The Greening of Al Gore

GEORGE F. WILL

September 03, 1992|By GEORGE F. WILL

WASHINGTON. — 1/8 TC Washington -- Someone retrieved Kipling's poem ''Recessional'' (the one about ''dominion over palm and pine'' and ''lesser breeds without the Law'') from the wastebasket where Kipling had tossed it. Whether that someone did literature a favor is debatable. Clearly Al Gore's book, ''Earth in the Balance,'' is wastebasket-worthy.

The senator says our civilization is a ''dysfunctional family.'' He favors a ''wrenching transformation of society,'' altering ''the very foundation of our civilization.'' Some leaders have effected such changes. Moses, Jesus, Mohammed. But the U.S. government?

His environmentalism is a caricature of contemporary liberalism, a compound of unfocused compassion (for the planet) and green guilt about ''consumptionism'' (a sin that Somalia and many other places would like to be more guilty of).

His call to ''make the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization'' is embarrassing. Who wants politicians who are unaware of the comical figure they cut when announcing new ''central organizing principles'' for civilization?

When Mr. Gore asserts, as he did yet again on television last Sunday, that ''the world scientific community'' is in ''consensus'' about global warming, he is being as cavalier about the truth as the Bush campaign has been about Bill Clinton's tax increases.

Mr. Gore knows that his former mentor at Harvard, Roger Revelle, who died last year, concluded: ''The scientific base for greenhouse warming is too uncertain to justify drastic action at this time. There is little risk in delaying policy responses.''

Mr. Gore knows, or should know before pontificating, that a recent Gallup Poll of scientists concerned with global climate research shows that 53 percent do not believe warming has occurred, and another 30 percent are uncertain.

Mr. Gore is marching with many people who not long ago were marching in the opposite direction. New York magazine's Christopher Byron notes that Stephen Schneider of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado is an ''environmentalist for all temperatures.''

Today, Mr. Schneider is hot about global warming; 16 years ago, he was exercised about global cooling. There are a lot like him among today's panic-mongers.

Mr. Gore complains that the media, by focusing on controversy, threaten the planet by creating skepticism about the agenda for which he insists there is scientific consensus.

Too often, skepticism (about Love Canal, acid rain, the non-existent Northern Hemisphere hole in the ozone layer) is vindicated long after being portrayed in the media as a moral failing rather than an intellectually debatable position.

Mr. Gore, who has spent most of his life in Washington's governing circle, overflows with the certitude characteristic of that circle. He knows the future and exactly what it requires, which turns out to be an unprecedented expansion of government: spending, regulating, evaluating technologies and transferring wealth abroad.

He has mastered the Washington art of arguing that his agenda won't really cost anything. You know: This or that program or regulation will make us healthier or smarter or better behaved, and therefore will make us more productive, so economic growth will increase and so will revenues, and thus everything will pay for itself.

Mr. Gore's new wrinkle on this is environmentalism-as-business-opportunity. We shall prosper by making environmentally ''necessary'' products. Perhaps.

But we know who certainly will prosper. Ronald Bailey in National Review reports a Rand study showing that 80 percent of the money spent by an environmental program Mr. Gore sponsored -- the Superfund for cleaning up contaminated sites -- has gone in fees to one of the Democratic Party's most powerful and financially grateful constituencies: lawyers.

The hoariest cliche in modern American politics is ''Marshall Plan'' for this or that (nowadays usually ''the cities''). It is being given another trot around the track by Mr. Gore's call for a ''Global Marshall Plan.''

He is vociferous against the ''hubris'' of our technological civilization but he partakes of the hubris of the government class which, having failed at its banal but useful business down the street (schools, bridges, medical care) has an itch to go global.

Mr. Gore's particular ideas (lots of new taxes; treating the automobile as a ''mortal threat'' to civilization and much more) have no constituency.

But what is dismaying is the way he trades in ideas, uncritically embracing extremisms that seem to justify vast expansions of his righteousness and of the power of the government he seeks to lead.

His unsmiling sense of lonely evangelism in a sinning world lacks the sense of proportion that is produced by a sense of history and of humor.

The planet is more resilient, the evidence about its stresses more mixed and the facts of environmental progress more heartening that he admits.

His book, a jumble of dubious 1990s science and worse 1960s philosophy ("alienation," etc.) is a powerful reason not to elect its author to high office in the executive branch, where impressionable people will be bombarded by bad ideas in search of big budgets.

George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.

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