By Msnbc.com contributor
updated 7/20/2008 1:45:36 PM ET 2008-07-20T17:45:36

Former Vice President Al Gore returned to Meet the Press for the first time in eight years, brandishing a bold environmental plan with the ultimate goal of weaning the United States off costly fossil fuels.

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Expanding on the major policy speech he gave Thursday, Gore said that the need for a dramatic shift in energy consumption is an urgent one, claiming this is the most serious threat our civilization has ever faced. Gore compared the current situation to that of World War II, when the country sacrificed its own comforts for the preservation of the global greater good.

The Nobel Peace Prize and Oscar winner called on politicians to recognize the depth of the crisis and end partisan debates, along with baby steps and gimmicks. In the process, the former vice president said that the United States' economic viability and national security depended on a complete and total shift away from fossil fuels to renewable energy resources.

Gore refused to speculate about any role he could play in a possible Obama administration, explaining that, "Personally, I feel that my own best role is to try to bring about a sea change in public opinion." Calling his own role as that of a facilitator, he sees his role as one who can bring opposing parties together while simultaneously mobilizing citizens.

Denying that he planned a future bid for the presidency, Gore claimed his motivation was not his own political resurgence, but rather a moral calling to do the right thing. When he asserted that he had more influence on the topic in his civilian role than if he had become president in 2000, moderator Tom Brokaw chided him for underestimating the authority that came with the job. Gore argued that he was under no illusion about the long reach of the White House. "I tried to get that position," he joked. "But that didn't happen so I'm trying to serve in other ways." Turning serious, he added, "You know, I could be wrong about my decision to not go back into government, but I'm comfortable that what I'm doing is of use.”

When questioned about funding such an ambitious plan, Gore seemed restless at the thought of further discussion of expenses. Because costs and demand are rising, Gore said that costs over the next 10 years would be comparable to what we would spend on coal and oil. Furthermore, he argued, "it's going to cost us a lot of money either way, but the investment [in renewable] would be paid back many times over."As far as taxes, Gore called for a fundamental shift in the tax system, putting the burden not on middle-class citizens, but rather on the coal and oil industries. "Congress needs to tax what we burn, not what we earn," he said, adding, "I think we should take account of the incredibly expensive environmental cost that goes into burning coal and oil."

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