Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Al Gore's Earth in the Balance 11

In my latest reading of Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit, Al Gore talked about a Global Marshall Plan for the environment.  This came up in the 1992 Vice-Presidential debate, as Dan Quayle referred to page 304 of Gore's book to say that Gore supports the federal government spending $100 billion "for environmental projects in foreign countries" (Quayle's words).  I checked page 304 (assuming my edition of the book has the same pagination as the one that Quayle read), and the only reference that I saw to $100 billion was when Gore said that the U.S. spent 2 percent of its GNP between 1948-1951 on the Marshall Plan, and today that percentage would amount to $100 billion.  I could not tell if Gore believes that we should spend that much, however, for Gore talks about why the U.S. would be reluctant nowadays to launch something like a Marshall Plan (i.e., the budget deficit, post-Vietnam discouragement in assuming global leadership).

In terms of how Gore defined his proposal in the debate, he said: "What I have called upon is a cooperative effort by the US and Europe and Asia to work together in opening up new markets throughout the world for the new technologies that are necessary in order to reconcile the imperatives of economic progress with the imperatives of environmental protection."  Indeed, Gore did talk about technology in my latest reading of his book.  For example, he proposed something like the Strategic Defense Initiative for the environment, which he calls the Strategic Environment Initiative (SEI); while Gore was a critic of SDI, he recognized that it resulted in technological and scientific innovations, and he wonders if something similar could be done in a systematic pursuit of environmental-friendly technology. 

Gore also discussed encouraging literacy and contraception in the Third World, to help the environment and to control over-population.  This discussion was interesting.  Gore talked about George H.W. Bush's record of support for contraception as a solution to over-population before he became President, yet Gore maintains that Bush became resistant to promoting contraception in the Third World as President out of a desire to appease his anti-abortion constituency, specifically the part that is opposed to birth control.  Gore does not believe that opposition to abortion has to entail opposition to contraception, for there are many opponents of abortion who are fine with contraception, and the use of contraception can lead to fewer abortions.  Gore also appears to believe that common ground can be found with the Catholic church, for "Spokesmen for the Holy See have repeatedly signaled that although the Church's formal view is not likely to change, it will not block others who wish to promote contraception, and it is anxious to play a vigorous role in addressing the other factors that help to hasten the demographic transition" (page 316).

I said in an earlier post that I would discuss Gore's view on world government.  Gore touched on that in my latest reading.  Essentially, Gore regards world government as unfeasible, and he states that "The administrative problems would be gargantuan, not least because the inefficiency of governance often seems to increase geometrically with the distance between the seat of power and the individuals affected by it" (page 301; conservatives have long made this point in arguing that state and local governments are more suitable to handle a number of domestic concerns than is the federal government).  Instead of world government, Gore supports "international agreements that establish global restraints on acceptable behavior but are entered into voluntarily----albeit with the understanding that they will contain both incentives and legally valid penalties for noncompliance" (page 302).  How is this different from world government?  Perhaps it's different in the sense that individual nations get to implement the global restraints, rather than for those restraints to be implemented by an international authority.

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