I started Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit (copyright 1992, 1993). I have two items from my latest reading.
1. Gore discusses his 1988 Presidential run, during which time he talked a lot about environmental issues, back when many people in the U.S. did not exactly prioritize them. After Gore lost the Democratic nomination and George H.W. Bush became President (and Bush pledged to be a leader on climate change, but this, according to Gore, turned out to be an “empty promise”), Gore plotted a strategy on how he could be a leader on environmental issues in the Senate. Gore met with Senator Tim Wirth, who was saying many of the same things that Gore was, so that both would not get in each other’s way and end up sacrificing the cause to “destructive forms of competition” (page 10). Gore says on page 10, “It was the kind of conversation I probably wouldn’t have been comfortable having only a few years earlier, but by then it seemed entirely natural.” I liked this statement because it highlights an important element of growth: becoming comfortable or adept in doing things that, before, you were not comfortable or adept in doing.
2. On page 28, Gore addresses the question of why so many could care when a little girl named Jessica McClure fell into a well and was rescued, when a lot of people in the U.S. are apathetic about the over 100,000 children who die of starvation and diarrhea, due to crop failures and politics. Gore’s answer is that people don’t know what they can do about the latter, or they deem a response to the latter to be impossible or to demand too great of a sacrifice, and so they “sever the link between stimulus and moral response.”
Some problems do look too big to handle. At the same time, it is remarkable what a number of charities are doing in the Third World: bringing clean water to areas, constructing schools, etc. Do they eliminate all of the problems in the Third World? No. But at least there are a lot of people there who are getting help.
Does Gore believe that there are manageable solutions to climate change? I’m not sure what he thinks today, to tell you the truth, now that we are twenty years after he wrote this book, and twelve years after his 2000 Presidential run. I remember talking with my Mom about Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth, and the solutions that he proposed to climate change—-including the things that we as individuals could do—-struck me as manageable. (I have not yet watched the movie, so I’m basing this on my conversation with my Mom, who did watch it.) And Gore in this book does not believe that we have to choose between the environment and the economy, for developing clean environmental technology creates jobs and saves companies money, especially since environmental damage can be quite costly.
Gore has often been criticized for being a hypocrite when it comes to the environment—-that he flies a polluting private jet rather than more environmentally-friendly planes, that his house is not as environmentally-friendly as George W. Bush’s house, etc. Gore does not respond to those specific charges in this book, for it was written before all of that. And yet, Gore in this book does recognize his own hypocrisy. On pages 14-15, he says: “I have tried to confront in my own life the same ill habits of thought and action that I am attempting to understand and working to change in our civilization as a whole. On a personal level, this has meant reexamining my relationship to the environment in large and small ways—-everything from wondering how my spiritual life can be more connected to the natural world to keeping a careful eye on our household’s use of electricity, water, and, indeed, every kind of resource—-and recognizing my own hypocrisy when I use CFCs in my automobile air conditioner, for example, on the way to a speech about why they should be banned.” I guess what he’s saying is that life is a journey, and nobody’s perfect, but hopefully we can do some self-evaluation and make improvements. I doubt that I live an environmentally-perfect life, either. But it’s good to reflect on the issue.