Former Vice President Al Gore called for a "man on the moon" effort to switch all of the United States' electricity production to wind, solar and other carbon-free sources within 10 years.
He said this goal would solve global warming as well as economic and natural security crises caused by dependence on fossil fuels.
"The answer is to end our reliance on carbon-based fuels," Mr Gore told a packed auditorium in Washington's historic Constitution Hall.
"When you connect the dots, it turns out that the real solutions to the climate crisis are the very same measures needed to renew our economy and escape the trap of ever-rising energy prices."
Mr Gore compared the challenge to establishing the Social Security retirement fund and the Interstate highway system, as well as landing a man on the moon - all successes that took more than a single presidency to accomplish and required members of both political parties to overcome their partisanship.
The Alliance for Climate Protection, a bipartisan group Mr Gore leads, put the 30-year cost of his plan - both government and private - at $1.5tn to $3tn.
To speed up the transition to new energy sources, Mr Gore said the single most important policy change would be to "tax what we burn, not what we earn," advocating a tax on carbon dioxide pollution.
Mr Gore's proposal would represent a significant shift in where the US gets its power.
In 2005, coal supplied slightly more than half America's 3.7 billion kilowatt hours of electricity. Nuclear power accounted for 21 per cent, natural gas 15 per cent and renewable sources, including wind and solar, about 8.6 per cent.
Mr Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize for sounding the alarm about climate change and his documentary on the issue, An Inconvenient Truth, won an Oscar.