Thursday, March 17, 2011

Al Gore in Bogotá: Do as I Say, Not as I Do!

Al Gore in Bogotá
Al Gore, the former U.S. VP and campaigner against climate change, spoke in Bogotá yesterday at an environmental forum organized by the El Espectador newspaper. (See it here.)

The environmental problems "we've seen are nothing compared to what will happen if we don't stop using the atmosphere as an open-air landfill." - Al Gore in Bogotá.

After reading about the event, however, I felt like asking: 'Are these people really serious?'

Don't get me wrong: Al Gore is right, and has done a whole lot to gain attention for global warming, which has to be the world's most dire mid-term crisis. Gore is sincere, dedicated and deserves tremendous credit. And, in a few decades, as rising seas flood coastal cities, deserts spread and storms intensify, people all over the world will be crying 'Why didn't we listen to him?'

Al Gore's house - green?
However, Al Gore lives in an huge, energy-gobbling house and flies around the globe in pollution-spewing jet planes. Gore says he buys electricity from renewable sources and compensates for all of this environmental impact by financing anti-warming projects, such as tree planting, and I believe him. (Although many of these projects are questionable.) But, the larger point is that if he and other celebrity leaders of the environmental movement really want ordinary people to live more sustainably by driving less and wasting less, those leaders need to change their ways. That's particularly true for the middle class of developing nations like Colombia, who aspire to adopting Americans' exorbinant, wasteful lifestyles.

Bogotanos enthusiastically pump CO2 in the air. 
The statements by others at Gore's talks made me feel even worse. Bogotá Mayor Samuel Moreno, for example, promised that a planned subway would reduce global warming emissions.

Sorry, Mr. Mayor. Subways are great for moving lots of people around quickly and efficiently. But they do little or nothing to reduce driving. For proof of that, just look at cities like Medellin (Colombia), Caracas (Venezuela), Santiago (Chile), Mexico City and many others with efficient subways and tremendous traffic congestion. Moreno's scheme to build a network of urban freeways will only generate more automobile traffic.

In fact, the only way to reduce automobile use is to raise the cost of driving. Colombia has done that to some degree by raising fuel prices. But private car ownership continues booming in Bogotá, with March expected to show record car sales. Bogotá needs a London-style congestion charge, but neither the mayor nor any other Colombian is courageous enough to advocate one.

A Colombian coal mine. Carbon out of the ground, into the air.
Pres. Juan Manuel Santos also participated in the event, and expressed support for alternative energy and  Gore's idea of a carbon tax. A global carbon tax is a great, if political inviable, idea. But Santos' administration has worked hard to increase Colombia's coal, oil and natural gas production, while doing little to expand renewable energy.

This hypocrisy issue also applies to people like myself and my business, Bogotá Bike Tours. Bicycle tours are pretty 'green,' but our customers often arrive at our shop in taxis and almost always fly to Colombia in carbon spewing jet planes. Sustainable tourism is an oxymoron. Sustainable tourism means vacationing at or close to home. How many people fly to Colombia, whereas they could have had a great time in the mountains near home?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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