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Al Gore's green streak

National | Will the veep's publisher spoil his moderate image makeover by republishing his extreme environmental tract?

Issue: "Back to no future," April 22, 2000

I had a really neat treehouse when I was growing up on the farm," confided the Vice President of the United States to a group of giggling first-graders at a South Dakota campaign stop last March. The elementary school visit was part of the Gore presidential campaign's coming-out. "We are in the process of introducing ourself to America," the veep's aide told a reporter that day: "Who he is, and what he's all about. It's quite a story."

Indeed. And it's a story that's about to be republished in hardback. New York-based publisher Houghton Mifflin will re-release Al Gore's 1992 ecological manifesto Earth in the Balance on April 22. The book's second advent isn't an election-year PR move by the Gore campaign. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Earth Day, and Houghton Mifflin, perhaps sensing the marketing equivalent of stellar alignment, is dusting off and repackaging the environmentalist oeuvre of a man who could be the next president.

Republicans are delighted; Gore campaign strategists seem less so. That's because a fresh voter examination of Earth in the Balance could make Mr. Gore appear out of balance. Much of the book is marked by vintage Gore overstatement (famously typified when the vice president told CNN he "took the initiative in creating the Internet"). Predicting global ecological collapse, he repeatedly compares the misuse of Earth's resources to fascist butchery, then emphasizes that he meant what he wrote: "It is not merely in the service of analogy that I have referred so often to the struggles against Nazi and communist totalitarianism, because I believe that the emerging effort to save the environment is a continuation of these struggles." Mr. Gore writes that unless we embrace a new global-villagism that "requires a fuller understanding of our connection to all people today ... we will lose our ability to redeem the promise of freedom." Near the end of the book, he reveals an overwhelmingly Green prescription: "We must make the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization."

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"I think they are all sitting in the fetal position over at the Gore campaign awaiting the release of this book," said Republican National Committee spokesman Chris Paulitz. "Earth in the Balance makes even the most left-thinking people cringe." Maybe not the left-most. But even many who favor Mr. Gore cringed in spurts when his rangy, 400-page tome was first published in 1992. For example, Time's Lance Morrow waxed generally adulatory but noted that "Gore here and there sounds as if his inner Ancient Mariner had lingered too long in adult-children seminars ... and humankind might 12-step the earth green again." An otherwise complimentary Business Week review tagged the book's second half a "magical mystery tour into Al Gore's soul" that "reels so much as to induce motion sickness." Even the liberal New Republic that year admitted that Mr. Gore's "environmental oratory is out of control."

On the eve of the book's reemergence, the Gore camp is keeping mum. Rip, a worker at Mr. Gore's Tennessee headquarters, told WORLD that the campaign press office is referring all Earth-related calls to Houghton Mifflin "since it was the publisher's decision to re-release the book." Later, Rip called back to refer WORLD to Melissa Ratcliff at the vice president's Washington press office.

What does Mr. Gore think about the republication of his book? WORLD asked Ms. Ratcliff.

"The book hasn't been released yet," she replied curtly. "If you'll call back when it is, I'll see what I can come up with."

So you have no comment at this time?

"No. No comment."

Conservatives are commenting plenty. On April 4th, Texas governor George W. Bush fired the campaign's first environmental salvo, revealing his plan to speed the rehabilitation of polluted industrial sites known as brownfields. Referring to Earth in the Balance, he then told reporters, "I think the vice president is probably going to have to explain what he meant by some of the things in his book."

In March, the Cato Institute released its own book challenging Mr. Gore's dark vision of the effects of global warming. Written by climatologists Patrick J. Michaels and Robert C. Balling Jr., The Satanic Gases argues that global warming leads to benign, if not beneficial, effects. The authors back their claims with more than 1,000 articles from peer-reviewed, scientific literature, and call Mr. Gore's apocalyptic view of global warming "nothing more than political theater."

According to the RNC, a phalanx of other conservative pundits stands ready to flood media outlets with editorials dissecting what Mr. Paulitz calls the vice president's "extremist environmental agenda." That agenda includes the complete elimination of the combustion engine by 2017 and "embarking on an all-out effort to use every policy and program, every law and institution, every treaty and alliance, every tactic and strategy, every plan and course of action-to use, in short, every means to halt the destruction of the environment and to preserve and nurture our ecological system." In Earth, Mr. Gore laments the "psychic pain" society feels as a result of its "disconnection from nature," a rift he believes occurred at the genesis of the scientific age. This disconnect, Mr. Gore writes, has resulted in a consumerist addiction that drives citizens of industrialized nations to overindulge in such things as shopping,

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