What’s most inspiring about “Earth in the Balance” is who wrote it. It’s a big deal, after all, that a sitting senator was willing to write, “We must make the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization.” And that’s not all. In his 1992 book, Al Gore also wrote:
“I have become very impatient with my own tendency to put a finger to the political winds and proceed cautiously…. Every time I pause to consider whether I have gone too far out on a limb, I look at the new facts [on the environment crisis] that continue to pour in from around the world and conclude that I have not gone far enough…. The time has long since come to take more political risks-and endure more political criticism-by proposing tougher, more effective solutions and fighting hard for their enactments.”
And the buzz on the street is that Gore actually wrote those words himself.
When Earth in the Balance first came out, it caused quite a stir-and for good reason. It convincingly makes the case that a crisis of epidemic proportions is nearly upon us and that if the world doesn’t get its act together soon and agree to some kind of “Global Marshall Plan” to protect the environment, we’re all up a polluted creek without a paddle. Myriad plagues are upon us, but the worst include the loss of biodiversity, the depletion of the ozone layer, the slash-and-burn destruction of rainforests, and the onset of global warming. None of this is new, of course, nor was it new in 1992. But most environmentalists will still get a giddy feeling reading such a call to action as written by a prominent politician.
The book is arranged into three sections: the first describes the plagues; the second looks at how we got ourselves into this mess; and the final chapters present ways out. Gore gets his points across in a serviceable way, though he could have benefited from a firmer editor’s hand; at times the analogies are arcane and the pacing is odd-kind of like a Gore speech that climaxes at weird points and then sinks just as the audience is about to clap. Still, at the end you understand what’s been said. Gore believes that if we apply some American ingenuity, the twin engines of democracy and capitalism can be rigged to help us stabilize world population growth, spread social justice, boost education levels, create environmentally appropriate technologies, and negotiate international agreements to bring us back from the brink. For example, a worldwide shift to clean, renewable energy sources would create huge economic opportunities for companies large and small to design, build, and maintain solar panels, wind turbines, fuel cells, and other ecofriendly innovations.
Gore doesn’t mince words when describing just how hard it will be to get out of this jam. Real hope is contingent on a swelling up of concern among the public-and fast. A year into the vice presidency, in an interview with writer Bill McKibben, Gore paraphrased a key passage in his book, “The minimum that is scientifically necessary far exceeds the maximum that is politically feasible.” Ah, a political out. Some readers will ask of Gore: what has he done since publishing his book to advance the political feasibility of decisive environmental action?