Air Date: Week of October 23, 1992
Steve talks with Democratic vice presidential nominee Al Gore about his environmental philosophy and his possible role in environmental policy in a Clinton administration.
CURWOOD: Unlike Quayle, Democratic Vice Presidential challenger Al Gore has not given lengthy speeches on the environment since his nomination in July. Rather, he's let the 350 or so pages of his book, Earth in the Balance, explain why he feels that a massive and prompt response is needed for a range of environmental threats, from global warming to overpopulation. Like Quayle, Gore is expected to play a major role in environmental policy should he become Vice President. We spoke about that role, and about his environmental philosophy, when I recently caught up with him as he rode between campaign appearances.
GORE: The relationship between human civilization and the earth has changed dramatically just in our lifetimes -- the population explosion, the thousands of powerful new technologies that magnify our ability to have an impact on the earth, and the rather strange attitude many hold that convinces them they don't have to be responsible for what they do to the earth. All of these have combined to create a kind of collision between modern, industrial, world-wide civilization and the ecological system of the earth, and I'm convinced that the United States of America is the only nation that can provide leadership in avoiding that collision, and in organizing a worldwide response that begins to heal the damage that has already been done to the earth's environment. So I think that it is a challenge that must be undertaken in domestic policy, in foreign policy, as a matter of national security, and that the decisions of almost every agency and department have to be influenced by a new awareness of what the implications for the environment are in the things they do. I'm further convinced that this is not a choice between environmental protection and jobs, but rather an opportunity to create many new jobs in the process of meeting this challenge head on.
CURWOOD: In your book, Earth in the Balance, you talk about the need for the environment to be the central organizing principle of our society. And you also talk about, when you ran for president in 1988, that your call for action on the environment seemed to fall on deaf ears. You say you'd give speeches and the press wouldn't even carry accounts of them. I've heard very little about the environment in this campaign from you, even less from Mr. Clinton. My question is, what's happened to the environment in this campaign? Are you talking about it, and we in the press aren't reporting on it? Or is it down the list?
GORE: Well, first of all, I think it's sometimes hard to get a sense of a campaign when you only see a small slice of it. If you look at the full three-and-a-half to four months of my participation in this campaign, you'll see that I have chosen events and activities that emphasize the environment more than any other theme by far. And I talk about it in virtually every speech. But certainly the give-and-take of the campaign has involved the environment a thousand times more than any other campaign for national office. You have the President and Vice-President both holding up my book and pounding the podium with it and charging Governor Clinton and me with being environmental extremists and making. . .
CURWOOD: Well, are you?
GORE: Well, no. The extremists are those who are willing to tolerate the wanton destruction of the earth's environment, as George Bush and Dan Quayle are doing. I mean, the extremists are those who witness the addition of a billion people net every ten years and then cut the United States out of family planning programs. The extremists are those who witness the thousand-fold increase in the extinction rate and say that it's no cause for concern. Those who, like Bush and Quayle, constantly pose this false choice between jobs and the environment -- they are the extremists. But the point I was making is that, for this dialogue to place at all is something new in a national campaign, and I have done my best to make sure that it is an extremely prominent part of this campaign.
CURWOOD: You've written that -- and this is a paraphrase -- when you look at your actions and wonder if you've gone too far, you end up saying, "No, I haven't gone far enough in taking steps to protect the environment." That sounds like a bit of an extremist, some people might say. What do you mean by that? What kind of commitment are you making to the environment as a public official?
GORE: Anybody in my profession is of necessity constantly aware of where the public is on a given issue, and there's a natural process when you feel strongly about something to check back and look at the facts as you can most objectively analyze them and say, "Well, now, wait a minute. Since this is so fraught with political risk, am I really sure that global warming, for example, is as serious a problem as I'm saying in this speech I'm about to give?" And every time I look back I find it impossible to escape the conclusion that not only is it as serious as I've said, it is even more serious and therefore I have a responsibility to stretch the mandate, to propose actions that are likely to give us a chance to really solve this crisis -- notwithstanding the fact that the political lay of the land makes that quite risky. At the present time, the maximum that is politically feasible still falls short of the minimum that is really effective in reversing this global environmental crisis. But that doesn't mean that one ought to throw up one's hands in despair, but rather expand the boundaries of what's politically feasible. And that's what I meant in that passage.
CURWOOD: Vice-President of the United States is not an easy job -- it's a difficult role. And in this campaign, Governor Clinton has been criticized for his environmental record in Arkansas. People have pointed to some water pollution problems, they say he's not really been out front on this issue. How do you handle that? Somebody, yourself, who's closely involved in the environment, and you're working, and the man in charge is somebody who has a shorter record in this area.
GORE: I sent my book to all of the candidates in both political parties, and personally delivered it to Ross Perot, as well. And Bill Clinton was the only one who read it. He wrote me a long, hand-written letter after he read the book, and then when we talked about the possibility of me joining the ticket, we talked at some length about the book. And he said that he agreed with the general thrust of the book, and he made it clear that he would not have asked me to join this ticket but for the fact that he wanted me to take special responsibility for helping him in this area.
CURWOOD: So he's bringing you for your vision of the environment.
GORE: Well, I think in part, yes. He himself has said that on numerous occasions. I mean, he has cited other reasons as well, but that's one of the principle reasons he's cited. Yes.
CURWOOD: You're Mr. Vice-President Elect. What do you see as your mission for the environment, under those circumstances?
GORE: Well, I want to begin my response with a disclaimer of my own. I'm not losing focus on the election. We haven't won this election yet. There is still a good ways to go, and we're bending every effort to convince Americans that change is needed. If we are able to win this election, I will use every skill at my disposal to try and enact a sensible approach to protecting the air, water, soil, and the fabric of life itself, in ways that create jobs, and promote enhanced productivity, and create an opportunity for the United States to lead the world in what I'm convinced will be a new business revolution. I frankly do not feel comfortable providing many details, not only because it's premature, but also because I have not yet had an opportunity to sit down and review the full range of possibilities for accomplishing that goal. But that would be my objective.
CURWOOD: Senator Al Gore is the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee. I spoke with him as he rode to a campaign appearance in New York City.
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