What’s Al Gore Have in Common With the Ku Klux Klan?

Al GoreA few nights ago in San Antonio, Al Gore gave his global-warming lecture at the American Institute of Architects’ national convention. “It’s in part a spiritual crisis,” he said. “It’s a crisis of our own self-definition – who we are. Are we creatures destined to destroy our own species? Clearly not.”

According to the San Antonio Express-News, Gore was “especially critical of the business community’s current focus on quarterly profits at the expense of sustainable business practices.” The paper further quoted Gore as saying this about the business community: “That’s functionally insane, but that is the dominant reality in the world today.”

This brings to mind at least two questions:

1. Does this sound like a man who’s thinking about running for president?

2. Does this lecture sound like a newsworthy event that the Express-News was wise to cover?

I think the answer to the second question is a slam-dunk yes. As for the first question — well, maybe that has to do with the second question.

As it turns out, Gore’s lecture was not open to the media. (As I’ve written before, Gore holds the media in some large part responsible for inaction on climate change.) This made the Express-News unhappy. “Al Gore and his crusade to raise awareness about global warming and climate change are issues of great public interest,” said the paper’s editor, Robert Rivard, “and while he has the right to address the visiting architects behind closed doors, we have an obligation to make every effort to report on his speech to a wider audience. We take climate issues seriously at our newspaper and, frankly, it’s odd that he is adamant about shutting out the press.”

So how’d Express-News reporter Anton Caputo get the story?

The paper’s public editor explains:

So here’s what happened: Our intrepid reporter, Caputo, went over to the convention center Thursday, registered under his own name and address as an “expo only” attendee and got a pass that gave him access to the speech. Then he covered it and wrote about it. It was that easy.

Purists might contend that was unethical. To me, it was like crashing a Ku Klux Klan rally. Gore didn’t want coverage. We think he deserved it.

Holy cow. Did a major newspaper’s public editor just equate an Al Gore lecture with a Ku Klux Klan rally? (Next thing you know, the News-Express will be going after the Realtors.) If Gore does decide to run for president, I have a feeling he’ll have a little bit of trouble convincing some members of the business community that they are not, in fact, “functionally insane.”

(Hat tip: Jim Romenesko.)


mathking

Mr. Doug, why is sustainability an insane goal for business? I can certainly see an argument being made that it is not insane not to have such a goal, but I would like to hear the argument that sustainability is itself an insane goal.

Even if you don't believe at all in global warming or climate change, the use of energy and water should concern everyone on the planet. We are using the world's resources up at a rapidly increasing rate. We can't continue on the current pace indefinitely. Clean drinking water and sources energy are going to become increasingly scarce resources. Countries that learn to conserve energy and generate renewable energy first are going to be at a significant advantage.

Mack's point about information is well taken as well. Take air pollution as a simple example. It used to be legal for factories to pretty much put whatever they wanted to into the air. This lead to health problems, toxicity and host of other issues. Basically, companies were fouling the air that everyone has to breath. They were allowed to use up a significant public resource (clean air) which they did not own, and did not have to pay for this resource.

For another example, take the phenomenon of concentrated animal farming operations. They produce (literally thousands of) tons of waste which fouls streams and drinking water and causes respiratory problems (and possibly other health effects) for those nearby. They also cause problems such as pervasive stench and fly infestations which make life unpleasant for neighbors and dramatically lowers property values. So how should these concerns be addressed?

The only effective way to prevent these problems from happening is government regulation of some sort. There is simply no market structure in place that can deal with them. Unless you just want to allow everyone to sue everyone else for everything that goes into the environment and affects everyone's property.

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egretman

The only effective way to prevent these problems from happening is government regulation of some sort.

An idea so heinous in Rush Limbaugh's America as to be almost a new quaint idea.

egretman

When small numbers of people are negatively affected (incur costs) as a result of someone else's activity, the market has a solution: they can sue.

Only if there's a regulation in the law and the legislature has given enforcement power to the people through lawsuits, as is the case with much of America's environmental laws.

But I don't want to wait to incur costs. When the upstream landowner is polluting the stream that runs through my property, I want that to be regulated. And I want a part of the executive branch to be able to enforce that regulation with fines and possible jail time. So that they are a deterrent to the wrong action. And if they don't I want the regulation to clearly state that I have recourse to the courts.

And I don't want my access to the courts taken away by phoney "lawsuit abuse reform".

Mack

@23 -

Criminalizing behavior you don't like is extreme, and rarely warranted. Not that it isn't a common instinct, but it represents a statist viewpoint rather than a market-driven one. We've all said at one time or another "there oughta be a law!" But laws by themselves don't solve anything.

If someone lowers the value of your property, or otherwise causes you to incur costs, you have a cause of action in tort law. No specific regulation is needed -- it's a nuisance tort.

The next step, if one is needed, would be a regulation or even a statute setting forth the duties of one property owner to another that may not be covered under common-law nuisance actions. Here you have regulation, but the remedy is civil (polluter or whoever has committed a statutory tort). The burden is not on the government to enforce your rights in such a case. Patent law is a good example of this -- by statute you have certain rights, but it's up to you to enforce them.

By the time you get to criminal you've traveled far beyond the usual remedies. There may be times when it's necessary, but I don't believe this should be the first step or even the fourth.

And of course this has different application when you're talking about things which affect large groups, or society as a whole.

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chancey

assuming we're all rational beings, capable of making sound judgements/decisions/actions. information is the key. Gore is providing a service to the society - spreading information about global warming, (provided that he does not add too much scary fluff). to equate him with kkk is nasty. armed with the right informaiton, voters will vote for the right representatives.

when it's a cost to the business, they will act differently. also these days public image is important to a business. being green attracts more consumers.

lastly, prevention is more important than correction. professor diamond in his book "collapse" has some specific mining pollution cases. clean up cost > profit generated and negative health effect long lasting. you can lock people in jails, but eventually money has to come from average tax payers. that's not fair.

government should reserve tax money for potential huge cost of environmental disasters. private insurance is not enough.

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Blanca

The E-N is hardcore Republican and looks for every opportunity to bash Democrats. That's not to say that Anton Caputo doesn't do his job well, but the editorial staff over there has its bias and was quite frankly probably giddy over Caputo's grab. The E-N does not really care about the environment, however. They're pretty much patsies for the City and the municipally-owned utility.

Mack

Can Americans no longer comtemplate an existence somewhere between laissez-faire capitalism and socialism?

Not sure how you got from A to B here. It's not a dichotomy, unrestricted capitalism vs central planning. It's a spectrum, and a lot of the political debate in the US (in most democracies) is where we should fall on that spectrum at any point in time, on any given topic.

To say that the choice is only between the extremes is a less than subtle reading of the political landscape.

When small numbers of people are negatively affected (incur costs) as a result of someone else's activity, the market has a solution: they can sue.

At some point the numbers of people affected are so large, or the costs so diffused, that even a class action has no hope of correctly deciding and assigning costs.

Once at that (admittedly ill-defined) point, there are really only two options. One is to have the government step in and 'assign' costs through fines, fees, etc.

The other is for society as a whole to simply say that it accepts that some costs must be borne by all of us, in the form of taxes, or ill health, etc.

Of course there's a large and ongoing debate about where the line is, and when to take which option. We get more information every day, and become more sophisticated about our decisions.

My point is that even when it's hard, and even if we do eventually throw up our hands, it's important to do what we can to correctly assign costs for any economic activity.

This should involve a continual re-assessment of all cases where we've accepted a societal burden: if new information makes it possible to now more narrowly assign a cost that society had previously assumed, we should so assign it.

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editorguy

1. Sure; he has refused to rule it out.
2. You're right: slam dunk yes, whether or not it has anything to do with #1.
And the Express-News did the right thing. The press is not in the business of being polite to public figures, though one could be excused for thinking that since 9/11. The KKK reference, while a touch heavy-handed, was apt. In fact, maybe newspapers would do well to be a little heavy-handed for a while. The paper served the public, while Gore (or at least his PR people)was being a sanctimonious snot. I admire Gore and his message, but the only unethical behavior was trying to bar the press from attending. And by the way, the Express-News also did the right thing by explaining its decision. It's sad that the public needs any kind of primer on why news is news, but that's the fault of news outlets as well as consumers (and a topic for another day).

ajkrik

"Insane" fits Gore much better. I believe he is the classic elitist who feels that his importance allows him special privilege because his cause is righteous and he is it's messenger. That he would try to avoid his speech being publicized supports his megalomania. His rationalizations of having a much larger "carbon footprint" than the average person but it being offset by some trick because his message will save us is indication of that. How can any public figure that so exploits the media complain that the media are less than desirable?
How much did he get paid for this dog and pony show anyway. This is what free press is all about.

editorguy

And one more thing while I'm pontificating: Gore is spot on with his description of the quarterly profit report scenario as "functionally insane." It's actually a a quite accurate term for it, and is compelling locutionally (and ironically, for the newspaper business, it's the business topic du jour). So why wouldn't he want that reported as something he said? Especially if he is in fact running for president, yet again.

egretman

The Egretman's three rules of how to lose the debate instantly.

1.) Compare your enemies to Nazies or the Klan.
2.) Compare yourself to Rosa Parks.
3.) And never ever under no circumstances ever propose a senario that includes "aborting all the black babies". Thanks to Mr. Bennett.

Now it appears that Mr. Caputo did get close to rule #1, although I suspect he doesn't completely think of Al Gore as the enemy. Nevertheless it's an instant debate loser.

On another note, isn't it interesting that both the left and the right think that the media is responsible for their side of the story not getting out?

Nobrainer

Let me mention something about Al Gore's actions. He makes a very clear, albeit nonverbal, argument that teleconferencing is vastly inferior to actual, physical human interaction.

He favors flying over teleconferencing. Is burning unneeded jet fuel a "sustainable business practice?"

giromide

Seems he wanted the press out because he wanted to be highly critical of potential campaign donors behind closed doors. He's right, though. If a given business or industry group spent as much time actually making their business model sustainable or adaptable as they did lobbying to keep their outdated models legitimate, we would all be better off.

furiousball

I think the media is responsible for all this media getting out.

bmc

The Ku Klux Klan actually began as a Cabalist movement [Jewish Mysticism]. Sometimes facts are stranger than fiction.

meomaxy

I can think of a few reasons why Al Gore might not want a lot of coverage of his speeches on global warming.

1. He probably gets paid a lot to give this speech. People won't keep hiring him over and over to give the same speech if they have already read about it multiple times in the newspaper.

2. Gore probably feels that press coverage of his speeches is not as favorable as he feels it ought to be.

3. If Gore is contemplating running for president, these speeches are his testing grounds. Until his message is honed, he is not ready to have his words critiqued in the media. He can then refine his message without having to reconcile his words with what he's saying now.

4. Gore may not want to run. For one thing, he probably wouldn't win. Also, being an Oscar-winning celebrity who gets large speaking fees, standing ovations and invitations to the glitziest Hollywood parties is probably more fun for Gore than anything he has done before.

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webs

I actually listened to NPR's cover of Al Gore's speech, or at least what they could report on, and Al Gore didn't in fact call businesses insane. What he called insane was their practices, which appear to be, "Lets just keep using up natural resources cause we don't have to pay for it, right?"

Gore is right to call them out on it cause it is pretty insane.

Grimmy

hi guys !
if I took a few moments to do some research I could find these articles about how, after the fiasco of 2000 al gore invested heavily in new technologies, post carbon future fuels research, and new media. he was a major investor in Google ( please, if I am talking out of my proverbial you know what call me on it, but this is what I read )

I've been a sucker for the medias endless portrayal of AL as "the loser" as much as everyone else. after reading about his investments and business strategies my opinion of him, and allot of the "Liberal Elite" for that matter, has changed. he's putting his money where his mouth is and he's both cleaning up and probably more powerful and creating more change as a private citizen than he could be as a public official.

anyway, I've gone from a very indifferent apathetic person lately to a quasi reborn liberal ( I still loathe certain liberals so don't get me wrong* ). and a great deal of it has been inspired by Al Gore.

I love you Al.

* specifically the hirsute soap dodgers that were at my step dad's 85th birthday party

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anothersteve

I agree with Gore that their practices are insane, but I understand why. This is why we need the government to introduce proper economic sanctions on the environment.

711buddha

Why is that folks smart enough to read a blog about economics have so little faith in the market that they call for "the government to introduce proper economic sanctions" or that somehow a business responding to the market is "functionally insane?"

Wake up sports fans.