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Environment | Al Gore's latest book tour has less science than politics and less polish than the movie version

Issue: "Fixing Islam," June 16, 2007

SEATTLE- Protesters, supporters, and media members clogged the sidewalk outside Seattle's Town Hall June 4, anticipating the arrival of Al Gore to promote his latest book, The Assault on Reason (The Penguin Press, 2007). Inside the building's 850-seat theater, which sold out in three minutes, an electric buzz echoed off the domed ceiling. Many in attendance sported "Gore 2008" buttons in hopes of prodding their man into another bid for the White House. The auditorium erupted in applause when the former vice president took the stage.

But for the next 45 minutes, the audience turned remarkably silent. Gore lectured on the history of "information ecosystems," including wide-ranging topics from the creation of language to Gutenberg's printing press to the age of television and the internet. The largely gray-headed crowd, many of whom might have skipped or slept through similar presentations as college freshmen 30 years ago, saw little of the wit and humor that characterized Gore's Academy Award-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. This was Gore without an editor: vague, long-winded, and conspicuously unpresidential.

Not until the end of his talk did the one-time face of the Democratic Party deliver the shots at Republicans that people had come to see. He reiterated his new book's central thesis that the millions of Americans who disagree with his views on climate change or the Iraq War have simply lost the ability to reason.

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Gore contends that GOP leaders, specifically President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, are in the business of duping the nation's citizenry for financial gain. "The public interest is considered by the ideology that now controls the executive branch to be a myth," he said.

As proof, Gore asked the audience to weigh the importance of repealing the death tax against that of providing universal public health care. To Gore, anyone who favors the tax cut is not only incorrect but also either dishonest or obtuse.

Gore did not publicly address the Bush administration's recently unveiled plan to develop a global climate-change framework by the end of next year. But in an interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he called the proposal "a transparent ruse" and "the latest in a long effort to obfuscate and delay."

Such remarks echo those of some European leaders, who fear the Bush plan marks the end of the Kyoto protocol, an international pact calling for hard caps on greenhouse-gas emissions. Indeed, the Bush framework maintains the United States' consistent rejection of hard caps, placing the focus on research and development of emissions-reducing technology-a far more palatable enterprise to developing nations such as China and India, which have long refused to adopt the Kyoto strategy.

Bush contends that any meaningful international approach to climate change must include China and India, the former of which will surpass the United States this year as the world's foremost emitter of greenhouse gases. His plan, which he detailed at the three-day G8 summit in Germany last week, will seek support from the 15 highest-emitting nations, encouraging each country to set individual goals and share technology to achieve them. Much to the chagrin of Gore and others like German chancellor Angela Merkel-who has proposed hard caps to reduce emissions 50 percent by 2050-the Bush plan is expected to vault the United States into a position of leadership in the global climate-change dialogue.

The plan has already received endorsements from Democrats usually opposed to this administration's environmental policies. Its deadline for implementation ensures that even if a Democrat assumes control of the White House in January of 2009, alterations or an outright rejection of the framework would prove politically risky. What U.S. president would voluntarily forfeit leadership of an established international coalition-besides Gore, that is?

To Gore, the very notion that technology alone could sufficiently reduce emissions to curb global warming offends reason. He advocates dramatic worldwide lifestyle changes as the only real solution to a climate crisis that he says imminently threatens human civilization.

In an effort to lend credence to his dire projections, many of which have fielded sharp criticism from highly respected and accomplished climatologists, Gore's book draws parallels between climate change and the Iraq War. During his Seattle speech, the anti-war author detailed a litany of incorrect intelligence that prompted the Iraq invasion. He suggested that the Bush administration's use of this information amounted to willful manipulation and an assault on reason, the same tactics, he argued, now employed to debunk his extreme climate scenarios. "The consequences of failing to respond to the climate crisis are far more serious than the consequences of invading Iraq," he said. "What this book is about is how we can avoid making other mistakes like that."

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