New Earth in the Balance; Same Old Muddled Thinking

May 1, 2000 — Ah, how the time flies. It’s been 30 years since Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI) and company sponsored the first Earth Day. Despite the green community’s apocalyptic claims about the world going to hell in a hand basket (Paul Ehrlich’s 1970 claim that “the death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years” was typical fare), the state of the planet has gotten better and better. Air is cleaner. So are the oceans and waterways. More people are being better fed with healthier food. And all these things have been achieved without the imposition of draconian edicts and regulations deemed necessary by the Earth Day crowd to right a ship which had ventured off course.

Nevertheless, in the grand tradition of the Ehrlichs and Lester Browns came Al Gore, who in 1992 published Earth in the Balance, a rehashing of the hysteria the greens had been peddling since the very first Earth Day. The book was chock full of suggestions for increased governmental authority to correct what were thought to be failures of the free market. Its Luddite arguments about the supposed evils of technological progress sounded as much like the ramblings of the Unabomber as they did the reasoned thinking of a serious public person.

Houghton Mifflin has decided to republish Gore’s manifesto to call attention to Earth Day’s 30th anniversary. Not a bad idea, we think. People should know what is in this book, considering its influence on a whole host of policymakers. It is rife with hyperbole and littered with distortion, and its wrenching disregard for basic economic tenets would be funny if the implications weren’t so serious.

As a public service, we have pored over the book to give those too busy to read it a taste of what Mr. Gore is trying to say. What follows is a fair sampling of passages from the text (with corresponding page numbers). To his credit, it must be said that Earth in the Balance was intended to be a challenging book, even a shocking one. It does not shy away from statements others might consider impolitic. It is not the typical mealy-mouthed, blowsy rhetoric most public figures inflict upon the populace when considering their electoral prospects. The book was motivated by an admirably passionate concern for the environment. We share it, in fact. But we must caution that one does not have to agree with these arguments to agree with the goal for a better environment. In fact, CEI has long argued that the prescriptions being peddled by folks like Gore would harm the environment far more than they would help.


Inside the pages of Earth in the Balance

The evidence of an ecological Kristallnacht is as clear as the sound of glass shattering in Berlin. (177)

Vast amounts of unused information ultimately become a kind of pollution. (201)

It is essential…that we refuse to wait for the obvious signs of impending catastrophe. (274)

We must make the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization. (269)

The waste disposal crisis stems from our lost sense of place within the natural world. (159)

In psychological terms, our rapid and aggressive expansion into what remains of the wildness of the earth represents an effort to plunder from outside civilization what we cannot find inside. (234)

It is because we are taught to live so separately from nature that we feel so utterly dependent upon our civilization. (231)

It seems an easy choice—sacrifice the tree for a human life—until one learns that 3 trees must be destroyed for each patient treated. (119)

Just as war has been a part of civilization for thousands of years, so too has our age-old practice of exploiting the earth for sustenance. (206)

Education is the recycling of knowledge, but we find it easier to generate new facts than to conserve and use the knowledge we already have. (201)

When giving us dominion over the earth, did God choose an appropriate technology?…One is tempted to answer, the jury is still out. (238)

The strange absence of emotion, the banal face of evil so often manifested by mass technological assaults on the global environment, is surely a consequence of the belief in an underlying separation of intellect from the physical world. (258)

The struggle to save the global environment is in one way much more difficult than the struggle to vanquish Hitler, for this time the war is with ourselves. (275)

It ought to be possible to establish a coordinated global program to accomplish the strategic goal of completely eliminating the internal combustion engine over, say, a twenty-five-year period. (325)