Al Gore, The Environmentalist—Is He a Radical or Just a Forward Thinker?

January 01, 1992  ·  Michael Fumento  ·  Investor's Business Daily  ·  Environment

Not everyone agrees with that. Since Foley made that comment in defense of Gore at a press conference July 9, the Bush campaign and others have accused Clinton’s running mate of extremism on environmental issues.

Bush-Quayle senior adviser Charles Black calls Gore "one of the most radical environmentalists anywhere in the Congress."

Caring conservationist...

The editor of the libertarian magazine Reason, Virginia Postrel, calls Gore a "radical out to remake American society." Fred Smith, of the free enterprise oriented Competitive Enterprise Institute of Washington, calls Gore a "green theocrat."

Smith wrote recently that, "although the press have scrambled to portray Mr. Gore as an environmental ’moderate,’ a close look shows he is quite radical."

But is the use of the "R word" really fair?

Gore has certainly not shied away from using radical turns of phrase.

Upon his nomination for the vice presidency, Gore stated, "Now we can lead an environmental revolution." In writing, he has proclaimed the need for a "wrenching transformation" of society.

Environmental activists praise Gore. At the same time, they acknowledge that his views on the environment differ from those of Congress.

or radical environmentalist?

League of Conservation Voters associate director Ali Webb said, "He is out in front of the parade. He is so far beyond his Senate colleagues that he is all by himself." Bill Walker, a spokesman for Greenpeace International in San Francisco, while noting that the environmentalist group doesn’t endorse political candidates, said Gore’s election would "open up room for other politicians to be a bit freer in talking about what some might see as radical solutions to the problems."

The Bush campaign and other Gore opponents have sought proof of Gore’s extremism by scouring his 1992 book, Earth in the Balance, which is currently on The New York Times list of bestsellers.

The book has generally been well-received by the press, with The New York Times reviewer, for example, saying, Gore’s "colleagues on Capitol Hill, for starters, should read this perspicacious, heartening book and harken to its message."

Even the unfavorable reviews tend to concede that the book is thoughtful and well-written. They note with approbation that it appears to have been written by the senator himself, rather than a ghostwriter - as is the case with most books ostensibly by politicians.

Yet, even the favorable reviews sometimes grant that the book, especially toward the end, seems to have a vein of weirdness.

A memo sent last week from a staffer at the Democratic National Committee to Clinton campaign looked book as possible issue with opposition. The memo said Gore is potentially vulnerable because, looking at two sections of the book, one could argue: "He has no sense of proportion: He equates the failure to recycle aluminum cans with the Holocaust - an equation that parodies the former and dishonors the latter."

Gore has also been criticized for his analysis of the world’s worst oil spill, which occurred in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm. Gore wrote, "If the oil had not been spilled, it would have been joined with other oil used for fuel and converted into carbon dioxide. And that would contribute to climate change."

Said John Baden, chairman of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, "That seems to be a remarkably insensitive and uninformed reaction. It trivializes this act of wanton economic barbarism."

Gore often employs imagery from World War II to make his point. In particular, he has made repeated references in his writings comparing environmental devastation to the Holocaust and to Kristallnacht (the destruction of German-Jewish stores in 1938).

University of Virginia environmental scientist Patrick Michaels writes in a soon-to-be-published book, Sound and Fury, that such analogies are "repugnant to one with many relatives who experienced that trauma" of the Holocaust.

Some Gore critics say that despite this, Earth in the Balance on the whole is a moderate-sounding book, but some background is required to show some problems with Gore’s positions.

For example, Gore’s book calls global warming "the most dangerous of all" threats to the environment. Gore cites as his original inspiration for that belief the work of the late Roger Revelle, who had been the director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

But Gore doesn’t point out that before his death lost year, Revelle published a paper that concluded: "The scientific base for a greenhouse warming is too uncertain to justify drastic action at his time. There is little risk in delaying policy responses."

Likewise, Gore cites the work of NASA scientists Roy Spenser and John Christy to state, "In March 1990, the average recorded temperature throughout Siberia was an astonishing 18 degrees Fahrenheit higher than any previous March on record."

But he doesn’t say that worldwide data collected over the last 12 years by these two scientists using supersensitive satellite readings have shown just a tiny increase in global temperatures. The change translates to only half a degree Fahrenheit by the middle of the next century, and that increase itself has not been steady.

The Unibomber, a Gore disciple.

"It’s hard to come to any definite conclusions" based on this data, Spenser told Investor’s Business Daily, "except that we haven’t yet observed clear evidence of global warming." Gregg Easterbrook, an environmental reporter for the liberal New Republic magazine and for Newsweek, observed in a recent article that increasingly, Gore’s "environmental oratory is out of control."

Wrote Easterbrook, "Lately, Gore and the distinguished biologist Paul Ehrlich have ventured into dangerous territory by suggesting that journalists quietly self-censor environmental evidence that is not alarming, because such reports, in Gore’s words, ’undermine the effort to build a solid base of public support for the difficult actions we must soon take.’"

A hint of this may be found in Gore’s book, when he writes of scientists whose "views (on global warming) sometimes carry far too much weight," and that, "The news media must take some responsibility for this quandary."

He goes on to assert that, "In this case, when 98% of the scientists in a given field share one view and 2% disagree, both viewpoints are sometimes presented in a format in which each appears equally credible."

But Easterbrook notes that a recent survey of climatologists by the environmentalist group Greenpeace found that 47% do not believe that there will be a point "in the future, at which continued business-as-usual policies run a serious risk of instigating a runaway greenhouse effect."

Instead, Gore repeatedly states that drastic action, though expensive, must be undertaken immediately to stop global warming. "We must act boldly, decisively, comprehensively, and quickly, even before we know every last detail about the crisis," he wrote.

Easterbrook commented: "Skeptical debate is supposed to be one of the strengths of liberalism. It’s eerie to hear liberal environmentalists asserting that views they disagree with ought not to be heard."

Gore, in fact, put such practices into effect when he refused to appear last January on Cable News Network’s Larry King Live interview show opposite atmospheric scientist and global warming critic S. Fred Singer. Gore’s publicist said he "could not appear under those circumstances." A week later Gore did the show, sans Singer.

One aspect of Gore’s perspective that his critics find very disturbing is that he doesn’t simply see environmental issues as an important thing, he seems to see them as the thing.

Gore’s declaration that, "We must make the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization," has become a lightning rod for criticism.

Former presidential candidate and conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan declared last week at the Republican convention, "Wrong, Albert. The central organizing principle of this republic is freedom."

CEI’s Smith said that line from the book, and others, offset what appears to be in many other places an affirmation of the value of the free-enterprise system.

Said Smith: "The book in its core is extremely anti-market anti-free enterprise ... It’s much like reading Marx and Engels. He very much understands capitalism. He says capitalism is fantastic but can’t solve environmental problems."

The CEI compiles ratings of senators from the current Congress on tax issues. Ranked on a sliding index of "taxophobes" and "taxoholics," only one Senator, Alan Cranston, D.-Cal., is ranked lower than Gore as a taxoholic - and Cranston is retiring after the current session.

The National Taxpayers Union ranks Gore as the worst offender in the Senate for 1989 and 1990 in terms of roll-call votes for increased government spending. For 1991, in the same rankings, he improved somewhat to seventh-worst in the Senate.

That leads some to worry how he’ll pay for his environmental agenda.

Said Smith, "Gore sees taxation as a valuable tool in reshaping the world to fit his green vision."

The DNC memo to the Clinton campaign mentioned above said this is a weak spot of the book, saying Gore opponents could use his book to argue: "All he wants to do is raise a lot of taxes, including carbon taxes (taxes on fossil fuels), pollution charges, a ’Virgin Materials Fee,’ and a gasoline tax."

Not everyone is against Gore’s proposals. A book published earlier this year written by Jeremy Rifkin and Carol Rifkin give Gore the best score in Congress.

Jeremy Rifkin, president of the Foundation for Economic Trends in Washington, seems to think he has found a kindred spirit in Gore.

He has said of Earth in the Balance, "If we are to take this analysis and blueprint seriously, it portends a revolutionary change in political outlook in the 21st century."

A fierce opponent of biotechnology and author of a controversial recent book blaming beef consumption for many of the world’s environmental problems, Rifkin is considered perhaps the single person most identified with the "small is beautiful" movement that considers technology evil and advocates a return to an agrarian society.

Rifkin calls himself a "time rebel" at war with modernity, and the Democrats appear to see Gore as vulnerable to being labeled the same.

Will he have a job in an Al Gore world?

The DNC memo warned that one argument that could be used against him is that: "He is a Luddite who holds the naive view that technology is evil and wants to abolish automobiles." The Luddites were a group of workers in 19th century Britain who smashed labor-saving textile machinery in protest over slumping wages and lost jobs. Such an argument may not sell well with business, which the Clinton-Gore ticket has actively wooed.

Regardless of Gore’s views, however, he will only be vice president, a position that traditionally has little power other than that of succeeding the incumbent in case of death or incapacitation. The odds of Gore having to succeed the youthful Clinton appear to be remote.

Still, says CEI’s Smith, "Just as Bush was the regulatory overseer for Reagan and Quayle is for Bush, it is quite possible Gore will be given this role in a Clinton presidency. It’s quite possible Clinton would assign Gore ipso facto ecological czar powers."