Al Gore, Political Visionary?

So says E.J. Dionne, arguing that Al Gore's speech yesterday showed the Democrats how they should talk about rising fuel prices - by offering voters a "bigger offer" on energy, a long-term vision rather than a short-term fix.

Well, that's one way to look at Gore's speech, which argued that "the survival of the United States of America as we know it" and indeed "the future of human civilization" are at risk, and the best way to avert disaster is to "commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years." Here's a slightly different take, from James Pethokoukis:

Gore's fantastic—in the truest sense of the word—proposal is almost unfathomably pricey and makes sense only if you think that not doing so almost immediately would result in an uninhabitable planet. Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens recently came out with a plan to generate 20 percent of America's power through wind. His estimate was that it would cost $1 trillion to build that capacity and another $200 billion to update our electrical grid to transmit that energy around the country ... By my math, using Pickens's numbers, converting the whole economy to renewable energy in a short period of time might cost $5 trillion—and that is if you assume that government-led projects come in on budget. (Remember, the current U.S. gross domestic product is $12 trillion.) That would be like creating another Japan. Or fighting World War II all over again. The latter analogy is especially apt since the Gore Plan would effectively transform our free-market economy into a command-and-control war economy full of rationing and scarcity ... Again, all this makes sense if you think we are doomed otherwise.

This isn't the first time Gore has made a proposal with jaw-dropping economic consequences. Environmental economist William Nordhaus ran the numbers on Gore's idea to reduce carbon emissions by 90 percent by 2050. Nordhaus found that while such a plan would indeed reduce the maximum increase in global temperatures to between 1.3 and 1.6 degrees Celsius, it did so "at very high cost" of between $17 trillion and $22 trillion over the long term, as opposed to doing nothing. (Again, just for comparative purposes, the entire global economy is about $50 trillion.)

So yes, there's a sense in which Gore is making Americans a "bigger offer" than the "drill here, drill now" crowd. The notion that it's a winning political offer seems a little more dubious.