The Nobel Peace Prize is often bestowed for a job well done but unfinished. It heartens the winner against the odds. Al Gore is such a recipient. His holy war against global warming needs help, especially to nudge a US Congress still immune to the Nobel Committee's big hint.
Mr. Gore's well-rewarded insight is in knowing that leaders will not force costly changes in lifestyle unless people are first convinced of the need to curb carbon use. Even he, in a well-organized crusade, has been low-key about the exact level of taxes and other burdens to impose on industry and consumers. It's easier to sound the alarm about a disaster than to show how to prevent it.
With an Oscar (for his role in "An Inconvenient Truth") and now a Nobel in his hip-pocket, Gore has more political cachet to act. Rather than run for president, however, he should enter the fray on Capitol Hill over energy policy.
There, moves to reduce greenhouse gases remain bottled up, especially legislation to raise fuel efficiency. That struggle is largely between Democrats, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked for Gore's help last week after he won the Peace Prize. She needs it – she won't even use the usual process of a joint Senate-House conference to work out differences, preferring instead to cut a deal between top Democrats behind closed doors.
Gore, winner of the 2000 popular vote for president, is also winning the contest for US public opinion on global warming.
It's been a long slog for him. As a vice president, he and President Clinton didn't even submit the 1997 Kyoto treaty to the Senate for approval. They knew it was highly unpopular. President Bush, facing the same reality, took the heat for putting the kibosh on Kyoto for good. Few national politicians wanted to tell seniors living on fixed incomes that their electric rates might rise 20 percent or gasoline taxes should rise 50 cents to a gallon provide incentives for renewable energy sources. One powerful Democrat, Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, supports such a gas-tax hike, as well as an end to the mortgage-interest deduction for taxpayers who own houses larger than 3,000 square feet.
The desired finish line for advocates is a carbon reduction of 80 percent by 2050. That calls for massive investments and sacrifices. Some contend that energy prices would need to double if there is no breakthrough in energy technologies.
Polls indicate the American spirit is willing even if the unfleshed-out details remain weak. In 2003, a poll found Americans willing to pay $14 more per month on electric bills to solve global warming. By last year, their tolerance was $21 more per month. Gore, as well as hurricane Katrina and other weird weather, can claim credit for that.
People want dollar signs assigned to the causes they're asked to support. To set both the goal of carbon reduction and the price for it, Gore needs to provide even more leadership by joining the battle in Congress. Should Detroit automakers, for instance, be required to produce cars, pickups, and sport utility vehicles with an average 35 miles per gallon by 2020? Or by 2030?
This peace prize comes with a price. The winner must help make peace between competing interests in a nation that's the world's biggest carbon polluter in history.