People are treating the atmosphere like “an open sewer,” former vice president Al Gore contends, and the best way to stop them is with a pollution tax. Gore laid out just such a penalty system, as well as financial incentives for not polluting, during his keynote address at the AIA’s 2007 National Convention and Design Exposition in San Antonio on Saturday. It was a speech tailored to his audience, using little of the same content from “An Inconvenient Truth”—his Academy Award-winning documentary—and with good reason.

“Architects have by far the greatest opportunity to affect how our society deals with the climate crisis,” Gore said. “Don’t get tired. You are needed now more than ever. This is your time.”

In addition to taxing carbon emissions, which he suggested could be offset by reductions in payroll taxes, Gore also advocated the creation of a quasi public/private agency—dubbed the Carbon Neutral Mortgage Association—to give property owners mortgage credits that would offset the capital costs of installing sustainable technologies. He also proposed the creation of an “Electronet”: a nationwide net-metering system that would reduce the need for constructing new energy plants by removing current restrictions on how power is distributed, as well as the limits on how much power that the operators of wind turbines and photovoltaic arrays may sell back to the grid.

But it was Gore’s message for architects that resonated most with audience members, who gave him several standing ovations. Warning of “climate refugees,” displaced from their homes by rising seawaters and drought, he said that people will turn to the profession for help. “Be ready for that. You have the opportunity to redesign our civilization.”

Oddly, given that Gore’s first career was in journalism, at his request the press was barred from attending the speech. RECORD and other news organizations including the San Antonio Express-News disregarded this and successfully placed reporters within the hall.