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Just reading the title of this book should set the alarm klaxons to ringing in your head.  Start with "Earth in the Balance" and the implication that the future of the planet is teetering on a set of cosmic scales.  Then the subtitle, "Ecology and the Human Spirit", with its invocation of spirituality and the linking of that spirituality to ecology.  Step back and take it as a whole and it conveys the message that the planet's precarious future rests upon this ecospirituality.  Now, I don't know about you, but I haven't even opened the book yet and I'm thinking: Holy crap!  The VP is a freakin' druid.  Sadly, that's not too far off the mark.

After turning forty years old and being a non-starter in the 1988 Presidential primaries (Richard Ben Cramer didn't even bother to write about him in his great campaign book What It Takes) Al Gore began to undergo a mid-life crisis.  Then his son was hit by a car and nearly killed and Gore apparently plunged into a long dark night of the soul (it was around this time that Tipper suffered from clinical depression).  He emerged from this period as something of a reborn environmentalist.  The result several years later was this hysterical polemic calling for making "the rescue of the environment ... the central organizing principle for civilization."  Of course, while there is no need to question his sincerity or his motivation nor to try to psychoanalyze him, it must be pointed out this conversion served the twin purposes of allowing him to reposition himself politically, moving from conservative Southerner to Liberal activist--an obviously more favorable position for someone anxious to have a future in Democratic presidential politics--and to vent his newfound (and somewhat understandable) hatred of the automobile.

There's an enormous amount of sheer silliness here; Gore seems to have bought into every worst case scenario that the lunatic envirocommunist movement has dreamed up.  Boldly flouting every piece of real scientific evidence available to us, he accepts as a given that we face impending crises in the areas of overpopulation, food supply, global warming, water shortage, species extinction, and so on ad nauseum.  Of course, he frequently contradicts the portrait he himself paints of the gravity of his litany of woes; on the one hand decrying the very possibility of climactic change, on the other pointing out that massive strides in our cultural development have often been precipitated by such changes.  In the end though we can mostly ignore the jeremiads--they are in the same vein of flamboyant but spectacularly misguided predictions as those of Malthus, Paul Ehrlich (see Orrin's review) , Rachel Carson (see Orrin's review of Silent Spring), Jeremy Rifkin and the Club of Rome.  The real point of the whole exercise is his proposal for a Global Marshall Plan or Strategic Environmental Initiative, consisting of the following measures:

                The first strategic goal should be the stabilizing of world population....

                The second...should be the rapid creation and development of
                environmentally appropriate technologies....

                The third...should be a comprehensive and ubiquitous change in the
                economic "rules of the road" by which we measure the impact of our
                decisions on the environment....

               The fourth...should be the negotiation and approval of a new
                generation of international agreements....

                The fifth...should be the establishment of a cooperative plan for
                educating the world's citizens about our global environment....

                Finally,...the establishment, especially in the developing world, of the
                social and political conditions most conducive to the emergence of
                sustainable societies.

As Gore himself points out, he is demanding a "wrenching transformation" in human society.

It is particularly ironic then that he compares the effects of "consumptionism" to those of totalitarianism and that he blithely refers to our current environmental indifference as "an ecological Kristallnacht", ironic because while he wants to claim the moral high ground and portray his opponents as some kind of Nazis, the set of proposals that he sets forth would set in motion exactly the type of massive social experiment that occurred in Hitler's Germany, Leninist/Stalinist Russia or Mao's China with such disastrous results.  Technocratic ideologues of this ilk are all basically the same, however much the details of their programs may differ; they all believe that they alone understand what the future should look like and they are determined to use the oppressive power of government to realize that future, regardless of the willingness, or more likely unwillingness, of the general population.

Years ago the authors Rael & Erich Isaac coined a particularly apt term for these tyrants, "Coercive Utopians".  This beautifully captures the notions that these social engineers most likely believe that they are perfecting the world, but that they are willing to use brute force to accomplish their ends.  Most, if not all, of Gore's assertions about the supposed environmental crisis are answerable by simple reference to scientific data and, thus, are not all that interesting.  But his ready resort to governmental power, even the chilling specter of some kind of global government, reveals much about the man, all of it bad.  The essential difference between Left and Right is that conservatives, as the name implies, try to guard what is good in society from the destructive force of too rapid or unconsidered change, while Liberals are willing to accept virtually unlimited collateral damage in pursuit of their goals of the moment.  Perhaps the best recent example of this is the catastrophic damage wrought upon the nuclear family in America's inner cities.  Liberals vilified conservatives for opposing government handouts, mammoth housing projects, relaxation of sexual mores, easing of divorce standards and the deemphasis on religion in public life.  Each of these innovations is defensible in isolation and may even represent an inevitable and desirable eventual goal, but the result of imposing them all in one fell swoop in the 60's was the creation of a man made epidemic of out of wedlock births and teen pregnancies which has bequeathed us a thirty year legacy of successive generations of inner city poor addicted to public monies, ungovernable public housing projects, virtual warehousing of young black men in our prisons, etc., etc., etc....  The arguably noble goals of the Great Society lie smoldering in the rubble of the South Bronx and Detroit and Cabrini Green.

One has to fear that, as has so often been the case, past is prologue.  Has Al Gore, or any of his fellow travelers, even stopped to consider whether there has ever been a human society that was able to maintain a growing and vibrant economy during a period of declining population?  I do not mean to suggest that population growth is necessary to economic growth, but I would like to hear some examples that demonstrate that it is not or even just some philosophical argument about why it is not.  Or consider his call for government to dictate the development of new technologies--does anyone seriously think that some cadre of World Government bureaucrats would be competent to pick and choose what technologies are most likely to succeed, never mind the likelihood that such a system would simply be riddled with corruption.  If the Twentieth Century proved anything it is that government is the enemy of human progress, perhaps even the enemy of mankind.  But here is a prospective President of the United States who believes that government should be massively expanded and given an enormous range of powers over our lives.  I find that pretty disturbing.

The most interesting aspect of all of this though remains the fact that baby boomer Gore apparently arrived at this radical totalitarian position as a result of his mid-life crisis.  When you tell folks that your favorite TV program is Booknotes, you often receive somewhat disconcerted glances in return.  But there is a certain naive genius to Brian Lamb's interrogatory technique.  Consider this exchange:

    GORE: I went through a change in my life when my son was
     almost killed a couple of years ago. It was a shattering experience
     for my family. He has had a miraculous recovery and we're very
     blessed and very grateful to all the doctors and the nurses who --
     who -- who helped to make it possible. But during the long weeks
     when my wife and I were in the hospital room with him, I began to
     really look at life a little bit differently and ask questions about
     what's most important in life and, having already long since been
     deeply involved in this issue, I began to look at it differently also.
 

     Instead of seeing it just as an outgrowth of the new scientific and
     technological salt on the Earth and the population explosion
     which is adding one China's worth of people every 10 years now, I
     began to feel that the deeper causes are within our own lives as
     individuals. What gives us the notion that we are just isolated one
     from another with no responsibility to the future our children are
     going to live, no connection to the communities in -- in which we
     live out our lives. And I began to explore, in a very personal way,
     what it is that leads to these false assumptions and how we can get
     on with the task of solving thi -- this crisis and organizing a
     response that gives our children and grandchildren and
     generations to come an Earth that is not diminished and degraded
     by virtue of what we're doing in our short lifetimes.
 

     LAMB: How is your son?

That is simply brilliant.  This middle aged hack pol goes prattling on about how a sudden realization of human mortality forced him to reexamine his entire world view and deadpan Brian cuts to the quick to find out how the kid is.  The answer, thankfully, is that the Gores' son is fine, which only makes their extravagant reaction to the accident even more frightening.   Suppose, God forbid, that Gore becomes President and something like this happens; you have to question whether a person who undergoes such a seachange in their personal philosophy at a moment of admitted stress but surely not of catastrophe is even fit to govern.

One of the most despicable episodes of the Clinton years occurred in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing when the President accused Republicans of being responsible for creating the intellectual climate in which such an action was possible.  Never mind that the bombing was avowed to be a response to his own administrations attack on David Koresh and his followers, the very idea of holding those who merely oppose the expansion of government power responsible for an act of terrorism is so outrageous that it smacks of McCarthyism.  Meanwhile, the Unabomber is known to have owned a well thumbed copy of Earth in the Balance.  Indeed, parts of the book are indistinguishable from his manifesto.  Lest I be accused of engaging in the same type of insidious comparison that I just accused the President of, let me make it clear that I don't believe that Al Gore caused the Unabomber.  But I would note that the two men display a similar kind of dysfunctional animus towards technology and human innovation that smacks of a modern day Luddism.

It would not be fair to hold Al Gore's feet to the fire for every stupid remark he makes in this book, nor is the election season long enough to do so.  But he should be forced to explain his views on the general relationship of man to nature, for instance the invocation of Kristallnacht goes beyond the merely hyperbolic and really achieves a kind of pathological insensitivity to genuine human suffering.  And more importantly, he should be made to defend his willingness to use the crude machinery of government to shape human behavior on a global scale.  I have as low an opinion of the American electorate as the next man, but I do not believe that the American people, when informed of this man's desire to so radically restructure human society will be so foolish as to vote for him.  Then again, I'm still not reconciled to the fact that they've already elected him and his guttersnipe boss twice.  In fact, Bill Clinton is such a horrible human being that Gore has often gotten a free pass simply because he seems like a paragon of virtue by comparison.  In particular, thanks to a couple of significant differences like service in Vietnam and fidelity to his spouse, he has escaped from being tarred with the brush of selfishness with which the rest of his generation has been justifiably spattered.  But it may well be time to reexamine the issue; anyone who can make the intuitive leap from their child being hit by a car to opposition towards the internal combustion engine on moral grounds, must be considered to be self centered to a gargantuan degree.  If the kid had ben trampled by a cow, one supposes this book would advocate cattle extermination and vegetarianism.  I'm sorry that the Gore family suffered through this incident and I sympathize with his angst over how little he had accomplished by age forty.  I'm not willing to turn the reigns of the planet over to him so that he can perform some grand experiment on the human species.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (F)

  

Websites:

Book-related and General Links:
    -Al Gore--Vice President of the United States (Official Site)
    -Al Gore for President 2000 (Official Site)
    -Gore Watch
    -Al Gore's Skeleton Closet
    -Gore Quotes (Read and Learn from Al)
    -Gore's Religious Environmentalism (Diane Dew)
    -PROFILE: PRESIDENCY 2000:   ALBERT "AL" GORE, JR. (Democrat - Tennessee) (politics1.com)
    -24 HOURS IN CYBERSPACE  by Vice President Al Gore (whitehouse.org)
    -BOOKNOTES: Booknotes Transcript Author: Albert Gore  Title: Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit  Air date: February 16, 1992  C-SPAN)
    -EXCERPT: Excerpt from Earth in The Balance - Al Gore (whitehouse.org)
    -INTERVIEW: Environmentalism of the Spirit: An Interview with Senator Al Gore  (Jordan Fisher-Smith, Orion)
    -INTERVIEW: Al Gore:   Running on his faith (US News and World report)
    -Barnstorming For Balance (Alan AtKisson, IN CONTEXT)
    -TRANSCRIPT: Gore on Living on Earth (NPR)
    -QUIZ: Did Al Gore say it, or did the Unabomber?  (Washington Pest)
    -ARTICLE: Science Has Spoken:  Global Warming Is a Myth (Arthur B. Robinson and Zachary W. Robinson, The Wall Street Journal (December 4, 1997)
    -ESSAY: Ever the Global Gloomster  by George F. Will
    -ESSAY: Earth Out of Balance:  The Clinton administration's eco-record falls far short of its rhetoric (Ken Silverstein for the Advocate)
    -ESSAY: The Great Green Hope:  He's the most knowledgeable environmentalist ever to reach such a high office. But is that enough? (Paul Rauber, Sierra Club)
    -ESSAY: A climate change in Al Gore's principles (Isabel Vincent, National Post)
    -ESSAY: Gore in the Balance (Jonathan Rauchfrom the National Journal, Sept. 18, 1999)
    -ESSAY: The High Priest of Ecoalarmism (Stephen Goode and Eli Lehrer, Insight Washington Times)
    -ESSAY: Dysfunctional Civilization (Sara McPeak, Rightgrrl)
    -ESSAY: Algorithms: Probing the vice president's thought processes. (Paul Krugman, Slate)
    -ESSAY: Gore's God  (Mark Tooley, Crisis)
    -ESSAY :  Gore's 'Earth in the Balance' Reveals Extreme Views (Paul M. Weyrich, Too Good Reports)
    -ESSAY: An Acquired Taste :  Al Gore is the most lethal debater in politics, a ruthless combatant who will say whatever it takes to win, and who leaves opponents not just beaten but brutalized. But Gore is no natural-born killer. He studied hard to become the man he is today  (James Fallows, The Atlantic)
    -ESSAY:   Weird Al : Gore's strangeness knows no bounds. (John J. Miller & Ramesh Ponnuru, National Review)
    -ESSAY : The Smart Guy ( Jacob Sullum, Reason)
    -ESSAY : Officer material (Christopher Hitchens, The Hindu)
    -REVIEW: Apocalypse Gore  The vice president's vision of our civilization "in crisis." (Adam Wolfson, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of Earth in the Balance (Gene Healy, Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty)
    -REVIEW: Earth in the Balance by Al Gore (Michael Pariente, International Journal of Environmentally Conscious Design and Manufacturing)
    -REVIEW: (Dean C. Halverson and Hendrick H. Hanegraaff, Christian Research Institute Journal)
    -REVIEW: (The Futurist, July/August 1992)
    -REVIEWS: Epinions.com - Earth in the Balance : Healing the Global Environment
    -REVIEW: of GORE A Political Life. By Bob Zelnick (Richard L. Berke, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of INVENTING AL GORE A Biography By Bill Turque (MICHIKO KAKUTANI, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Inventing Al Gore A Biography. By Bill Turque (Michael Tomasky, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: The radical Al Gore ÝA look at the vice president's extremist environmental agenda Ý(J.R. Nyquist, WorldNetDaily.com)
    -REVIEW: Campaign Book Report: Inventing  Al Gore (Jacob Weisberg, Slate)
    -ESSAY: Worse than Clinton: The nightmare of President Gore. (Noemie Emery, National Review)
    -ESSAY:   Weird Al : Gore's strangeness knows no bounds. (John J. Miller & Ramesh Ponnuru, National Review)
 

GENERAL:
    -Junk Science: "All the junk that's fit to debunk"
    -ESSAY: Resisting the Utopian Impulse (Margaret Thatcher, American Outlook)
    -REVIEW : of The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World by Bjørn Lomborg (Matt Ridley, booksonline)
    -ESSAY: The Utopia in Our Future (Kenneth Minogue, American Outlook)
    -ESSAY: Earth Day, Then and Now: The planet's future has never looked better. Here's why  (Ronald Bailey, Reason)
    -LINKS: Global Warming Links
    -ESSAY: Earth in the Balance Sheet: Economists go for the green  (Paul Krugman, Slate)
    -REVIEW: of ALL THE TROUBLE IN THE WORLD The Lighter Side of Overpopulation, Famine, Ecological Disaster, Ethnic Hatred, Plague, and Poverty. By P. J. O'Rourke (Florence King, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of LOSING GROUND American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth Century. By Mark Dowie (Keith Schneider, NY Times Book Review)
    -The National Center for Public Policy Research
    -ESSAY: The End of the World As They Knew It:  Big Books That Got the  Future Way Wrong (Reason)
    -ESSAY: Gore in the Political Balance (Ben Wattenberg, Washington Times)
    -ESSAY: Playing Politics with the Planet: A forecast of the 2000 election predicts squalls and continued global warming (Jack Beatty, The Atlantic)
    -ESSAY: Piercing the Gloom and Doom (Herbert I. London, American Outlook)
    -ESSAY: Yes, There Is a Third Way :  Gore and Lieberman continue to lead the Democratic party to the right. (Tod Lindberg, Weekly Standard)

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