BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Senator Al Gore, author of the book "Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit." What's it all about?
Senator ALBERT GORE Jr. (Democrat, Tennessee; Author, "Earth in the Balance"): It's about a global ecological crisis that is, in my opinion, the most serious problem our world faces. It covers a lot of seemingly separate problems that are all part of the same underlying crisis. You know the old parable about the blind men and the elephant. One had ahold of the leg, the other the trunk, the other the tail and it took them some time to realize that all of these separate parts were parts of the same large entity. When I first got involved in studying about problems relating to the environment, I had so--some similar difficulties. I saw the problem of ozone depletion and climate change, toxic waste disposal, the rain forest destruction, all as seemingly separate problems. I've now come to the conclusion that they are all symptoms of a deeper underlying crisis, which is a collision between our civilization, as it's currently constituted, and the ecological system of the Earth.
The relationship between human beings and the Earth, as described in "Earth in
the Balance," has been changed profoundly in our lifetimes: the population
explosion, new scientific and technological inventions that magnify the power
we have to exploit the Earth and a relatively new way of thinking that we are
separate from the Earth, isolated individuals entitled to exploit it as much
as we want. And that way of thinking is--is what really needs to be changed
LAMB: You have a graphic inside the book and we're going to--it's a close-up
of this right here. We're going to pull back and as you pull back, you begin
to see something else.
Sen. GORE: Yeah, that is part of an experiment that was done to determine
what is the minimum amount of information needed by the human mind to decipher
an image. This, of course, is Abraham Lincoln. But when you see it close up,
it just looks like a jumble of light and dark squares. When you--when you
pull back from it, as we were a moment ago, the pattern is much easier to see.
And our way of looking at the evidence concerning the global environmental
crisis presents us with a similar challenge. If we just look at regional
problems or local problems, they look like a jumble of meaningless data. But
only by gaining the perspective which distance grants us, in time and space,
can we see that the Earth is a unified whole and that it is now facing this
unprecedented ecological crisis, which can be solved. And I--I--I wrote
"Earth in the Balance" not only to describe the causes and the roots of the
problem, but also the solutions for it. But the first challenge is to see it,
to recognize it.
There's an old story about a science experiment involving a frog that's
dropped in a pot of boiling water and it jumps right out. And then the same
frog is put in a pot of lukewarm water, which is slowly brought to a boil, and
the frog just sits there un--until it's rescued. The frog used to be boiled
in this story, but I--I--I've learned how important it is to rescue the frog.
But the point of that story is similar to the point of--of that graphic. The
frog's nervous system is so primitive, it needs a sudden jolt, a--a sudden
contrast to make the connection between the changed circumstances and the
danger it faces and what it needs to do to save itself. And we're like that
frog in that when we see and--and hear these signals from around the
world--the disappearance of the Aral sea, the Love Canal, the garbage barge,
the ozone hole. There's a very long list. The process of change they
represent seems deceptively gradual in the context of a human lifetime. But
in terms of history, it's actually very sudden and the question is: When are
we going to jump? When are we going to put two and two together and recognize
that we have a responsibility to the future to do something about it?
LAMB: You write in the introduction that a baseball game and your son...
Sen. GORE: Mm.
LAMB: ...had something to do with getting you interested enough to write this
Sen. GORE: I went through a change in my life when my son was almost killed a
couple of years ago. It was a shattering experience for my family. He has
had a miraculous recovery and we're very blessed and very grateful to all the
doctors and the nurses who--who--who helped to make it possible. But during
the long weeks when my wife and I were in the hospital room with him, I began
to really look at life a little bit differently and ask questions about what's
most important in life and, having already long since been deeply involved in
this issue, I began to look at it differently also. Instead of seeing it just
as an outgrowth of the new scientific and technological salt on the Earth and
the population explosion which is adding one China's worth of people every 10
years now, I began to--to feel that the deeper causes are within our own lives
as individuals. What gives us the notion that we are just isolated one from
another with no responsibility to the future our children are going to live,
no connection to the communities in--in which we live out our lives. And I
began to explore, in a very personal way, what it is that leads to these false
assumptions and how we can get on with the task of--of solving thi--this
crisis and organizing a response that gives our children and grandchildren and
generations to come an Earth that is not diminished and degraded by virtue of
what we're doing in our short lifetimes.
LAMB: How is your son?
Sen. GORE: Oh, he's doing great. He's had a full recovery. He--he's doing
terrifically well. I might say that during that episode I learned something
else, too. Those who had suffered the most in their own lives seemed to have
the most to offer to my family and me by way of comfort and understanding.
And the sharing, the prayers, the reaching out from so many people we'd never
even met was a healing experience and--and a profoundly moving experience. In
a sense, it gave me permission to fully experience my own grief, to allow
myself to feel what--the enormity of--of--of what had happened and what we
were going through, and I--I don't know, I'm--I'm in my early 40s and maybe
it's a time when people naturally begin to question the--the arc of their
lives. Certainly, that's the--that's the case with me and that--that
experience brought a lot of things home in a way that caused me to ask
different and, I think, better questions.
LAMB: How many kids do you have?
Sen. GORE: We have four children and our son is our youngest. We have a
freshman in college and a 14-year-old and a 13-year-old, three girls and a
LAMB: How close did he come to dying?
Sen. GORE: Well, too close. It was a--a--when I--when I reached him, he had
no breath, no pulse and two nurses who were off duty, working at Johns
Hopkins, happened by and, thank God, they were able to...
LAMB: You were at a baseball game?
Sen. GORE: We were at the opening day game in 1989.
LAMB: And how long did he spend in the hospital and in convalescence, because
you say that you spent a lot of time thinking about this stuff.
Sen. GORE: We were in the hospital 30 days and then there were follow-up
procedures for a long time and he needed microsurgery on his nerves
in--several months after that. He lost the use of his right arm for quite
awhile. Totally restored now. And then the physical therapy, which
continued. You know, I did not realize how many--and this is my own failing,
but it's something that you learn when you go throu--through an experience
like that. I did not realize how many people I was working with on a daily
basis who had gone through the same thing--maybe not exactly the same injury
or tragedy, but emotionally they had gone through the same thing. So many
families experience this and people that you meet in--in everyday
life--they'll be walking down the street or in the office where you work--are
sometimes carrying some very heavy burdens and not talking about them. But
they're really having that weight on their hearts, even as they're going about
their daily tasks, without saying anything about it. And I--it--my eyes were
really opened to a lot of things like that.
LAMB: Did you write the book yourself?
Sen. GORE: Every single word of it. And people in my profession sometimes
are suspect in that category. But, as you know, I was a journalist for seven
years before I got into politics and I'm quite familiar with word processing
and writing and--although I must say the difference between writing a daily
story--or daily stories and writing a book was a difference that I did not
fully appreciate until I got up to my elbows in this; and it is a different
breed of cat.
LAMB: What is the main difference?
Sen. GORE: There's a difference in the temporal reality. Stamina is--is one
of the most important qualities you have to bring to the task. If you've got
a--a long newspaper story, even a weekly story, and you get behind a little
bit, you can pull an all-nighter and--and get it finished or you can just
really buckle down and set aside the four to six to eight hours and get it
done. With a book, particularly one like this, that's, of course, entirely
out of the question. This was a three-year effort. The first two years were
focused mainly on the research and organizing the task, talking with people,
getting all the ducks in a row. And then immediately after the--excuse me,
immediately after the re-election campaign of 1990--in November of 1990, after
my own Senate re-election, I just cleared the decks and wrote in a very
concentrated way, day and night, weekends, for a full year, after having
gotten all the research lined up.
LAMB: On the cover, has this picture been seen before?
Sen. GORE: That particular image has not been seen, to my knowledge, anywhere
but on the cover. It's an actual photograph of the Earth put together by a
man named Tom van Sant. He selected, from thousands of satellite pictures of
the Earth, images that gave a cloud-free view of every square inch and
the--the large, flat version of that has been seen and, in fact, ha--has been
used by National Geographic as the frontispiece of their new atlas of the
Earth and in other places. But he put the images together in a--in a
globe--onto a globe and this one, for example, is the only image I know of
that shows a clear view of the North Pole, the arctic ice cap in summer.
One interesting feature of the picture, Brian, is that the Northern and
Southern hemispheres are both in summer at the same time, because the pictures
were taken over a three-year period and he selected summer exposures. If you
look close--you can't see it with your cameras, but you can actually see down
in South America--you can see the fresh water of the Amazon River
coming--coming out into the south Atlantic there. It--it really is an
LAMB: One of the things that I noticed as I read--I'd come across a page and
I'd say, `when I got back from the North Pole' or `when I got back from the
rain forest' or--how many different places have you been in the world in order
to write the book?
Sen. GORE: Lots. I've--I've engaged in a concentrated effort to go to the
front lines of this ecological crisis over the last several years--the North
Pole, the South Pole, the Amazon, the Aral sea--places where environmental
tragedies are most visible, where the impact of our civilization on the
Earth's ecology is easiest to see.
LAMB: People that you've met along the way that you remember?
Sen. GORE: Well, a lot of them. There are people who I describe as
resistance fighters--individuals who are standing in the path of the
bulldozers, people who, like Chico Mendes, have been assassinated for the
work that they have done.
LAMB: Who is he? Who was he?
Sen. GORE: He--he was a man in the Amazon region of Brazil who spoke out
against the widespread burning and--and the cutting of the Amazon rain forest
and organized those who live in the rain forest and around it to use the rain
forest in a sustainable way, to harvest the renewable bounty of the rain
forest. But wealthy landowners who want--who wanted to just burn it down and
clear it for a year's worth of cattle ranching hired an assassin to kill him.
More than 1,000 others were killed just in the last year, not as well known as
Chico Mendes, but this is, in--in some ways, like a war.
These resistance fighters have no hope of winning unless their courage arouses
the conscience of the rest of the world. And that is beginning to happen. I
report on some of those in various countries who are becoming quite successful
at getting the message out. We have this misconception sometimes that it's
the developed world against the developing world, but just as some of the
worst ecological catastrophes are in the developing world, some of the most
eloquent spokesmen and spokeswomen for what can be changed are there, too. A
woman like Juangari Matai in Kenya who has planted, with her organization,
more than seven million trees in the last few years to help stop soil erosion,
which is at epidemic, catastrophic levels throughout much of the Third World.
LAMB: Where'd she plant them?
Sen. GORE: On eroded hillsides, in villages. And they choose indigenous
species, native species that are genetically prone to do well in the climate
and the region where they're planted.
LAMB: Where'd she get the money to afford seven million trees?
Sen. GORE: Well, it's the--the seeds are not expensive. And her women's
groups--that's how it started--in each village plant little nurseries
themselves and then they--they compensate the people who plant the trees, not
for planting the trees, but for ensuring that the trees survive. Only after
they have reached a stage of growth that makes--makes it very likely that
they--that they will stay there do they get the little compensation involved.
But she raises the money herself.
LAMB: Christine and Woodrow Sterling of Toone, Tennessee, who are they?
Sen. GORE: They are two people who contacted me when I was in the House of
Representatives many years ago about a--a funny taste in their well water.
And they had done a little detective work on their own and had discovered that
a chemical company from 70 miles away in Memphis had been trucking its
chemical waste to the rural area where the Sterlings live and dumping it into
shallow trenches wh--in a way that caused contamination of the water table.
And after looking into it, I then chaired the first hearing on chemical waste
disposal and we had the Sterlings come and testify and folks from a little
community in upstate New York known as Love Canal, which later became, of
course, a nationwide and even worldwide symbol for the problem of toxic waste
LAMB: You have a lot of other names here, Marilyn Bullock.
Sen. GORE: Marilyn Bullock is a very energetic woman, a mother from Henderson
County, Tennessee, who woke up one Christmas Eve morning to the news--the
startling news that her county had just been selected as the site for a
chemical waste disposal landfill and a company had come in and secretly,
through intermediaries, bought up the rights to 2,000 acres. And you talk
about ruining somebody's Christmas, that community--that entire community rose
up in arms and they said, `This is not going--going to be allowed to happen
By the time I got there a few weeks later, the county courthouse, on the
inside, was completely plastered with individual posters from schoolchildren.
Every schoolchild in the county had done a poster about why the environment of
that county had to be saved and how much they were opposed to letting this
chemical waste be dumped there. And they didn't--I mean, the attitude was
really extraordinary. They just said very confidently, `This is not going to
be put here.' And they went about learning the facts related to chemical
waste disposal; and they very carefully said, `We don't want to just save our
own back yards, we don't want the kind of thing they're proposing here to be
done anywhere in the country.' I--I responded to them by having a--a
congressional hearing in a nearby city and some national experts on the
problem came and said, `They're right.' And they had done their homework and
the whole project had to be scrapped.
What's changing now is--is--is something very similar to what changed in that
county when they woke up on Christmas Eve morning. All across this country,
there are groups who are concerned about where a landfill or an incinerator's
going to go because they feel their back yards are threatened. What's
changing now is the definition of back yard. And when enough people make the
connection, emotionally, not just intellectually, between the devastation of
the global environment and their own back yards, we're going to then feel the
same intensity brought to the global environmental questions that are now
brought to these local environmental disputes.
One example, in your back yard, Brian, here in this studio, the air that we're
breathing while we're talking has 600 percent more chlorine atoms in each
breath we take right now than it did when you and I were born. And that's
true at the North Pole and the South Pole and everywhere on Earth. In just 40
years time, we have multiplied by six the number of chlorine atoms in every
part of the Earth's atmosphere. Now that doesn't hurt our health directly,
but it does burn a hole in the ozone layer and lets in more ultraviolet B
radiation, which suppresses the immune system and causes more cataracts and
more cases of skin cancer and an extra 200,000 deaths from skin cancer here in
the United States alone in the next few decades. Now that's in my back yard
and your back yard, but in order to protect our back yards, we have to address
ourselves to the changes taking place in the global environment. And kids are
now beginning to make that connection. We've got to start making that
LAMB: Linda Draper?
Sen. GORE: Linda Draper is a--a really neat person whose family worked for
years for the General Electric company. And she bought a GE refrigerator and
it worked fine. And one day a serviceman knocked on her door and said, `We've
got to tell you that there's a problem with the refrigerator you bought, but
don't worry. We're going to replace the defective part before you have any
problems.' And in a manner of speaking, the company was trying to go out of
its way to--to do the right thing, it thought. But when the repairman started
to change the compressor and put in the new one, he said, `Would you mind
opening your kitchen window?' And she said, `Sure. Why?' And there was a
loud whoosh. Those were the CFCs, the chlorofluorocarbons, rushing out into
the Earth's atmosphere.
Well, Linda had been doing volunteer work for an environmental group. She's
very concerned about the global environment, and she figured out what was
happening and she just went nuts. I mean, that's the wrong way to put it.
She--she got very concerned, and she said, `What are you doing?' And then she
dug into the facts and found out that the company was doing this with millions
of these things and accounting for lots of chlorofluorocarbons going into the
atmosphere and she just said, `Stop.' And she called the company. They
didn't respond. She went to an environmental group. They did respond.
LAMB: You're talking about General Electric?
Sen. GORE: Yeah. That's right. And then she went to an environmental group.
They came to me with Linda and explained the problem and they were prepared to
have a nationwide boycott and--and I--of GE products. And I said, `Wait a
minute. Ha--let me talk to the company.' And I did and--and we--we had a
good conversation and I said, `Can't--isn't there some other way to make this
a win-win situation instead of a--a lose-lose outcome?' And, to their credit,
they bucked it up to the CEO level and they really put their thinking caps on
and they came up with a--a very innovative solution. And as a result, there
was no net increase in CFCs in the environment and they developed a new unit
to scavenge chlorofluorocarbons any time a similar situation is faced by them
or any other appliance manufacturer in the future. And they're now trying to
lead the way on this particular question. So it--it--it turned out to have
a--a happy ending and it serves as an example of a change that's happening
with a lot of businesses.
Northern Telecom, if I can mention another one, is--happens to be
headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. When the problem with
chlorofluorocarbons was first addressed by the Montreal Protocol--that's the
worldwide treaty that was signed in 1987--a lot of companies said, `You know,
we can't ban chlorofluorocarbons. There's nothing we can do about it.'
Northern Telecom said, `Let's get rid of them, whatever it takes.' And they
went to work and just a few weeks ago they had a worldwide celebration. They
beat the deadline by nine years and got completely rid of them and they found
out in the process that the new process they developed is cheaper and the
products have a higher quality as a result. And that's not unusual when
companies pay attention to what--to the details of how they can eliminate
wasteful pollution, they end up eliminating wasted money, too. And they drive
creativity and come up with new discoveries. So there's a--there are a lot of
hopeful stories in "Earth in the Balance" because some of the problems are so
tough, they sometimes seem impossible to solve, but it's important to
recognize that people are beginning to solve them. We can solve them. We
must and we will.
LAMB: You say in the introduction--you say, `I use CFCs in my automobile air
conditioner, for example, on the way to a speech about why they should be
Sen. GORE: As I said earlier, I've done a lot of introspection and
soul-searching in--into the way I, myself, react to--to this problem and I'm a
little more sensitive now--a lot more sensitive now to some of the things I do
that are habits that are hard to break. I still drive my car more than I feel
is right. I sometimes run to work now and I feel better for having done it,
but--but I still use a--a car more than I should and--but I don't think that
people should feel so guilty about things like that that they're just
paralyzed from doing anything about it. I concede a certain level of
hypocrisy, in that I am working on this practically all the time and yet the
patterns that I still have in my own life still help to contribute to the
problem. But I'm changing and my family is changing. And I want to see that
public policy changes along with the commitment of individuals who are getting
involved in this.
I've talked to some people who have gotten into recycling in a big way and
have then become frustrated when the stuff they collect piles up and they
can't sell it because the community in which they live hasn't gotten on the
ball and put a good recycling program into place. You really do have to have
both--the personal commitment, first to learn about it, and then to change the
patterns in--in our lives and ye--and also you have to have the public policy
framework that encourages and facilitates the kinds of changes that millions
of people are anxious and ready to make.
LAMB: Can you give any other example of something in your life you've changed
or something around the Senate that's changed because of the concern?
Sen. GORE: Sure. On the Rules Committee, I--I've taken the lead in pushing
forward a--a Senatewide recycling program. The architect of the Capitol was
already on the case and it didn't take too much of a nudge but the Rules
Committee was very actively involved on both sides of the aisle in pushing
this forward and now we--we're going to have a--a very effective recycling
program in the Senate. We...
LAMB: You mean specifically around the Senate offices?
Sen. GORE: Absolutely. Absolutely.
LAMB: Paper and glass...
Sen. GORE: Paper, glass, cans. And we recycle in my home. I can't take
credit for my family getting into that because my children led the way on
that. And that seems to be a common pattern among the families that I talk
with. It's sort of like seat belts. Your kids bug you to wear them and a lot
of families are probably wearing them for that reason. Recycling is the same
And I might say this, too, Brian. What I've found in researching the book and
in working on this problem is that kids are generally more active and more
involved with this issue than older pare--than their parents or older
Americans are. I ask them routinely in elementary schools, `Do you think
you're more concerned than your parents?' And they always say--100 percent of
them raise their hands and say, `Yes.' When I ask them why, they say,
`Because we're going to be around longer than they are.' Sometimes the
teacher will leap out of the side of the classroom and say, `We didn't have
the facts. We didn't know everything that these kids are being exposed
to.' But one of the reasons I wrote "Earth in the Balance" is to put in one
place all the facts for anybody who is curious about why their kids are so
involved in this issue and what families can do to address the issue.
LAMB: You write, `I have become very impatient with my own tendency to put a
finger to the political winds and proceed cautiously.'
Sen. GORE: Yeah. That's more of that introspection that I talked about
earlier. I think that one of the problems with our political system, in both
parties, is such a sensitivity to the short-term fluctuations in--in public
opinion that a lot of elected officials are--are too timid and--and less
willing to--to--to go out in front of public opinion and say, `Look, I've
taken the time to investigate this problem and you may not yet agree with what
I have to say, but I'm asking you to take the time to check what I'm telling
you and then see if you don't agree.' That's called leadership. And I don't
think we have enough leadership in either political party now, certainly not
from--from President Bush on this particular question.
But let me just talk about my own experience. When I ran for president in
1988--you know I used to be the next president of the United States--and when
I started that campaign, I said the number one issue in my campaign is going
to be the global environmental crisis. And the next day, some of the pundits
said, `How naive he is. This is not going to be an issue.' And, I guess, to
an extent they were right. But I don't think they're right for long and even
if they were right, looking back on that campaign now, I wish that I had been
more willing to say in every single speech, right up front in the speech,
`This is the main issue and I'm going to hammer away at it, even if the news
media doesn't cover it or doesn't put it on the A list of issues.' I--let me
use an analogy. The savings and loan crisis wasn't mentioned in that campaign
either. But if one of us who ran had taken the time to dig into the facts of
that before the election and had brought out the--the--the facts about the
crisis to the people, we might have saved the taxpayers hundreds of billions
of dollars and had an impact on that election campaign in '88 in the process.
LAMB: Jumping to a chapter called Self Stewardship, let me read a half a
paragraph. `Thirty-second television commercials and sophisticated public
opinion polling can now calibrate and target a political message with
frightening speed and accuracy. And they can do more to manipulate the
opinion--opinions of voters in two weeks than all the speeches and debates and
political organizations together can accomplish in 10 years.' Do you really
mean that and, if you do, why do you go through all the process of Senate
debate and speeches on the road and all that if all you need is 30-second
television commercials to get a message across?
Sen. GORE: Well, one of the reasons why the Senate floor is practically
deserted during most speeches is that most of my colleagues know that what
will matter at election time is the 30-second commercials. And what will not
matter very much, usually, is the long speeches that are made on the substance
of the issues that we're dealing with. I do--I don't mean this as an
advertisement for C-SPAN, but thank goodness that we do have a C-SPAN because,
otherwise, nobody would ever hear those speeches at all. It's one of the only
remaining links between the American people and the kind of government that
our founders expected that we would have.
Just as technology is a big part of the problem where the global environment
is concerned, technology is part of the problem where our political process is
concerned. As we become more familiar with the technology of television and
short commercials, I think some more creative ideas will emerge for using the
technology to reclaim the meaningful dialogue that must take place between
politicians and people, between elected officials and people.
For example, I've recommended that the key debates on matters of greatest
import on the Senate floor ought to be scheduled consciously at a time when
people are able to watch on television. I'd like to see C-SPAN in prime time
competing with all of the other things that--that are on television with
the--with the best, most passionate, most heated, most meaningful debates that
the Senate has scheduled consciously for those prime-time hours. Then, when
enough people started tuning in at that time, you'd get more senators and
congressmen coming to the floor, jumping up to participate when a debate went
in a--in a way that they didn't like and--and we would have a better chance to
reinvigorate political debate in this country. But--but there's one
ingredient that has nothing to do with technology, nothing to do with
commercials, and that is a willingness of the individuals in the political
system to--to speak what's on their hearts and--and to be willing to take a
long-range view and--and--and really look beyond the next election or--or the
next State of the Union speech or tomorrow's daily public opinion poll.
LAMB: When are you up for election again?
Sen. GORE: I'm not up for another four years.
LAMB: And have you--as long as we're talking about elections, have you ruled
out running for president again?
Sen. GORE: I announced last August that I wouldn't run in 1992 and I said at
the time that, in my opinion, President Bush was going to take a nosedive in
the public opinion polls; and I said if I made the decision for political
reasons, I would run. But part of the healing process my family's been going
through that we talked about a little bit earlier has made me change the--the
way I try to discharge my commitment to my family during this period when my
family's a little more vulnerable than--than normal. Our whole family was hit
hard by the accident that we talked about and it was just inconsistent with
that healing process for me to rip myself out of their lives and go out on the
campaign trail full time for two years or a year and a half or a year,
whatever, and--and put my whole heart and soul into a presidential campaign.
It was not the right thing for me to do, personally, this time around. I hope
that I'll have another chance at some point in the future. I know that
his--time waits on no person and I know that I may never have another chance
like this one. Even if that's true, I'll never have second thoughts about
this decision this year. But if I do have another chance, I will run for
LAMB: Off the subject but, if you didn't run for president and you weren't a
United States senator, what other professions have you found that you'd be
interested in? What other things would you want to do in your life?
Sen. GORE: I'd be a writer. I'd be a full-time writer.
LAMB: So this was an interesting experience for you?
Sen. GORE: Oh, it sure was. Well, I was a full-time writer for seven years,
just before I got into politics. And I--I--I was in it long enough to get
the--the printer's ink in my veins a little bit, and I really do like the
process of writing. I'm one of those people who finds it easier to understand
something in the process of trying to communicate it and express it. Not
everybody's like that, a l--there are a lot of us, I know that for a fact.
But I'm--I'm like that; and so I do like to--to--to search my own thoughts in
the process of trying to communicate them to others.
LAMB: Houghton Mifflin's the publisher. What got them interested?
Sen. GORE: Houghton Mifflin is a terrific publishing company. I've been so
impressed with them. They're very conscious of their tradition of publishing
books on the environment. They were the publishers of s--of "Silent Spring"
by Rachel Carson back in 1962. In fact, going farther back than that, they
were the publishers of "On Walden Pond" by Thoreau. And they just have a
very strong commitment to the overarching issue and the editor in chief, John
Sterling, took a personal interest in the project. He became my editor. I
worked with him, you know, the normal relationship--just every single day and
since he is in New York and I'm mostly here, we really burned up the--the
telephone lines going over every--every page. And I learned a lot from the
editing process, because the editors I've worked with in the newspaper
business taught me a lot, but as we were saying earlier, a book is so
different. Rearranging the flow of ideas and concepts with an eye to the arc
of a--of a whole book is something that--that is akin to an art. And I gained
a tremendous amount of respect for what good editing is--is all about. And
John Sterling really did a super job.
LAMB: Is it well known that people read a book in a certain way? In other
words, do they read the first couple chapters and sometimes skip over the
middle and then end up in the--I mean, I--for instance, when I read a book for
this program, I'll often read the back before I read the front, because I want
to get all the little details on how this thing came together.
Sen. GORE: I think--I think most people write books as if they're going to be
read from front to back continuously. I'm not sure everybody reads them that
way. You don't. But the arc of a book is constructed according to that
assumption. A book starts in a particular place and then takes the reader
through the full text and then ends in--in the right way. And if your
experience is, as mine was, in writing 30-word leads and relatively short
newspaper stories, it's--you have to make a transition to--to--to capture that
sense of how long the arc of a book is. My editor was very helpful in--in--in
helping me gain that understanding. I wrote it in sections, not chapters. I
mention that I took a couple of years before I actually started the writing
process to organize research. I pasted things up on the wall and--and every
area was a different part of the book. I ended up with 45 sections and then
they were aggregated in--into chapters and actually there was surgery from
time to time to rearrange the way chapters were put together. And that again
was a--was a new experience for me.
LAMB: I notice you point out that "Silent Spring" came out in 1962. Rachel
Carson was the author. I didn't know that it was Houghton Mifflin, but your
mother read the book and had an impact on you?
Sen. GORE: Sure did. It was a big topic of dinner conversation in our
family. And my sister and I were impressed by the intensity my mother brought
to that subject. It was clearly different than other subjects that had made
an impression on her. And what was different about it is that something you
couldn't readily see or taste or smell or hear was being spread throughout the
environment and having an impact that could only be perceived in the cycle of
the seasons with the disappearance of songbirds in--in that case. And the
songbirds are disappearing and, incidentally, one of the facts in the book is
that if you measure the pesticide use in Rachel Carson's time and compare it
to now, the world is using 13,000 times as much pesticide as it was when
Rachel Carson wrote "Silent Spring."
LAMB: Up front you have a dedication in the book here to your sister. I
assume, because of the dates, that you lost your sister back in 1984. How?
Sen. GORE: She died of lung cancer. And she was the very first volunteer for
the Peace Corps.
LAMB: First ever?
Sen. GORE: First ever. And worked with Bill Moyers and Sarge Shriver and
Harris Wofford and the group that put the Peace Corps together. And she was
a--a great person and I--I feel emotional just--just remembering how much she
meant to me. She--when I first ran for public office, she told her husband
she was going to have to take a few months away from--from him and came and
took the toughest counties that I had in that district and--and just worked
full time and really made the difference. I didn't write about this in the
book, Brian, but when--when she died I had a lot of thoughts about lung cancer
and--and smoking. There are 100,000 tobacco farms in Tennessee, but most
tobacco farmers would prefer that their own children not--not smoke. And our
country's been wrestling with that issue.
I think there's a parallel to this issue. There are some scientists who are
employed by tobacco companies who still argue that there's no link between
smoking and lung cancer. I don't think any of them has ever held the hand of
somebody who died of lung cancer and breathed their last breath. If they did,
they wouldn't continue to make such a facile and wrong argument. But
you know, if you look at this--at the details of the science, they really
don't know exactly how smoking causes lung cancer. But the weight of the
evidence is clear--350,000 people a year die as a direct consequence of
Now I said that it is an analogy. Our global civilization is now at the
equivalent of a 10-pack-a-day habit. You know all those oil wells that were
on fire in Kuwait, with the smoke blackening the sky? All of them put
together on the worst day put less than 1 percent of the pollution into the
Earth's atmosphere that we put into the Earth's atmosphere every day. And
there's some people who say, `No problem. It's not going to cause any harm.'
They're wrong. Dire Straits, the rock group, has a line in one of its song,
`Denial ain't just a river in Egypt.' It's a psychological strategy like
putting your head in the sand. And some people who are addicted to alcohol,
for example, will see a string of drunk-driving accidents as unrelated
misfortunes when, actually, they're connected.
Well, we look around the world now and we see these ecological catastrophes
that are beginning to resume but what the comedian A. Whitney Brown called a
nature hike through the book of Revelation, and yet a lot of people see them
as just sort of unconnected misfortunes and wonder, `Well, what's going
on?' They're connected. They're connected to a pattern of addiction. Our
civilization is, in a very real sense, addicted to a pattern of consuming the
Earth's resources in a completely unsustainable way. And just as with other
addictions, there is an aspect of distraction involved. There's a certain
frenzy in this attitude. You've seen the--the old--the funny poster, `He who
dies with the most toys wins.' `Shopping is now a recreational
activity.' Or--you know, there's a--and people who are constantly doing this
are often not happy at all. People question whether their lives have a--have
a deeper meaning. This is at bottom, in my opinion, a spiritual crisis.
The--the assumption that we are separate from the Earth, separate from each
other, separate from the communities in which we live, and that the only thing
that matters is just get it while we can right now and don't worry about the
future. That produces a very profound uneasiness in people and the
environmental crisis is--is the single most serious manifestation of this
LAMB: Near the end in--in the chapter called Conclusion, you wre--you write
some things. I want to re--this will take a couple seconds. I want to
write--read this to the audience. And you--`The resurgence of fundamentalism
in every world religion from Islam to Judaism to Hinduism to Christianity, the
proliferation of new spiritual movements, ideologies and cults of all shapes
and descriptions, the popularity of New Age doctrines and the current
fascination with explanatory myths and stories from cultures the world over,
all serve as evidence for the conclusion that there is indeed a spiritual
crisis in modern civilization that seems to be based on emptiness at its
center and the absence of a larger spiritual purpose.' What are you getting
Sen. GORE: I think we are connected to each other. I think we do have a--a
larger meaning and purpose in our lives. I talk about my own religious faith
in--in this book and my faith teaches that we are given dominion over the
Earth but we're required to be good stewards of the Earth. And it--my faith
teaches that the purpose of life is to--to glorify the creator of life. Other
faiths state the same principle in different ways, but the underlying
assumption is that we are part of something larger than ourselves and that our
lives have meaning within a larger context. If we cut ourselves off from that
larger context, whether it is defined in spiritual terms or whether it is
defined in the terms an agnostic might use, a connection with future
generations, perhaps, we--we are part of something that extends beyond the
boundaries of our skin, beyond the--the term of our own lives. We are here
because of what came before us and what happens after us will depend, in large
measure, on decisions and choices that we make in our lifetimes. It's an
illusion for us to suffer the conceit that we have no responsibility to those
who come after us.
If--if I can just make one other reference to my own personal religious faith,
there's a parable in--in two of the gospels that make up my faith about the
un--it's called the parable of the unfaithful servant. It's a very simple
story. The master of the house leaves on a journey and tells his servant,
`While I'm gone, if vandals come and ransack this house or thieves come and
steal my belongings, if you tell me you were asleep, that won't--will not be a
good enough excuse.' I believe that this is God's Earth. I believe that we
belong here but we have a responsibility to take care of it. And right now
there is environmental vandalism on a global scale and many seem prepared to
say, `Well, we were asleep. We didn't know what was going on. We didn't
realize that--that we were causing such damage and allowing such damage to--to
occur.' I think we have a responsibility to something larger than ourselves
to stop this environmental vandalism.
Do you realize the--the leading scientists in--in the world now say that if
the current rate of species loss continues, more than half of all the living
creatures God put on this Earth will disappear within the lifetimes of our
children. Extinction is a natural process, but now it's proceeding 1,000
times faster than it has ever happened in the last 65 million years, because
of what our civilization is doing. And we've got to speak out and stop that.
And we know how to stop it. The solutions are in "Earth in the Balance," and
can be implemented as soon as a political consensus is formed, as it's already
forming among young people, as it's already beginning to form in Europe, in
Japan and elsewhere and as it will form here when more time passes and when we
have new leadership.
LAMB: At what point in the process will you review the success of this book
or--or the process of this book and determine that it was all worth it? And
what will--what will have to happen to make it all worth it?
Sen. GORE: Well, I've already reached that point. If I never sold a single
book or never got it into the hands of a single reader, it would have been
worth it for me because it enabled me to search my own heart, my own feelings
and thoughts about this crisis and this challenge in a way that I would not
have done otherwise. I'm, of course, very gratified with the extremely
favorable reviews that are--are--have been coming in and the response, when
people walk up to me at bookstores, and say, `I've already read it. I'd like
you to sign it, but it really moved me,' and that's, of course, icing on the
cake, and I--I'm very gratified by that. But--but the real payoff, if you
will, would be if it contributed in some small way to speeding up the
formation of that political consensus that I talked about earlier, which
convinces the political system to move. See, I think the change in our
political system is like change in the global environment. It doesn't always
occur slowly. It builds toward a threshold and then the system adopts a new
pattern. I think that when enough people become convinced that this has to be
a priority, then the political system will start falling all over itself to
come up with creative responses.
LAMB: We just have a moment and people are going to have to buy the book if
they want to learn your proposal on global Marshall Plan, but it's a rather
extensive plan for the future. At what point do you think you really have a
shot at getting a global Marshall Plan paid for by this country?
Sen. GORE: Well, it shouldn't be paid for by this country.
LAMB: Well, our part of it.
Sen. GORE: Japan, Europe, the oil-rich countries, this has to be a global
effort. The first step internationally i--is to make the effort to save the
Earth's environment the central organizing principle for the post-Cold War
world, just as we bent every effort to defeat communism. Now, on a global
basis, we have to develop this shared commitment to bend every effort towards
saving the Earth's environment. That sounds and seems impossible to many
right now, just as a few years ago it seemed impossible to expect the Soviet
Union to disappear and all of Eastern Europe to be free and democratic and
capitalist. But when enough people change their way of thinking about
communism, then what seemed impossible became imperative. Now as more and
more people are changing their way of thinking about the Earth's environment
and our responsibility to it, what seems impossible will become imperative.
LAMB: This is what the book looks like. It's called "Earth in the Balance:
Ecology and the Human Spirit" by Senator Al Gore, Democrat of Tennessee.
Thank you for joining us.
Sen. GORE: Thanks for doing such a thorough job, Brian. Appreciate it.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1992. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.