As if the Earth's poor ozone layer weren't threatened enough from greenhouse gases, Vice President Al Gore released his own special brand of hot air into the atmosphere Thursday. Bashed by the left as being too willing to compromise on the environment and by the right for being a tree-hugger, Gore is launching a "practical," New Democrat, Greenish assault, defending his environmental record from the threat posed by Green Party candidate Ralph Nader and spewing forth further emissions on Gov. George W. Bush's horrendous Texas environmental record.
"Now, I want to talk about the environment here today," Gore said at a lunchtime rally here, standing on a fire truck with his jacket off, interrupting his standard stump speech on the economy, Social Security, education and the nefarious "special interests" that want to deprive seniors of their pills and patients of their rights.
"Now, look. Just today, we are seeing on television the new study that just comes out once ev'ry FAAAAHVE years where the scientific community around the world tells us what they've learned about this problem that these kids are gonna grow up with unless we do something and that's the problem of global warming."
Gore was referring to a United Nations report on global warming, issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that concludes that it could get a whole lot hotter by the end of this century -- up to 11 degrees Fahrenheit hotter, to be precise -- if greenhouse gases are not curtailed. Gore and his campaign are attempting to use the report to paint Bush not only as pollution-friendly, but a tad clueless, and certainly nowhere near the environmental guru known as Al Gore when it comes to foresight and brilliance.
"We have a situation where the big polluters are supporting Gov. Bush and they are wanting to be in control of the environmental policy," Gore said, tearing into Texas' environmental rankings. "They're No. 1 in something," he says -- "No. 1 out of all 50 in industrial pollution, they rank No. 1 as the smoggiest state. Houston just solidified its title as the smoggiest city."
Despite the fact that all environmental groups that endorse candidates -- the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth -- have endorsed Gore, the Bush campaign responds to Gore's assault with the incredible claim that Bush is actually more of an environmentalist than Gore. This is based on one provision in the Bush plan to reduce emissions from power plants, one that the Gore campaign disputes.
"There are only two candidates in this race who support a mandatory reduction of emissions from older power plants -- Gov. Bush and Ralph Nader," says Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett, apparently with a straight face. "Environmental groups have harshly criticized Al Gore's record on global warming and deforestation, while Gov. Bush has offered a plan that will help protect the endangered tropical forests of Latin and South America."
Bartlett cites a harsh critique of Gore from September 1999 by the Friends of the Earth PAC when the group endorsed Gore's then-opponent, former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley. Calling Gore a "big disappointment," the organization "graded Gore on 16 areas of his signature issue, protection of the ozone layer" and awarded Gore a "D."
But Jon Sohn, a policy analyst with Friends of the Earth, says the Bush campaign is "misguided in quoting old documents. They're trying to avoid the issue of who's a better candidate between Gore and Bush. While we have had significant differences with the Clinton-Gore administration on some issues, there's a Grand Canyon-sized gulf of leadership between Vice President Gore and Governor Bush on the environment. If Bush is elected it will do significant and irreversible harm to the global environment."
In his speech here, Gore addressed global warming in the New Democrat shades that had aroused the wrath of Friends of the Earth and continues to engender the scorn of tree-hugging voters. That hurts him in the Pacific Northwest. An American Research Group poll released Thursday shows Nader with 10 percent voter support in Oregon, pulling enough anti-Bush votes to give the state to the governor. Nader also threatens to siphon away just enough votes from Gore to hand Bush Washington state, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Maine.
It's Gore's own doing. He perpetually describes a pending environmental apocalypse -- and then proposes solutions that will be easy and fun and no big deal at all!
"An' I know a lotta people say that it looks like [global warming] is off in the future," Gore says. "But lemme tell you what this new study said ... Unless we act, the average temperature is gonna go up 10 or 11 degrees. The storms will get stronger, the weather patterns will change. But it does not have to happen. And it won't happen if we put our minds to solving this problem ... Here is the good news. If we take the leadership role that these kids have a right to expect us to play, we can create millions of good, new, high-paying jobs by building the new cars and trucks ... and technology to STOP the pollution and lift standards of living at the same time! ARE YA WITH ME?!"
"I laid out a plan this past summer that will create partnerships with the car companies and with the utilities and with the factories that will give tax breaks to get the new kind of technologies going," Gore says. "And we'll lead the world in those technologies and all over the rest of the world, they're wanting to buy these new kinds of technologies, and we're the ones that ought to be making them and selling them to the rest of the world."
"Let's pick the hard right over the easy wrong!" he said.
It's this rhetoric and approach -- one that actually seems to pick an easy right -- that has produced severe skeptics on the left. "I will stack my environmental record against anyone, including him," Gore said of Nader on Monday as he flew to Little Rock, Ark., from Portland, Ore.
And as Gore battles for these quixotic Nader Raiders, he's also still struggling for the Midwestern swingers who are apparently unaware of the substantial differences between him and Bush on the environment. Deb Callahan, president of the League of Conservation Voters, says that a September poll for her group by Peter Hart indicated that only 44 percent of the voters "knew of the distinctions between Bush and Gore on the issue of the environment." When the differences were spelled out for independent and undecided voters, Callahan says, 14 percent moved to Gore.
Thus, Gore and Callahan feel that the issue might make the difference. This is further evidenced by Bush's pretense to be an environmentalist instead of making the traditional "jobs vs. owls" defense. It can be seen as a testament to the ineffectiveness of Gore's presidential campaign that, with 12 days left until Election Day, he's still trying to convince the Democratic base that he and Bush have a few differences of opinion on the matter.
Of Bush's approach to global warming, Gore says, "He's not sure what the cause is, and maybe we shouldn't do anything except study it."
In a Thursday morning conference call arranged by the Gore campaign, Callahan and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., argue that the IPCC study seemed to back Gore's argument -- made most publicly during the second presidential debate in Winston-Salem, N.C. -- that "in this 21st century we will soon see the consequences of what is called 'global warming.'"
Bush, however, took the more skeptical approach favored by businesses that find environmental regulations a financial burden. "Global warming needs to be taken very seriously," Bush said during the debate. "But science, there's different opinions. Before we react, I think it's best to have a full accounting and a full understanding of what is taking place."
On the conference call, Kerry slammed Bush's response as ignorant. "There is no doubt whatsoever that global warming is having a profound impact on climate," Kerry said, "and now scientists are predicting anywhere from a 2.7 to 11 degree Fahrenheit [increase in world temperature] by the end of the century. New science that's state of the art now shows that, in fact, approaches and judgments heretofore have been conservative. And to have someone running to be leader of the free world and president of the United States and not embrace the notion that the U.S. needs to embrace leadership on this issue" is troubling, Kerry said in his inimitable style.
Kerry pooh-poohed a question about whether the campaign's new thrust on the environment was a result of the surprising strength of Nader's candidacy. "You have thousands of scientists around the globe underscoring a major difference between these two candidacies and their two records," Kerry said. "One would be crazy not to highlight this as a reason to make the choice."
That said, Kerry seemed to return to the Gore campaign argument that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush. "There isn't anyone -- including Ralph Nader -- who doesn't think the president is going to be either George Bush or Al Gore," Kerry said, "and given that choice, it is imperative that people ... understand that there is a difference like night and day between the two" on this issue. Callahan was a bit more forthcoming. In the middle of a Pacific Northwest tour to highlight Bush's poor Texas environmental record, she allows that she's "working hard to reach out to those Nader voters, and we're beginning to see some peeling off."
Asked on Monday about Nader voters, Gore said, "I think that toward the end of the election it is still likely the vast majority of the people will want to cast a vote that will decide the future of the country and my task is not to tell those people that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush. That may be true, but my task is to convince them to vote enthusiastically for me and for what I represent."