a tale of (at least) two versions

Does your mom send you newspaper clippings? Has she transferred this impulse to the quicker clicker, namely email?

My mom regularly forwards various email messages that have been sent by friends or acquaintances of hers. I received this from her several months after it had made the rounds in the spheres of easy forwarding. To this one I was moved to write a response and hit “reply-all.” Here I post the original circular followed by my response.

The Forwarded Message

Here’s some interesting information.
You can check this out on Snopes.com under “The Story of Two Houses”

House #1 A 20 room mansion ( not including 8 bathrooms ) heated by
natural gas. Add on a pool ( and a pool house) and a separate guest
house, all heated by gas. In one month this residence consumes more
energy than the average American household does in a year. The
average bill for electricity and natural gas runs over $2400. In
natural gas alone, this property consumes more than 20 times the
national average for an American home. This house is not situated
in a Northern or Midwestern “snow belt” area. It’s in the South.

House #2 Designed by an architecture professor at a
leading national university. This house incorporates every
“green” feature current home construction can provide. The house is
4,000 square feet ( 4 bedrooms ) and is nestled on a high prairie in the
American southwest. A central closet in the house holds geothermal
heat-pumps drawing ground water through pipes sunk 300 feet into the
ground. The water (usually 67 degrees F. ) heats the house in the winter
and cools it in the summer. The system uses no fossil fuels such as oil or
natural gas and it consumes one-quarter electricity required for a
conventional heating/cooling system. Rainwater from the roof is collected
and funneled into a 25,000 gallon underground cistern. Wastewater from
showers, sinks and toilets goes into underground purifying tanks and then
into the cistern. The collected water then irrigates the land
surrounding the house. Surrounding flowers and shrubs native to the area
enable the property to blend into the surrounding rural landscape.

HOUSE #1 is outside of Nashville, Tennessee; it is the abode of
the “environmentalist” Al Gore.

HOUSE #2 is on a ranch near Crawford,
Texas; it is the residence the of the President of the United States,

My Two Cents on Two Houses

This definitely deserves a response:

1. Commending Mom
2. What does it change?
3. A little more information

First of all, I would like to commend my mom for sending out this news that disturbed her personally. I called her a couple of weeks ago sometime after she had first received this message and it was the first thing she wanted to talk about. It really upset her.

One of the many great things about Mom is that she is willing to reconsider her opinion on the basis of new information. To the best of my knowledge she voted with the Republican party most of her life. However, observing the decadence and opportunism of the Bush administration she seemed to reconsider many of her previously held opinions.
Meanwhile she had been taking in the news about climate change and I remember that when she went to see Gore’s movie and heard Gore speak in person, she was not afraid to say that she was very impressed with his commitment to a real issue, although she had never been a fan of his in the past. So of course she was upset to read something that discredits Gore by illustrating the hypocrisy of his lifestyle.
This news item is meant to upset people who admire Gore and to provide ammunition to those who would like to distract from his message.

But even if we take it at face value, what does it change? Does it change the evidence being reported everyday from an overwhelming number of credible sources that global warming is a clear and present danger for all of us?

Maybe Gore was just lucky to choose the issue of the natural environment some time ago as part of his political “brand.” When he lost the battle to claim the election of 2000, maybe he had nothing better to do than to revive the issue he had published a book about before he served as Vice President. Gore’s luck was to have done years of work and come out with a film just at the moment that a larger public began to realize that the overwhelming majority of the scientific establishment just might be worth listening to. Even as the leader of the so-called free world, who with arguably the most powerful position on the planet, and had done everything in his power to scuttle any evidence that might trouble the public’s dependence on a life based on cheap fossil fuels, had exhausted his own credibility in every way.

And then we learn that Gore doesn’t practice what he preaches. And Bush, the leader of the free world who until very recently was the number one opponent of doing anything on the side of innovation or re-envisioning our relationship to energy, has created for himself a model energy-efficient home.

If I were a Bush supporter I would be very troubled by the fact that this man doesn’t privately practice what he preaches. Interesting that more Bush supporters aren’t troubled by this bit of hypocrisy.

As someone concerned about the consequences of short-sighted environmental practices, I am furious that the President doesn’t preach what he practices. Especially since, as President of the free world, his preaching often becomes the basis for policy changes at home and abroad.

On the other hand, you could say this is consistent with Bush’s doctrine of privatization of everything, or every man for himself. The notion of a “public good,” what is good for the population in the long-term scheme, doesn’t interfere with his policy of promoting whatever short-term folly seems to be advantageous for himself and his small circle.

There are a few details left out of the story:

The Gores pay quite a bit extra for the kilowatt hours because they are enrolled in a Green Power Switch program which means that the power they are buying is generated through renewable resources like wind and solar.

The Gores have been in the process of converting their heating system to geothermal and installing solar panels on their house.

The Gore household referred to consists of four structures with 20 rooms total. One of those structures houses the Vice-President’s Secret Service detail. Another his own think tank. Tipper Gore also runs an office out of the house. Most homes do not have to deal with such things. Yet the local utility has stated that smaller residences in Nashville use as much power as the Gore household. In other words the Gore residence uses less power per capita than many other large Nashville residences. Although Bush has entertained publicly at his ranch in Crawford, this house is his private getaway, not his primary residence and work place.

Then there is the question of just how much they are actually using. The AP quotes a spokes women, Laurie Parker, for the Nashville Utility as saying that The Tennessee Center for Policy Research made no contact with them. AP also claimed to have reviewed the bills and came up with an energy use figure some 15% lower. Perhaps they factored in the surcharge charged for using over 1,000Kw per month. MSNBC countdown pointed out that the GORE family voluntarily pays $5,893 extra for green power.

The founder and president of the “nonpartisan” think tank that created this story, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research is Jason Drew Johnson, formerly of the American Enterprise Institute which has received over $1.6 million from ExonMobil, and accordingly promotes the idea that global warming is not a real issue. For instance, last February, they were offering $10,000 to scientists and economists for articles that undermine a major climate change report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

It’s interesting to see how many news organizations picked up on the report but failed to investigate further and ignored all or part of other relevant information:

MSNBC’s Keith Olberman raised some of these points last February after the “two Houses” press release was issued, the day after Gore won the Academy Award:

Almost all of our media is biased, lazy and/or blatantly corrupt. The burden is on us to consider where our news is coming from, the interests of who is generating it, and what is actually changed by a given story. Unfortunately we are so polarized that it seems most of us grab anything appearing to confirm our habitual positions.

So thanks for sending this along, Mom,


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