Al Is Green

Al Gore puts his money where his mouth is and it has made him a very wealthy man. The Washington Post recently reported that his net worth these days is around $100 million — 50 times what it was after leaving the office of Vice President — mostly as a result of investments in clean energy. This gives the lie to those nay-sayers who insist that investing in clean energy will not pay dividends and that the government should ignore clean energy and continue to pursue such projects as the Keystone Oil pipeline while maintaining the $4 billion a year in tax subsidies to Big Oil.

Not only has Gore made it big investing in clean energy, others have as well — as the Huff Post reported recently:

Gore isn’t the only one who’s betting on green energy. The United States invested $51 billion in renewable energy in 2011, second only to China in a year where green investments hit a record high.

He also has to thank the Obama administration’s 2009 stimulus package. The $80 to $90 billion worth of government investment in green energy has helped to grow many of the companies Gore and his renewable energy-based hedge fund Generation Investment Management have put the majority of their money in. In fact, nine of 11 companies that Gore endorsed during a 2008 presentation on fighting climate change received government investment, WaPo reports.

There have been failures in the clean energy field, of course, and these have been the focus of comments made during the current presidential campaign by Mitt Romney. Romney would also like to reduce or eliminate altogether future government investments in clean energy in spite of the fact that they are clearly paying off.

But the success rate of renewable energy companies may be far higher than some, particularly Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, would like to admit. During the first Presidential debate, Romney claimed that over half the green energy companies benefitting from stimulus dollars failed. In fact, just 1.4 percent of the U.S. dollars invested in green energy went to companies that had failed by the end of 2011, CleanTechnica reports.

Romney, and others of his persuasion, would like to point to the failures — such as the solar energy company Solyndra which went belly up as a result of the availability of cheap solar panels made in China which the Obama administration finally stopped by imposing tariffs — though too late to save Solyndra. In any event, the success stories greatly outweigh the failures in spite if what Mitt would have us believe.

The stimulus packages clearly help bring money into the clean energy industry, but why don’t both sides of the political aisle get foursquare behind the clean energy movement, help create jobs, boost the economy, and head in the direction of countries like Germany which will be nuclear and coal free within a few years? The answer requires some speculation, but it is fairly clear that the companies that make huge profits from the continued use of fossil fuels would prefer that we not wean ourselves from those sources of energy (despite the damage we are doing to the environment and the planet itself) and they pour large amounts of money into the pockets of politicians to see to it that it doesn’t happen. But the success stories continue to pop up from time to time and people like Al Gore still believe and their belief is clearly paying off.

True Heroes

Every age needs its heroes. The Greeks had Achilles the manly warrior who was flawed but able to overcome his deficiencies when the chips were down. We have our football players and professional athletes who also clearly have flaws but are able to prevail on the field — if they aren’t in jail. Oh, and we have our movie stars who live very public lives. The firemen and policemen and women who risk their lives are a better bet, as are those in the armed forces who risk their lives to protect our way of life. But, then, what is being protected for the most part are corporate interests and most of those people were either drafted or are paid to do a job. They are certainly admirable, but I prefer those who quietly and voluntarily make sacrifices to buck the tide and further the general welfare of all of us who share this planet.

One such person who is a hero in my view is Danny DeVito who is interviewed in this month’s Sierra magazine. DeVito plays the voice of The Lorax in the new Dr. Seuss movie. He is also a staunch environmentalist who realizes that (as he says) “we have maybe fifty years to get this right.” He drives an electric car and plans to install solar panels on his house so he is using less electricity generated by nuclear power or coal-burning plants. He owned an electric car before it was “hip,” in the late 1990s “then the powers that be decided it wasn’t good for the oil companies, and they took it away from us.” He knows who the true villains are in this drama we are living through. And he knows what needs to be done.

One would like to think the new Dr. Seuss movie will open the eyes of our children to the fact that as they grow up they will need to do whatever they can to repair some of the damage their parents and grandparents have done to the planet. They will have even less time to do so. This is not to say that there are not more heroes like DeVito who are doing their best right now. There certainly are — just not enough of them.  I have a friend who became the third customer of a company in the Twin Cities to install solar panels on his garage to supplement the electricity he draws from N.S.P. He watches it like a hawk and delights to see the sun taking money out of the pockets of the corporations. We need more people like this, and we need to modify our notion of what makes a person a hero. It certainly doesn’t need to be the football player or the sports star. It doesn’t even need to be a man. In fact, there are a great many women in our culture who are truly heroic in their day-to-day struggle to survive in a man’s world where the cultural role models are totally unlike themselves. Our notion of what makes a person admirable needs to be brought up to date.

In the Dr. Seuss movie, taken from the book, the antagonist Once-ler (a financial titan who sells cans of fresh air) is, according to DeVito, “simply misguided, taken in by his commercial ability to make Thneeds [‘a Fine-Something-That-Everyone-Needs,’ which require cutting down the forests].” There lies the ugly truth about our urge to increase wealth no matter the cost. In the end, the message calls for individual responsibility (there’s a new idea!) by saying “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” This is a message we can take to heart, and the man who wrote it — not to mention the man whose voice is that of the main character — is truly heroic.