Al's Green Thumb

In an election year, when the economy is the most salient issue, it would seem that the environment might be pushed to the back burner. Senator Albert Gore Jr. '69, on the other hand, has tried to prevent this neglect by writing a book titled Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit.

Earth in the Balance is a treatise (divided into three detailed parts) on the threats that civilization makes to the environment. Gore focuses specifically on global warming, population growth and the depletion of rain forests.

The first half of the book includes an environmental reference encyclopedia with a myriad of numbers and statistics that show how humankind threatens the world. However, unlike an encyclopedia, Earth in the Balance will not bore you. Gore successfully flowers facts with engaging narratives.

Earth in the Balance

By Senator Albert Gore Jr. '69


Houghton Mifflin Company


For instance, he cites global warming as the reason why an egg can be fried on some streets in the Southwest. Gore actually starts the book by telling the foreboding story of the Aral Sea, now no longer a sea but a desert--thanks to the abuses of humans (there are even pictures to prove it). Gore continues his list of horror by relating numerous stories about cultures around the world that are self-destructing.

Gore rests his strongest argument in the claim that environmental decline in one region spreads to others--for example, how the degeneration of the South American landscape affects the environment worldwide. Among his evidence, he points out that the depletion of the rain forests disrupts the entire global precipitation cycle; that the explosive population growth in the past century encourages people to settle onto otherwise parable land, discouraging production of food; and that rising sea levels will flood coasts and exacerbate hurricanes.

The encyclopedic part of the book highlights the urgency to save the earth. Extremely readable, frequently eye-opening and each sentence worded with the fervor of a politician, this part has enough authority to be on a class reading list. Few sources on the environment convey the need for ordinary citizens to reverse the startling statistics about global atrophy.

One particularly interesting chapter covers the history of global warming and the awesome onsequences of seemingly small changes in the earth's equilibrium. Apparently, samll temperature changes have precipitated everything from the Ice Age to the habitation of North America. Gore's subsequently predicts that similar changes (such as higher temperatures from global warming) could destroy humanity. Gore's point fails to threaten the reader when one considers that civilization has always adapted to environmental variation.

Unfortunately, the second part of Earth in the Balance emphasizes philosophical analysis too naively to be interesting. Al Gore hypothesizes that we frequently talk about changing the world, but seldom follow through. The irrelevance of the book's second section will fail to endear environmental consciousness to the masses.

The third part redeems his intentions. Gore proposes a solution, but its all-inclusiveness makes it untenable. Gore even goes so far as to admit that any large-scale solution will require an improbable level of international cooperation. For instance, two of Gore's five propositions call for regulated population growth and greater education about the environment.

Noble ambitions, but it is doubtful that the United States will ever take the initiative to pursue Gore's plan unless pressure comes from the grassroots level first.

Nonetheless, Earth in the Balance represents a compelling testament to the need to be concerned about the environment. It fills the reader with guilt and encourages him or her to change and effect change.