Gore and global warming – is he a hypocrite?

I’ll state right up front here that I’m not even going to answer that question in regards to Gore’s high level of energy consumption. I’ll leave it for others to answer (as some have tried to do, in case you are wondering). Rather, I want to point out that as usual, pretty much everyone up in arms over this is asking the wrong question, and therefore coming up with meaningless answers and criticisms.

Last night, Al Gore’s global-warming documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, collected an Oscar for best documentary feature, but the Tennessee Center for Policy Research has found that Gore deserves a gold statue for hypocrisy.

Gore’s mansion, located in the posh Belle Meade area of Nashville, consumes more electricity every month than the average American household uses in an entire year, according to the Nashville Electric Service (NES).

And already, the wrong metric is used to judge this consumption, generating a meaningless comparison to the rest of the country and making the punchline of the article off the mark.

First, Gore lives in a roughly 10,000 square foot mansion. Let’s pretend this house has 10 foot ceilings (my suspicion is they are higher, given the frequency of vaulted/arched ceilings in mansions and very large homes). I don’t know if it does, but almost all larger homes I’ve seen have had higher than the standard 8 foot ceiling, so I’m going to look at this home the same way. That means Gore has roughly 100,000 cubic feet to heat/cool/light/whatever. This is back-of-the-envelope calculation, so it could be off, but probably not a lot.

Let’s compare that now to the size of the average US home, which currently sits around 2350 square feet (in fact, it’s almost certainly less than that, as that number comes from new housing numbers, therefore ignoring existing housing, but we’re still back-of-the-envelope, so we’ll let the number stand). I don’t have the average ceiling height, but as you might guess from above, I’m going with 8 feet, since that still is what I’m seeing in most homes. That means the average home has somewhere around 19,000 cubic feet to heat/cool/light/whatever. And that’s not even counting any additional consumption that might be seen for other things on property (swimming pool, lighted gazebo, etc – none of which I know if Gore has or not – I’m just giving generalized examples) nor the guest house utility costs.

So right away, we’re seeing Gore probably has over 5 times to volume to work with (certainly over 4 times as much, as he wouldn’t have lower ceilings than the average home, I confident). And heating and cooling usage seem to go up more than proportionally with floor space. To me, this means that Gore is most likely going have well over 5 times the utility usage of the average american homeowner.

The originally linked article indicates that national average energy consumption is 10,656 kilowatt hours per year. However, the original article fails to mention that this data is now 6 years old. Four years before that, average consumption was 10,219 kWh. We don’t have the 2006 data yet, so it’s going to be hard to compare 2006 usage to actual national average energy consumption. The 10,656 average will likely be higher. The generally warmer weather last year, even though only slightly warmer than previous years, suggests possibly even greater an increase then might be expected from the 1997 to 2001 incrase. Additionally, average home size has grown around 5% in that time, which will lead to another increase in power use. So is Gore actually using more than 20 times the national average, as stated in the above article? That’s doubtful. Is he using more than 20 times the national average consumption of 2001? Sure, I can accept that.

Is Gore consuming too much? I’m guessing yes. And is it getting worse? From the original article:

Since the release of An Inconvenient Truth, Gore’s energy consumption has increased from an average of 16,200 kWh per month in 2005, to 18,400 kWh per month in 2006.

But the real question is not “Is the (inaccurate) 20 times national average too much?” The correct question is “Does Gore consume more than the average 10,000 square foot homeowner?” That questions isn’t asked (and therefore not answered) in the above article. Additionally, we should ask if Gore is using available energy reduction possibilities, such as compact fluorescent bulbs, alternative energy sources, automated temperature adjusting heating and cooling controls and more. And most importantly, should Al Gore even live in a 10,000 square foot house (with guest house) if he is so concerned about global warming and the impact of man-made greenhouse gases?

Believe it or not, I don’t want this to come off as a “Let Al Gore free” article. I just feel it is important to try to be accurate when criticizing. I may have my numbers wrong above, although I have tried to use the most recently available data and show where I get it. I am trying to be accurate and redirect conversation to what I think is the more meaningful points of possible discussion. Yes, by all appearances, Al Gore and family consume too much power, and their power consumption increase does not appear consistent with his An Inconvenient Truth conservationism cry. But I doubt the 20 times average American consumption in the first place, no matter how non-partisan the original source of information claims to be. I also feel it is a meaningless benchmark given the home and living area differences between Gore’s Nashville mansion and the so-called average American home. Comparing old data to current data is suspect.

[tags]Does Gore consume too much energy?, An inconvenient truth and energy use[/tags]