts making some real sacrifices himself I’ll start listening, until then he’s just a washed up politician trying to make a buck.

  12. Adam Stein - August 12, 2006

    Regular Guy, you wouldn’t by any chance be parroting the talking points from this fatuous editorial that recently appeared in USA Today, would you? It was penned by Peter Schweizer, author of Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy, clearly a reliable source of reasoned, non-ideological information about global warming.
    I’m not going to stick up for Gore’s lifestyle, because I don’t care about Gore’s lifestyle. It’s irrelevant. The strategy of the global warning denial camp seems to be: if you can’t argue the message, attack the messenger. The only appropriate response is to ignore.

  13. afo - August 16, 2006

    It is a fair point ask why, if we are in a global warming crisis, the most visible proponent of reducing carbon output, Al Gore, is a hyper-producer of carbon. I will grant him some credit for travel, etc., from the standpoint that he necessarily has to travel, and thereby produce carbon emissions, in order to get the word out. But seriously, does he need to own and heat and cool and maintain three large residences? He does not need to live in a wigwam in order for me to respect his lifestyle, but seriously, owning three monster houses is excessive from a carbon footprint standpoint by any measure. Whatever you want to say about it not mattering, it really does, because if he wants people to look to him, and listen to him, to agree with him, and then to act accordingly, then he should set a good example. You would not have to worry about the messenger being attacked, if your messenger followed his own message.

  14. LochDhu - August 16, 2006

    Do we know how Gore’s houses are powered? Photo-Voltaic (PV) solar, passive solar, wind, geothermal? I don’t know for sure, but I suspect his profit from Google and other venture capital investments have allowed him to build these as E-Mansions and not McMansions. I know he has invested in a few PV manufacturing firms and if he’s an owner why not be a client?

  15. Paul - August 16, 2006

    Regular Guy: Ummm. I agree that Al Gore may seem like a fatuous producer of carbon. But I don’t see that anyone has presented any evidence that people aren’t living in those houses year round, that he is not using 100% wind or other zero-carbon power sources, or even that he is not offsetting his carbon emissions by buying carbon credits (like the website for the movie suggests and provides links to). So travel and material ownership doesn’t really say anything about someone’s carbon footprint. Another case of spurious logic.
    What does it mean if George W. Bush goes for a ride in a electric car (as seen, for example, at the G8 summit)? Is he abandoning the petroleum industry? Can the President really think we are addicted to oil? When George starts making some real sacrifices by burning crude oil and coal in giant open pits on the White House lawn, I’ll start listening. Until then he’s just a washed up politician trying to make a buck.

  16. cmh - August 16, 2006

    the one part of gore’s movie that i found quite distracting was all the travel– there’s a ton of footage of him in planes and him driving around cities and his hometown in big SUV-style cars…
    i mean, you’re rich. buy a prius, at the very least. geez!
    still, i found the movie very moving and well put together (besides the point above) and it is what inspired me to finally buy my terra pass…

  17. cmh - August 16, 2006

    hi DCA,
    regarding biodiesel’s use of fuels to produce it — how much fuel does it take to pump fossil fuel out of the ground in iraq, ship it to the US, refine it, then shuttle it across the country to various gas stations?
    i can’t imagine that fossil fuel has a better rate than local soy-based fuels.

  18. Walt - August 16, 2006

    Nice to see Regular guy is thinking outside the religous box that enviromentalism has become. Al Gore has stated that we have possibly 10 years to turn this global warming crisis around. If he really believes that, then why would’nt he make HUGE lifestyle changes? I’m sorry Adam but it is revelant. Would you follow a preacher who stood on the street corner with a sign that said “Repent, the end of the world is coming” and then at night he frequents bars and picks up loose women? I don’t think so. Al Gore is a terrible example of an enviromentalist. I guess if you have enough money though, you can buy just about anything.
    here’s what I’ve done and I’m not even an enviromentalist;
    fall 05; installed high efficency gas heater in 1,400 sq ft house
    fall 05; installed additional 10″ attic insulation and installed 19 soffits for increased roof ventalation
    summer 05; rode bike 1,200 miles back and forth to work
    spring 06; installed high efficency central air conditioner with a seer rating of 13.5
    Summer 06; rework windows, replace storms, reveiw e glass sash kits for older windows, projected to begin installing in fall 06
    still riding 1-2 days a week to work on my bike
    car pooling with my son and a co-worker on the other days
    Fly model gliders for enjoyment, even some modeled after birds of prey. Motor I don’t need no stinkin motor.
    take care
    Walt; carbon footprint of 10,700, national average 15,000

  19. Adam Stein - August 17, 2006

    Thanks to all who have participated in this thread for demonstrating my point. Many hundreds of words spilled on Al Gore’s lifestyle, with no mention of the implications for climate change science or climate change policy. This seems to be a debate over whether Al Gore is an effective spokesman for the fight against climate change, which is, to say the least, an uninteresting question.
    It’s celebrity gossip. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s like arguing over whether Sally Struthers is an effective spokesman for famine in Africa. Who cares?
    Walt, you make the point particularly well with your preacher analogy. That’s just it — climate change isn’t a religion, and Al Gore isn’t a preacher. No one is “following Al Gore.” He happens to be a guy with some notoriety who is using his soapbox to advance a scientific argument. The strength of that scientific argument (and scientists have chimed in with their support) doesn’t particularly depend on whether he incorrectly sets the thermostat in his third house. Al Gore could vanish tomorrow, and the scientific case would still be the scientific case.
    Which is why it is appropriate to be suspicious of the motives of those who fixate on Al Gore’s lifestyle. They seem curiously unconcerned with the bigger picture. Almost invariably, the people seeking to brand climate change as “Al Gore’s movement” are those who are arguing that we should do nothing.

  20. Walt - August 21, 2006

    Adam, thanks for the reply but Al Gore is just one example. He is the most prominent spokesperson on the global warming topic so people will undoubtedly look at his lifestyle to decide how serious this issue really is. Now Al Gore isn’t the only one, just look at John and Theresa Heinz Kerry, a well known enviromentalist couple;
    I could probably pick out many more to share with you, but you get the idea. Truth is my motivation, sometimes it might hurt, but if no one ever calls these people on it, doesn’t that hurt the cause more then anything?
    Adam, if I ever met you on a bike ride, I’m sure we’d get along just fine.
    take care,

  21. Dana Shields - August 31, 2006

    Tom, it’s obvious that you don’t know beans at all about soy.
    Soy is alternated with corn (which is a grass crop) in crop rotation, specifically because it re-nourishes the soil with so much Nitrogen.
    If you’re using biodiesel to run tractors, the equation is almost exactly neutral.
    Please get your facts straight.

  22. Dana Shields - August 31, 2006

    Hey, sorry Tom. A little edgy these days because BD gets so overlooked (probably because it’s such an obvious fix) and I read so much misinformation (like the street definition that biodiesel is what you have when you mix soy bean oil with regular diesel in an exact 80/20 ratio). It makes me want to scream or something.
    I just want everyone to get turned on to biodiesel because it’s the most flexible solution we have. You can make it from everything ranging from plankton to possum.
    I’ve been making my own biodiesel and haven’t been to a fuel pump since April. You can run it in big pickups, so here in the south, it’s an attractive possibility. I run it in a Mercedes 300D. It makes it run MUCh better.
    Anyway, I think microbiology is going to solve our fuel crisis the exact same way that nanotechnology with silicon did for the computer.
    Anyway, sorry for the tone.

  23. tom - August 31, 2006


    No problem — we didn’t mean to unfairly criticize biodiesel as we are big fans. But its not 100% carbon neutral (although it could be with organics, and soy powered tractors).

    You are right in saying soy is less nitrogen intensive, and that was sloppy of me, but it does consume nitrogen and other petroleum resources in current farming practices:

    see page 99 of this report

  24. Fred - February 3, 2007

    I just got done watching the slide show lecture that Al Gore made with hollywood into a “movie” and I was interested in how often Mr. Gore practices what he preaches because he said this is a Moral Issue. He therefore has become a preacher if he claims this is about morals. So his tobacco farming money and his big SUV and his limo rides in the movie are really significant issues because when it comes to moral issue you must practice what you preach.
    I practice what I believe. I drive a pure electric vehicle ( and my home is heated with passive solar and cooled with ground source heat pumps-geothermal. We use compact fluorescent bulbs in almost every outlet.
    It would have been nice if all of the information in his slide show would have been honest also but the movie was as much about him as about the over simplied good vs evil of Gore vs Bush. Lorne Gunter of the National Post “Preaching the Climate Catechism” I believe has some interesting points to review about this debate.
    Think globally and act locally is not that far from practice what you preach. From what I can see Adam seems to believe that “Do as I say not as I do” is ok for Mr. Gore but I do not agree. The message is damaged if the those that provide the message are living in a way that suggests they want everyone else to make sacrifices but not them.
    I differ with Mr. Gore and many on this page in believing that industrial america is all to blame. We had developed electrical grid like France that used more nuclear power and developed the aerodynamics of wind power we would not be producing all of this massive carbon load. The organizations like greenpeace and the Sierra Club therefore were very short sighted and bear some responsibility with the world we now live in.