Back home in Tennessee, safely ensconced in his suburban Nashville home, Vice President Al Gore is no doubt basking in the Oscar awarded to "An Inconvenient Truth," the documentary he inspired and in which he starred. But a local free-market think tank is trying to make that very home emblematic of what it deems Gore's environmental hypocrisy.
Armed with Gore's utility bills for the last two years, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research charged Monday that the gas and electric bills for the former vice president's 20-room home and pool house devoured nearly 221,000 kilowatt-hours in 2006, more than 20 times the national average of 10,656 kilowatt-hours.
"If this were any other person with $30,000-a-year in utility bills, I wouldn't care," says the Center's 27-year-old president, Drew Johnson. "But he tells other people how to live and he's not following his own rules."
Scoffed a former Gore adviser in response: "I think what you're seeing here is the last gasp of the global warming skeptics. They've completely lost the debate on the issue so now they're just attacking their most effective opponent."
Kalee Kreider, a spokesperson for the Gores, did not dispute the Center's figures, taken as they were from public records. But she pointed out that both Al and Tipper Gore work out of their home and she argued that "the bottom line is that every family has a different carbon footprint. And what Vice President Gore has asked is for families to calculate that footprint and take steps to reduce and offset it."
A carbon footprint is a calculation of the CO2 fossil fuel emissions each person is responsible for, either directly because of his or her transportation and energy consumption or indirectly because of the manufacture and eventual breakdown of products he or she uses. (You can calculate your own carbon footprint on the website http://www.carbonfootprint.com/)
The vice president has done that, Kreider argues, and the family tries to offset that carbon footprint by purchasing their power through the local Green Power Switch program — electricity generated through renewable resources such as solar, wind, and methane gas, which create less waste and pollution. "In addition, they are in the midst of installing solar panels on their home, which will enable them to use less power," Kreider added. "They also use compact fluorescent bulbs and other energy efficiency measures and then they purchase offsets for their carbon emissions to bring their carbon footprint down to zero."
These efforts did little to impress Johnson. "I appreciate the solar panels," he said, "but he also has natural gas lanterns in his yard, a heated pool, and an electric gate. While I appreciate that he's switching out some light bulbs, he is not living the lifestyle that he advocates."
The Center claims that Nashville Electric Services records show the Gores in 2006 averaged a monthly electricity bill of $1,359 for using 18,414 kilowatt-hours, and $1,461 per month for using 16,200 kilowatt-hours in 2005. During that time, Nashville Gas Company billed the family an average of $536 a month for the main house and $544 for the pool house in 2006, and $640 for the main house and $525 for the pool house in 2005. That averages out to be $29,268 in gas and electric bills for the Gores in 2006, $31,512 in 2005.
The press release from Johnson's group, an obscure conservative think tank founded by Johnson in 2004 when he was 24, was given splashy attention on the highly-trafficked Drudge Report Monday evening, and former Gore aides saw it as part of a piece, along with an Fox News Channel investigation from earlier this month of Gore's use of private planes in 2000. Last year, a seemingly amateurish Youtube video mocking the "An Inconvenient Truth" turned out to have been produced by slick Republican public relations firm called DCI, which just happens to have oil giant Exxon as a client.
"Considering that he spends an overwhelming majority of his time advocating on behalf of and trying to affect change on this issue, it's not surprising that people who have a vested interest in protecting the status quo would go after him," said the former Gore aide.
Kreider says she's confident that the Gores' utility bills will decrease. "They bought an older home and they're in the process of upgrading the home," she said. "Unfortunately that means an increase in energy use in order to have an overall decrease in energy use down the road."
Gore is not the only environmentalist associated with "An Inconvenient Truth" who has come under fire for personal habits -- and not all the criticism has come from the Right.
Writing in The Atlantic Monthly in 2004, liberal writer Eric Alterman criticized producer Laurie David for her use of private Gulfstream jets. David, he wrote "reviles the owners of SUVs as terrorist enablers, yet gives herself a pass when it comes to chartering one of the most wasteful uses of fossil-based fuels imaginable." New Republic writer Gregg Easterbrook followed up, computing that "one cross-country flight in a Gulfstream is the same, in terms of Persian-Gulf dependence and greenhouse-gas emissions, as if she drove a Hummer for an entire year."
In an interview in 2006, David told ABC News that she was limiting her use of private planes and was flying commercial far more frequently.