Listen, Gore

A l Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth raises the issue of global warming in a way that scares the bejeezus out of viewers, as it should, since the consequences of global climate change are truly earthshaking. The former vice president does a good job of presenting graphic evidence of melting polar ice caps and the effects on other species, new diseases, and rising ocean levels. 

But typically the solutions Gore offers are standard Democratic Party fare. You’d never know by watching this film that Gore and Clinton ran this country for eight years and that their policies—as much as those of the Bush regime—helped pave the way for the crisis we face today. Gore never critiques the system causing the global ecological crisis. At one point, he even mourns the negative impact of global warming on U.S. oil pipelines. Oh, the horror.  

What it all comes down to, for Gore and the Democrats, is that we need to shift away from reliance on fossil fuels and tweak existing consumption patterns. Even there, the Clinton/Gore administration did nothing to improve fuel efficiency in the U.S.—a topic that Gore talks about in the movie without any hint that he’d once actually been in a position to do something about it. 

The question Gore poses is, “Who can best manage the relatively minor solutions he recommends, the Democrats or Republicans?” For Gore, it’s sort of “trust us not them to deal with this situation because they are liars and we’re not.” 

Well, should we trust him? As Joshua Frank writes, during the campaign for president in 1992 Gore promised a group of supporters that the Clinton/Gore Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would never approve putting a hazardous waste incinerator located near an elementary school in Liverpool, Ohio. “Only three months into Clinton’s tenure,” Frank writes, “the EPA issued an operating permit for the Liverpool toxic burner. Gore raised no qualms. Not surprisingly, most of the money behind WTI came from the bulging pockets of Jackson Stephens, who just happened to be one of the Clinton/Gore top campaign contributors.” 

But failing to shut down toxic incinerators is just the tip of their great betrayal. In the film Gore references the Kyoto Accords and states that he personally went to Kyoto during the negotiations, giving the impression that he was a key figure in fighting to reduce air pollution emissions that destroy the ozone layer. What he omits is that the effect of his going to Kyoto was to scuttle the Accords. 

D uring the Clinton/Gore years more old growth forests were cut down than under any other recent U.S. administration. “Wise Use” committees set up by the lumber industry were permitted to clearcut whole mountain ranges while Clinton/Gore helped to “greenwash” their activities for the public. The biotech industry was given carte blanche to write the government’s regulations (paltry as they are) on genetic engineering of agriculture and to move full speed ahead with implementing the private patenting of genetic sequences. 

“Gore, like Clinton, who quipped that ‘the invisible hand has a green thumb,’ extolled a freemarket attitude toward environmental issues,” writes Frank, who goes on to quote Jeffrey St. Clair: “Since the mid-1980s Gore has argued with increasing stridency that the bracing forces of market capitalism are potent curatives for the ecological entropy now bearing down on the global environment. He is a passionate disciple of the gospel of efficiency, suffused with an inchoate technophilia.” 

Before Kyoto, before the Clinton/Gore massive depleted uranium bombings of Yugoslavia and Iraq, before their missile “deconstruction” of the only existing pharmaceutical production facility in northern Africa, there was the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Clinton/Gore pushed through this legislation, which not even strong Republican administrations under Reagan and Bush Sr. had been able to do. 

Since its inception, NAFTA has undermined U.S. environmental laws, chased production facilities out of the U.S. and across the borders, vastly increased pollution from maquilladoras (Enterprise Zones) along the U.S./Mexico border, and helped undermine the indigenous sustainable agrarian-based communities in southern Mexico. 

Clinton/Gore also approved a deal with the sugar barons of South Florida, arranged by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, which doomed the Everglades. While they pledged to stop the plunder of the Northwest forests, according to former Village Voice columnist James Ridgeway, “They then doublecrossed their environmental backers. Under Bush Sr., the courts had enjoined logging in the Northwest habitats of the spotted owl. Clinton/ Gore persuaded environmentalists to join them in axing the injunction.” Then Clinton/Gore “capitulated to the demands of Western Democrats and yanked from its initial budget proposals a call to reform grazing, mining, and timber practices on federal lands,” according to Frank. 

Clinton sent to Congress the infamous Salvage Rider, known to environmentalists as the Logging Without Laws bill, “perhaps the most gruesome legislation ever enacted under the pretext of preserving ecosystem health.” Like Bush’s “Healthy Forests” plan, the Clinton/Gore act “was chock full of deception and special interest pandering,” Frank describes. “‘When [the Salvage Rider] bill was given to me, I was told that the timber industry was circulating this language among the Northwest Congressional delegation and others to try to get it attached as a rider to the fiscal year Interior Spending Bill,’ environmental lawyer Kevin Kirchner says. ‘There is no question that representatives of the timber industry had a role in promoting this rider. That is no secret.’ 

“Thousands of acres of healthy forestland across the West were rampaged. Washington’s Colville National Forest saw the clear cutting of over 4,000 acres. Thousands more in Montana’s Yak River Basin, hundreds of acres of pristine forest land in Idaho, while the endangered Mexican Spotted Owl habitat in Arizona fell victim to corporate interests. Old growth trees in Washington’s majestic Olympic Peninsula—home to wild Steelhead, endangered Sockeye salmon, and threatened Marbled Murrieta—were chopped with unremitting provocation by the U.S. Forest Service,” Frank adds.

Around the same time, Clinton appointee Carol Browner, head of the EPA, was quoted in the NY Times as saying that the Administration would be “relaxing” the Delaney Clause (named after its author, Congressperson James Delaney, D-NY). Congress had inserted this clause into Section 409 of the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in 1958. It prohibited FDA approval of any food additive found to cause cancer in humans or animals. Alone among all food-related directives, this legislation put the onus on the manufacturers to demonstrate that their products were safe before they were allowed to become commercially available. A federal appeals court in July 1992 expanded the jurisdiction of the Delaney Clause, ruling that it was applicable to cancer-causing pesticides in processed food. Browner retracted her comment, claiming she’d never said it, but the proof was in the pudding. 

The ban on cancer-causing additives (the “Precautionary Principle”) that had held through the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush, Sr. administrations was finally removed by the Clinton/Gore administration. The new Food Quality Protection Act legislation permitted “safe” amounts of carcinogenic chemicals (as designated by the Environmental Protection Agency) to be added to all food. 

The Clinton administration, with guidance from Gore’s office, also cut numerous deals over the pesticide Methyl Bromide, despite its reported effects of contributing to ozone depletion and its devastating health consequences on farm workers picking strawberries. 

Much is being made these days about the need to save the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. But Clinton-Gore opened the National Petroleum Reserve—24 million untouched acres adjacent to the refuge, home to a large caribou herd and numerous arctic species—to oil drilling. The chief beneficiary of this was Arco, a major ($1.4 million) contributor to the Democratic Party. 

Not once in the entire film does Nobel Peace Prize nominee Gore criticize this awful environmental record or raise the critical questions we need to answer if we are to effectively reverse global warming. Is it really the case that the vast destruction of our environment that went on under his watch and, continuing today, is simply a result of poor consumer choices and ineffective government policies? Is the global environmental devastation we are facing today rectifiable with some simple tuning-up, as Gore proposes? 

Clearly, the vast destruction of the global ecology is a consequence not just of poor governmental policies but of the capitalist system’s fundamental drive towards growth and what passes for development. Environmental activists won’t find in Gore the kind of systemic analysis that is needed to stop global warming.

Mitchel Cohen is a member of Brooklyn Greens/Green Party.