Greenhouse Gore

Mona Charen

September 03, 1992|By Mona Charen

SEN. Al Gore is a scary guy. Though today, as a candidate for vice president, he smiles and aw-shucks his retreat from some of the proposals in his book, "Earth in the Balance," the work itself reveals him to be a glazed-eyed, environmental ideologue.

The tone of the tome is urgent earnestness. Like all converts, Mr. Gore is impatient with those who continue to doubt. Doubts never cloud his new vision -- nor does he trouble much about factual accuracy. The book, for all its fine organization and skilled (if pedantic) writing, contains one scientific whopper after another.

On Page 9, the senator refers to "the day the scientific community confirmed that the dangerous hole in the sky above Antarctica was caused by CFCs." There was no such day. The "scientific community" never speaks with one voice, far less would it do so on one particular day.

In truth, there is no consensus about what is causing the so-called "ozone hole." Some scientists note that the ozone layer thickened during the 1960s and then thinned during the period of 1979 to 1986. The magazine Science said in 1989: "The recent losses may be natural and may result from long-term fluctuations of the general circulation of the atmosphere." Other scientists believe sun-spot activity may be a contributing cause.

Mr. Gore states throughout the book that "we are heating up the atmosphere." But this is by no means scientifically established. It's a theory, and it may be correct. But many scientists have doubts that human civilization is causing the earth to warm. They note that, over time, the earth experiences vast climate shifts for reasons only imperfectly understood. The late 17th century saw a "little ice age," which was preceded by 800 years of relative warmth.

At the root of the "global warming" theory is the idea that man-made chemicals released into the atmosphere are permanently changing the environment. And yet, as Dixy Lee Ray argues in her book, "Trashing the Planet," "all of the air-polluting materials produced by man since the beginning of the industrial revolution do not begin to equal the quantities of toxic materials, aerosols and particulates spewed into the air from just three volcanoes: Krakatau in 1883, Mount Katmai in 1912, and Hekla in 1947."

There is dubious science on almost every page of the senator's book. He wrings his hands over world population growth and cites as his authority Paul Ehrlich, the discredited former geneticist who once predicted that by the 1970s "hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death . . . population control is the only answer."

Mr. Gore ignores evidence that he finds inconvenient, such as the fact that the ice sheet on Greenland is getting thicker, or that the amount of ultraviolet radiation actually reaching the earth's surface is decreasing, not increasing. He doesn't shrink from blaming the recent drought in California on global warming but fails to explain why far worse droughts occurred during the 1930s.

Still, Greenhouse Gore would be a good nickname for the senator, for whatever may be happening to the Earth's atmosphere, his rhetoric is certainly overheated. He refers several times to an "environmental holocaust" and compares those who disagree with him to racists and anti-Semites.

Senator Gore really tips his hand in the chapter titled "Dysfunctional Civilization." Here, his full-blown disgust with modern society and its comforts is on display. Comparing us to addicts, hooked on despoiling the earth, Mr. Gore condemns not just pollution but "products for which we spend billions on advertising to convince ourselves we want, massive surpluses of products that depress prices while the products themselves go to waste, and diversions and distractions of every kind." We have become disconnected from the Earth, he argues, and this has led to "an epidemic of mental illness . . . drug and alcohol abuse and homicide."

Really? The "surpluses" Mr. Gore condemns are what allow ordinary Americans, not fortunate enough to be wealthy senators, to afford the good things of life. If Mr. Gore is truly advocating a simpler, pre-industrial, non-capitalist (he says he's for a "modified free market") society, he should say so in his debate with Dan Quayle -- who, incidentally, should memorize this book.

Mona Charen writes a syndicated column.

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