Gore launches $300 million climate change advocacy campaign

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Al Gore today unveiled the “we” campaign, a $300 million effort to raise public awareness of climate change — both the problem and its potential solutions. The aim of the campaign is to create bottoms-up pressure on legislators to tackle the issue.

Lots of details in the Washington Post and in Grist, so I’ll just offer some quick impressions:

  • Setting aside the issue of climate change, this is a pretty fascinating experiment in public advocacy. $300 million is a lotta scratch, and the people spending it give every appearance of being quite smart. It will be interesting to watch how this unfolds. Can big money and the grassroots live side-by-side? It it possible to jumpstart a movement? We’ll know pretty soon.
  • Some people are inevitably going to ask if the money could better be spent elsewhere. To my eye, this looks like a worthwhile gamble. Right now climate change is both confusing and low-salience to voters. It’s hard to see how to get to a long-term fix without broad-based popular support.
  • The campaign seems to be hitting the right notes. It’s mixing urgency with optimism; it’s casting climate change in the context of other heroic national endeavors (World War II, moon landings, civil rights movement, etc.). And it’s explicitly post-partisan, featuring commercials that pair unlikely combos like Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich, or Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson.

Here’s the first ad, narrated by William H. Macy:

And here are the things I think will be particularly interesting to watch as the campaign unfolds:

  • What’s the election strategy? It’s a three-year campaign, but this November is obviously a big point of leverage. Everyone is focused on the presidential race, but perhaps even more interesting are the state-level races.
  • What’s the online strategy? Rolling Stone recently ran a fascinating article on Obama’s internet magic, which masterfully bridges the worlds of online and offline advocacy. Can the we campaign pull off a similar trick?
  • What happens if we get a carbon cap in 2009? The we campaign is set to run through 2011. The ground is going to shift a lot over the next few years, and it will be interesting to see how the campaign balances its big-picture themes with the day-to-day reality of politics and international diplomacy.

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  1. Wendell - April 2, 2008

    What a waste of money.
    There are perhaps dozens of promising green inventions that could be brought to market with an investment of $3 million or less each.
    Two examples:
    http://www.ergenics.com
    http://www.w2energycorp.com

  2. Diane - April 2, 2008

    Most people understand the problem – but few have committed to solutions. I still drive to work because public transportation takes 6x as long and costs 5x as much. Developing the political will to change the economic equations would be well-worth $300M. I hope it works!

  3. Tom Hanson - April 2, 2008

    Why is it necessary to invest in $300M ?
    Simple, people are by nature resistant to change. Change is happening
    all around them – $3.50 gasoline, food prices rocketing because of the petroleum content in food and do people change? Maybe a little.
    The more substantial change will be policy. Policy that drives investment in other directions like actually installing renewable sources (and not just “talking about it”) and like actually investing in conservation (“instead of the plasma TV”). Policy such as carbon caps and research funds.
    This change in policy won’t happen without people (you and me) advocating it. We won’t advocate it if we “think its taken care of.”
    So back to your question- this isn’t about educating “pin heads” as you call them its about calling the vast majority of Americans who do want to do something to do something that influences policy.
    [Ed. — this comment refers to another comment that has since been deleted. Thanks for a thoughtful and level response!]

  4. Holly - April 2, 2008

    [Ed. — this post is about the we campaign, and we’re going to be pretty vigilant about keeping the thread from from falling into another tedious back-and-forth shouting match about Al Gore’s swimming pool. For the conspiracy theorists among you, note that Gore is putting 2.7 million of his own money into this, and the rest is coming from private backers. This isn’t really the most interesting thing about the campaign, but perhaps it will assuage the more suspicious.]

  5. richard schumacher - April 2, 2008

    $300 million is a lot of money, but anyone in Congress can see the end of it. Influence comes through lobbying by big businesses that will always be there, year after year. Insurance companies have now recognized that the effects of global warming will hurt them very badly. They should be recruited as natural and influential allies in this fight.

  6. michael - April 2, 2008

    Marketing always costs money. I agree in part that inventions that help the cause should receive help, but the force and endurance behind that help will only come with awarness – marketing. This is a 300M marketing budget planned to raise awarness. If business and the planet profit it is a win-win. Apologies for incorporating an over-used cliche.

  7. Hank Pierce - April 2, 2008

    Light Bulbs
    I have had some results with the power saving fluorescent light bulbs. I put them into our hall lights and some reading lamps. One of the hall fixtures started acting up and I took it down for inspection. I noticed that the base of the bulb was very hot and when I took the fixture downthe wires to the light socket were burnt. I feel that it was hazardest and changed the fixture. The other thing is as I read a lot, I was getting headaches. I stopped reading near the lamps and read at the dining room table where there is incandescent lamps because of the dimmer switch and my headaches went away. I will put my eyesight ahead of conservation anyday.

  8. T. J. Carvis - April 2, 2008

    Hank Pierce-
    Maybe you should quit reading. It doesn’t appear to be making you any more informed.

  9. TX Ciclista - April 2, 2008

    Gonna have to agree with T.J. Carvis on that one. Don’t worry Hank, there are others of us who will carry your load as well as our own.

  10. Sam-Hec - April 2, 2008

    To Diane,
    I live along a bus commute route. 30 miles long. Despite having a fuel efficient car it is actually cheaper to take the bus than to drive, and only takes twice as long.
    Apart from state subsidies for busing, what keeps my costs so low are reduced insurance, wear & tear on the car, discounted bus tickets. The extra time spent on the bus is quality time for conversations, reading books & GameBoy, instead of screaming at the slow-pokes in front of me.

  11. Jim - April 2, 2008

    I like this idea…and $300 million is not much in the big picture.
    Congress approved the $200,000,000,000 stimilus package last month at the drop of a hat. It would cost roughly 1.5% of this amount to change every home lightbulb in the U.S. Imagine the impact this would have on our coal consumption!
    Here is my math:
    100,000,000 homes in the U.S. (I couldn’t find an accurate number but figure 300,000,000 people at 3 people per home).
    30 light bulbs per home equals 3 billion bulbs.
    At a bulk rate of $1 per bulb we are at $3 billion dollars, which is 1.5% of $200 billion.
    Or, with the Iraq war budget (not counting the Pentagon budget) we could change every bulb in every home in the U.S. once a year!
    See, math IS fun!
    $300,000,000 is a great start!

  12. Sam-Hec - April 2, 2008

    To Hank P.
    There are different fluorescent bulbs with different colors and other qualities. Consider the possibility that your experience so far was due to low quality bulbs.

  13. Jim - April 2, 2008

    Correction to my math folks.
    With the Iraq war budget (not counting the Pentagon budget) we could change every bulb in every home in the U.S. a whopping SIXTY SEVEN TIMES A YEAR! (Excuse me for yelling there).
    $200,000,000,000 per year for the Iraq War.
    $3,000,000,000 to change all bulbs.
    67 Times!
    Whoa…
    I like to buy 4-pacs of bulbs (around $7 at Home Depot) and give them to friends and family. They think I am a little weird for doing this, but they kinda figured that already. My 84-year-old grandmother-in-law was particularly taken back.
    Good job everyone! Never underestimate the power of one person’s action to make change.

  14. Jim - April 2, 2008

    Diana No. 10.
    Amen, and good job!

  15. Mark - April 2, 2008

    Rumor has it that a significant portion of the $300 million is coming from China and India because it’s believed that the increased cost of “greening” the US result in more business being sent to China, India and other less developed countries that won’t bother to implement the changes. Is there any truth to these allegations?

  16. Adam Stein - April 2, 2008

    No.
    The mind boggles.

  17. Nina - April 2, 2008

    I applaud all Al Gores efforts. If we all had just a small percentage of his dedication to the urgency of global warming we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
    I also completely agree with Jim that the power of one person’s action can make a change….
    Just imagine whats possible when we start supporting and backing the idea!
    It’s time to take action and stop talking about it….I’m 42 and have heard this all my life. I was taught about global warming in elementary school by a wonderful science teacher, and unfortunately I haven’t seen the change needed since to make a difference.
    My efforts include a one car household, energy saving light bulbs, thermostat control, recycling…open windows when possible..and many other things.
    What will it take besides a major disaster for people to open their eyes and save the earth.

  18. Jay Turner - April 2, 2008

    I hope that part of that $300 million goes to doing a demonstration project to tool up a community with energy efficiency and alternative sources to show the doubters and nay-sayers how the benefits multiply when you have clean air, clean water and you keep money in the local economy (rather than letting it be leached off to pay for foreign oil and wasted energy).

  19. Jim - April 2, 2008

    Nina,
    Good job. It will require that people become aware that it is economic to go green, it really is.
    Here’s proof. My wife, baby boy, and I live in a passive solar home at 4500′ elevation in Arizona. We heat exclusively with pellet stove heating and paid exactly $75 for the entire winter for pellets to heat our 1260 square foot home. Cha Ching! Our clerestory windows and due-south orientation translates into a nice warm house in the winter. Cha Ching! CFLs further reduce our electric bill. Cha Ching! I figure we save about $150 per month. We apply this savings to our principal on our 30-year mortgage which knocks it from a 30-year to about a 22-year mortgage! Cha Ching! We are already planning on an early retirement :)
    So you see, being greener is great for your pocket book! Show people the numbers and they will climb aboard.

  20. jenny10 - April 2, 2008

    I totally agree that we should conserve, reuse,
    and recycle, but in terms of energy efficient
    light bulbs, I say no way. I refuse to exchange
    one problem for another. The mercury content
    in those is way to much. Any amount of mercury
    is too much. Yes they should be recycled but let’s be
    realistic, there will not be a 100% recycle rate
    and that is where the risk lies. Our water is essential
    for life just like our air and land. There are better
    alternatives and they should be used. Say no to
    energy saving bulbs as they are and use halogen and
    force a better change alternative. Why trade one disaster
    for another??????
    Jenny

  21. Jim - April 2, 2008

    Jenny,
    Yes, these bulbs contain a small amount of mercury. However, it is far, far easier to contain this mercury than it is to contain and/or capture the emmissions from a coal-fired power plant.
    The mass use of these bulbs will result in the need for fewer coal-fired power plants, which by the way have a very huge and very real adverse affect on the air, water, and land you mention.
    Just because we can’t SEE the emmisions doesn’t mean they aren’t there. CRLs are a positive move forward and can be contained and recycled when they expire.

  22. Anonymous - April 2, 2008

    On mercury: I primarily use LEDs instead of CFLs to avoid mercury, but CFLs are better than incandescents if your power is being generated using COAL–which involves much greater mercury emissions. So, the issue of mercury is just a lame excuse for inaction. See besthomeledlighting.com

  23. Adam Stein - April 2, 2008

    Why? Because the mercury scare on CFLs is totally overblown. CFLs actually reduce mercury pollution by reducing electricity use (coal-fired power plants are responsible for much more mercury pollution than CFLs).

  24. Jopat - April 2, 2008

    The $300 Million is a significant number to dedicate to this cause. Has a business plan or an action plan been drawn up and agreed upon? The excitement and short time thrill of doing “great” things is always there with any new project or program.
    I get concerned that not enough of the money will be spent in a constructive manner that “we”, as observers can see its purpose and that the progress is being followed. I hope there will be lots of horns and noise makers when the organization completes any of their action items.
    If every person would do one thing (What can one person do to save the climate?), we will be much further along without spending the $300 Million. Change a light bulb, ride a bike, or bus once a week, turn off your computers at night.
    \
    Just do Something. see http://www.reclaimthenergy.com/blog for some ideas of what you can do.

  25. Jopat - April 2, 2008

    Correction to Comment#24 – the correct website for energy saving ideas is http://www.reclaimtheenergy.com/blog2
    Sorry for the inconvenience,
    Jopat

  26. Suresh Kumar - April 2, 2008

    I believe good part of this money if not all of it is donated by Al Gore. If that is the case, no one should have a complaint. Regardless of the merits of the investment, it is a cause he passionately believes in. Seems to me this initiative will lead other wealthy individual to join in to create awareness amongst the people who can then influence policy. I hope it workd out.
    Thanks
    Kumar
    NJ
    [Ed. — Gore kicked in $2.7 million of his own money. The rest is from private donors.]

  27. Tony Iovino - April 4, 2008

    I would run commercials featuring the families of fallen soldiers. Show shots of mullahs and sheiks, terrorists and petty dictators and rich Arabs lavishly spending money.
    I’d say we must move away from an oil based economy so we don’t have to send our money to these criminals (or worse) and so we don’t have to send our brave men and women into areas like the Middle East to protect our oil interests. If a side benefit is less CO2 emissions, so be it.
    By the way, the fun starts on the global warming front when liberals finally acknowledge that there is no way we can seriously reduce carbon emissions without extensively increasing our use of nuclear power.
    Then the fur will really start to fly–so to speak.

  28. Edward Mangold - April 5, 2008

    Diane hit the nail on the head. The present highway and trnsportation systems are geared to personal auto travel. My son-in-law somestimes bicycles to work. But between the distance, weather and danger of riding on roads not designed to separate the cycaists from the cars, the risk is quite high.
    Until the trnsportation system is redesigned, it will be difficult in most cities (places like New York City excepted)to avoid driving.

  29. parrish rhodes - April 6, 2008

    Whatever helps get the average person aware of the seriouness of the problem is essential. We’re not talking about problems that may occur in 10,000 years. We’re talking about almost NOW. Read Mark Lynas’ SIX DEGREES – that’ll get your attention! Grassroots is effective – I put up posters about carbon off-setting, hand out bulbs, nag friends about using the bus, write letters to the editors – I’m 78 years old and am scared silly about the “it-has-nothing-to-do-with-me” attitude of the comfortable middle-class local citizens who consider picking up trash and planting daffodil bulbs the solution to a problem they don’t know anythingabout.

  30. Jim - April 6, 2008

    Parrish,
    I like your attitude!
    Too many people seem to have the attitude of “Until (place any organization here: DOT, EPA, “The Government”, etc.) does something about it, we are essentially helpless as individual consumers.”
    Really?
    How about this: Change your bulbs! Turn down your heater! Turn up your A/C! Carpool!
    You will save money folks. You know, that stuff we spend 40+ hours a week getting more of.
    Home Depot has 4-pacs of CFLs for $6.98! Hurry while they last!

  31. Jopat - April 10, 2008

    All of the comments have been very positive and seem to reflect the point that Yes, one person can do something and if 300,000,000 in America do something, we will effect a large change in the usages, rates, costs (both financial and environmental). While I applaud Mr Gore’s efforts, his work will help publize the needs to switch and conserve, it is still up to every single one of us to do at least SOMETHING. It doesn’t really take much. All it takes is lots of people to do one thing. GO FOR IT!!

  32. Jacob - May 4, 2008

    I applaud Al Gore on this initiative. Also, although this is slightly off-topic, does anyone know what the backing song in that ad is? It sounds quite nice.

  33. Jim - May 5, 2008

    I apologize for being off topic but I have a question.
    I use CFL bulbs throughout my house. I had a conversation with a fire chief who explained that if a bulb breaks I have a Haz Mat situation and would need it to be professionally cleaned up. He was 100% against these bulbs and also mentioned that our landfills will become very toxic with mercury once these bulbs start being discarded there. I have a baby in the house and this concerns me.
    What is the information regarding this?
    Thanks in advance.

  34. Adam Stein - May 5, 2008

    With all respect to the fire chief, the mercury problem with CFLs is greatly exaggerated. The exposure from breaking a single bulb is roughly equivalent to eating a can or two of tuna. And CFLs lower overall mercury pollution by reducing electricity demand. You can read more here:
    http://environmentaldefenseblogs.org/climate411/2007/05/01/cfl_mercury/

  35. Jopat - May 6, 2008

    Thahks to Adam Stein for his comments on CFL breakage clean-up. As I read all the other comments and stats about the amount of mercury being released, is more or less the amount of mercury generated by a power plant to generate the power difference for 1kW of electricity between Conventional lighting and CFLs?