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What Al Gore Really Wants

By Robert Tracinski

Al Gore made his triumphant return to Washington on Wednesday to give testimony before Democrat-controlled committees in the House and Senate. He returned, not as a failed presidential candidate, but as an environmentalist prophet. As Senator Barbara Boxer gushed, "You have acted for us. You have acted more than anyone else."

Gore's transformation is remarkable. The stilted, insincere candidate from the 2000 election campaign is gone. The new Gore believes in global warming the way the pope believes in Catholicism--indeed, possibly more so--and he comes across as sincere and impassioned. While the sincerity may be doubtful (as we shall see below) the passion is definitely real. But what is it a passion for?

What does Al Gore really want?

To be sure, Gore's testimony had the faults of all sermons. It tended to pile too many analogies on top of one another and to veer into the maudlin. Gore made repeated appeals to the ideals and virtues of "our grandparents"--showing what hidebound conservatives all of these liberals really are under the surface--and under hostile questioning from Republican Rep. Joe Barton, Gore produced a metaphor so maudlin and simplistic that it ought to disqualify him from being taken seriously on any scientific subject:

The planet has a fever. If your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor. If the doctor says you need to intervene here, you don't say "I read a science fiction novel that says it's not a problem." You take action.

And this is also where Gore's honesty comes into question: the line about a "science-fiction novel" is a reference to Michael Crichton's State of Fear, a thriller in which global-warming alarmists are the heavies. By pretending that the only opposition to his claims comes from a single novelist, Gore is attempting to evade the fact that there are many distinguished scientists who reject his global warming hysteria. As an antidote to this evasion, I strongly recommend viewing the British documentary "The Great Global Warming Swindle," which interviews some of these scientists and explodes the myth that global warming is "settled science."

But Gore's exaggerated scientific claims are just cover for his real agenda.

Most reports on his testimony have neglected to mention the most important thing Gore said. Here is my transcription of the crucial passage, starting about four minutes into Gore's House testimony:

America is the natural leader of the world, and our world faces a true planetary emergency. I know the phrase sounds shrill, and I know it's a challenge to the moral imagination to see and feel and understand that the entire relationship between humanity and our planet has been radically altered. [Emphasis added.]

Get that? The real issue here isn't about carbon dioxide or global temperature readings or coal-burning power plants or federal fuel efficiency standards. It's about mankind's relationship to nature.

This is not new; it is what has motivated Al Gore from the beginning. His 1992 book Earth in the Balance is subtitled "Ecology and the Human Spirit." In that book, he wrote about the alleged loss of "a sense of purpose in life." Projecting his personal crisis onto civilization in general, Gore diagnosed modern man's desire for material prosperity as a dangerous neurosis: "We retreat into the seductive tools and technologies of industrial civilization, but that only creates new problems as we become increasingly isolated from one another and disconnected from our roots." So the solution is to curtail industrial civilization and get back to our pre-industrial "roots." Global warming is just the scientific excuse for this quasi-religious agenda.

So what does this mean? Listen to what Gore claims are the factors that require us to change our relationship with nature. From his House testimony:

We quadrupled human population in less than one century, from 1.6 billion in 1900 to 6.5 billion today.... Having multiplied by four the number of people on this planet..., that in itself causes a big change in the relationship between humanity and the planet.

So Gore's global warming hysteria is really just a rehash of the old "population explosion" scare. In the 1970s, environmentalists predicted that an expanding global population would lead, by the end of the century, to mass starvation and shortages of oil and other natural resources. This claim was famously proven wrong--so as a fallback, the environmentalists have to claim that "overpopulation" is leading to a warmer climate, a proposition that is slightly harder to disprove.

But it's not just the size of the human population Gore is worried about. He goes on to name a second factor that requires us to alter our relationship with the earth:

Our technologies are thousands of times more powerful than any our grandparents had at their disposal. And so even though we're more skillful and more effective in doing the things we've always done, exploiting the earth for sustenance, providing for our families, and going about productive lives, the side-effects of what we're doing sometimes now outstrip the development of extra wisdom to make sure that we handle these new powers in a way that doesn't do unintended harm.

So that very fact that we are "much more skillful and more effective" at "exploiting the earth" to live "productive lives"--in short, the fact of our enormous, unprecedented prosperity--is the reason we have to fear that we are doing "unintended harm."

This, then, is the essence of Gore's complaint: there are too many humans and they are too well off.

Gore can fix that. He ends his speech by calling, among other things, for an immediate freeze on carbon dioxide emissions--which is to say, an immediate freeze on the generation of additional power--to be enforced by massive new "carbon taxes." On this proposal, he piggybacks the whole leftist welfare-state agenda, demanding that most of the money from these carbon taxes be "earmarked" for "those in lower income groups."

He concludes by saying that his plan will "discourage pollution while encouraging work." That's a very pleasant way to describe a global economic collapse into the unrewarded drudgery of a pre-industrial lifestyle.

This is what the Democratic victory in the last election has unleashed, and given Gore's surprising new skill at promoting his message, it looks like things are going to get worse before cooler heads can prevail and break the global warming fever.

But Al Gore is not getting it all his own way. In New York's Newsday, Ellis Hennican describes a three-on-three debate held last week in New York City, in which opponents of the global warming hysteria--including that meddling novelist Michael Crichton, along with distinguished British scientist Phillip Stott and MIT's Richard Lindzen--took on some of the scare's defenders. The interesting things about this debate is that the organizers polled the audience before and after the event. The result? The number of people who thought that global warming is a "crisis" dropped from 57% to 42%.

That's why folks like Al Gore have to keep claiming that there is an iron-clad "consensus" on global warming and that the debate is "over"--because the moment the debate on the scientific merits of global warming is actually allowed to begin, the alarmists start to lose.

Al Gore is trying to dragoon science in an attempt to win over converts who don't share his sense of personal spiritual crisis and don't find his anti-industrial moral vision compelling. But the moment people see through his charade--and realize that what Gore is really pushing is a not a scientific campaign against "pollution" but a quasi-religious crusade against industrial civilization--his campaign will collapse.

Note: In the third to last paragraph, Richard Lindzen was identified as "Harvard University's Richard Lindzen." This should have been "MIT's Richard Lindzen" and has been corrected in the above.

Robert Tracinski writes daily commentary at He is the editor of The Intellectual Activist and

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