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The convenient fallacy
The world basks in the after-glow of another series of Live Earth concerts preaching the environmental cause. How much credit goes to its high priest, "Do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do" energy guzzler Al Gore?
When Al Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year and was later listed as one of the Top 10 Ethical Heroes of 2007 by UK magazine Ethical Consumer, stories began circulating that the laureate lives his life in hypocrisy.
One of the biggest assertions taken by the antagonists is that the former US Vice President and now prominent environmental activist, in fact, lives in a home that “consumes more electricity every month than the average American household uses in an entire year," according to the Nashville Electric Service.
The Tennessee Center for Policy Research (TCPR) claims that Gore’s mansion, located in the posh Belle Meade area of Nashville, Tennessee, "devoured nearly 221,000 kilowatt-hours [in 2006] – more than 20 times the national average." The resulting average monthly electric bill is a whopping US$1,359.
The Center’s president Drew Johnson said: "As the spokesman of choice for the global warming movement, Al Gore has to be willing to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, when it comes to home energy use."
In the same defense as his Oscar-winning documentary, Gore maintains that he lives a "carbon-neutral" lifestyle because he also invests in solar and wind energy projects to counterbalance his own substantial carbon footprint.
Both TCPR's and Johnson’s statements require closer scrutiny. Let’s consider this: The median household income in the state of Tennessee is US$38,945 and the unofficial monthly electric bill average for a four-bedroom household in Tennessee is $160. That means about 5% of a household’s monthly income is spent on electric bills. In comparison, the average monthly electric bill for Gore’s 20-bedroom mansion accounts for just 8.2% of his average monthly income (based on Gore’s adjusted gross annual income of US$197,729). It would be fairer then, it seems, to compare Gore’s energy bill against the bills of other homes from the same income bracket, but such data seems to be lacking.
When Gore released his feature documentary in 2006, he was triumphed a "Climate Warrior", the "first to make Climate Change an issue for the American public" (Ethical Consumer). Yet as his popularity climbed, right-wing media companies and organisations began to label Gore a "hypocrite" because, as one Australian blogger puts it, "they can’t contest the facts that Gore and other environmentalists bring up".
Gore’s documentary raised an incredible level of awareness about environmental issues. It was also the first ever carbon-neutral documentary. The "carbon footprint" from producing the film was calculated and then offset through renewable energy credits or "green tags" from new renewable energy projects.
Gore has succeeded with his Oscar-winning film in finally awakening the American nation to the reality of climate change, and in doing so he may be saving us all. Americans have the highest carbon footprint in the world – they really do hold the key to the planet’s future. That Gore’s Peace Prize should be considered an irony because of how fat his home energy bill is but an ad hominem tu quoque.
Debby Ng is an environmental photojournalist whose work has been published in several regional and international magazines, including the award-winning Lebanese magazine, Environment & Development. She has also worked with numerous Asian and international non-government organisations such as the TRAFFIC, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).