Earth in the Balance: on Environment

Our beaches mirror the degradation of the environment

Needles, dead dolphins, and oil-soaked birds - are all these signs that the sores of our familiar world are fast eroding, that we are now standing on some new beach, facing dangers beyond the edge of what we are capable of imagining?
Source: Earth in the Balance, page 21 Jul 2, 1993

America is not responding to environmental danger signals

Even though it is sometimes hard to see their meaning, we have by now all witnessed surprising experiences that signal the damage from our assault on the environment - whether it’s the new frequency of days when the temperature exceeds 100 degrees, the new speed with which the sun burns out skin, or the new constancy of public debate over what to do with growing mountains of waste. But our response to these signals is puzzling. Why haven’t we launched a massive effort to save our environment?
Source: Earth in the Balance, page 27 Jul 2, 1993

Half of all American waters are polluted

Despite the progress made in the industrial world, many problems remain, from high concentrations of lead in drinking water, to the common practice in most older cities of mixing waste water with drainage runoff whenever it rains heavily, forcing a bypass of sewage treatment facilities; the rainwater and sewage are then dumped, untreated, into creeks, rivers, and the ocean. Almost half of all American rivers, lakes, and creeks are damaged or threatened by water pollution
Source: Earth in the Balance, page 109 Jul 2, 1993

If we do nothing else, save the rain forest

The most dangerous form of deforestation is the destruction of the rain forests, especially the tropical rain forests clustered around the equator. These are the most important sources of biological diversity on earth. For that reason, most biologists believe that the rapid destruction of the tropical rain forests and the irretrievable loss of the living species dying along with them, represent the single most serious damage to nature now occurring.
Source: Earth in the Balance, page 116 Jul 2, 1993

Americans generate too much waste

The American people have become embroiled in debates about the relative merits of various waste disposal schemes. Now, we must confront a strategic threat to our capacity to dispose of - or even recycle - the enormous quantities of waste being produced. there is only one way out: we have to change our production processes and dramatically reduce the amount of waste we create in the first place and ensure that we consider just how we intend to recycle or isolate that which unavoidably remains.
Source: Earth in the Balance, page 145-146 Jul 2, 1993

Industrialism has led to tremendous waste and pollution

The waste crisis is integrally related to the crisis of industrial civilization as a whole. Just as our internal combustion engines have automated the process by which our lungs transform oxygen into carbon dioxide, our industrial apparatus has vastly magnified the process by which our digestive system transforms raw material into human energy and growth - and waste.
Source: Earth in the Balance, page 147 Jul 2, 1993

In the U.S., chemicals constitute most hazardous waste

The amount of chemical waste dumped into landfills, lakes, rivers, and oceans is staggering. In the United States alone, there are an estimated 650,000 commercial and industrial sources of hazardous waste: two thirds of all hazardous waste comes from chemical manufacturing and almost one quarter from the production of metals and machinery.
Source: Earth in the Balance, page 148 Jul 2, 1993

The US should lead the global environmental movement

If the history of this century is any guide, it is safe to say that if we do not lead the world on this issue, the changes of accomplishing the massive changes necessary to save the global environment will be negligible. If the United States does choose to lead, however, the possibility of success becomes much greater. there would almost certainly be substantial economic and geopolitical benefits for the United States.
Source: Earth in the Balance, page 176-177 Jul 2, 1993

Environmentalism can only thrive where democracy thrives

Men and women must be politically empowered to help effect remedies to ecological problems. As the dramatic environmental problems in Eastern Europe show, freedom is a necessary condition for an effective stewardship of the environment. Almost wherever people at the grass-roots level are deprived of a voice in the decisions that affect their lives, they and the environment suffer. I have come to believe that an essential prerequisite for saving the environment is the spread of democratic government.
Source: Earth in the Balance, page 179 Jul 2, 1993

Calculate environmental impact when measuring profit

The heavy use of pesticides may ensure that the grain we grow achieves the highest possible short-term profits, but the excessive use of pesticides poisons the groundwater reservoirs beneath the field. When we add up the costs and benefits of growing the grain, the loss of that freshwater resource will be ignored. And largely because we have failed to measure the economic value of clean, fresh groundwater, we have contaminated more than half of all the underground reservoirs in the US.
Source: Earth in the Balance, page 184 Jul 2, 1993

Economics does not account for the cost of consumption

Every time we consume something, some sort of waste is created, but this fact is conveniently forgotten by classical economists. When we consume millions of tons of CFCs each year, are they gone? If so, then what is eating the hole in the ozone layer? When we consume 14 million tons of coal each day and 64 million barrels of oil, are they gone? If so, where is al the extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere coming from?
Source: Earth in the Balance, page 187 Jul 2, 1993

Internal combustion engines interfere with earth’s cleansing

When we seek to artificially enhance our capacity to acquire what we need from the earth, we do so at the direct expense of the earth’s ability to provide naturally what we are seeking. We frequently ignore the impact of our technological alchemy on natural processes. When we manufacture millions of internal combustion engines and automate the conversion of oxygen to CO2, we interfere with the earth’s ability to cleanse itself of the impurities that are normally removed from the atmosphere.
Source: Earth in the Balance, page 207 Jul 2, 1993

Civilization and the earth are increasingly in conflict

The disharmony in our relationship to the earth, which stems in part from our addiction to a pattern of consuming ever-larger quantities of the resources of the earth, is now manifest in successive crises. The loss of 1-« acres of rain forest every second; the acceleration of the natural extinction rate; the ozone hole; the possible destruction of the climate balance that makes our earth livable-all these suggest the increasingly violent collision between human civilization and the natural world.
Source: Earth in the Balance, page 223 Jul 2, 1993

The world must unite to save the environment

The world is once again at a critical juncture. We are invading ourselves and attacking the ecological system of which we are a part. As a result, we now face the prospect of a kind of global civil war between those who refuse to consider the consequences of civilization’s relentless advance and those who refuse to be silent partners in the destruction. The time has come to make this struggle the central organizing principle of world civilization.
Source: Earth in the Balance, page 294 Jul 2, 1993

Every individual should take responsibility for the earth

This crisis will be resolved only if individuals take some responsibility for it. By education ourselves and others, by doing our part to minimize our use and waste of resources, by becoming more active politically and demanding change. each one of us can make a difference. Perhaps more important, we each need to assess our own relationship to the natural world and renew. a connection to it.
Source: Earth in the Balance, page 366 Jul 2, 1993

A balance between civilization and the earth is needed

The key is indeed balance - balance between contemplation and action, individual concerns and commitment to the community, love for the natural world and love for our wondrous civilization. I hope and trust we will all find a way to resist the accumulated momentum of all the habits, patterns, and distractions that divert us from what is true and honest, spinning us first this way and that.
Source: Earth in the Balance, page 367 Jul 2, 1993

Welcomes criticism as “too environmental”

After Earth in the Balance was published, I had a personal encounter with that verse from the Bible, “Would that mine adversary had written a book.” Adversaries, some of whom I suspect haven’t read it, love to hate this book and attack it as “too environmental.”
I welcome that. I believe the environment should be a central issue in the year 2000, because, like it or not, the environment will be a fateful issue in the next decade and the new century.
In the 8 years since the first edition of this book, we have made some real progress. We’re cleaning up the great American rivers. We’ve strengthened the Superfund to clean up hazardous chemical waste sites. We refused, despite all the special-interest lobbying of Congress, to let up on big polluters who have a responsibility to clean up hidden poisons in our neighborhoods and on land where our children play.
Source: New foreword to Earth in the Balance, p. x Apr 23, 2000

Ozone protection is working; keep up diligence

Even as we seek to decrease ozone levels near the surface of the earth, where they harm us, we have made great progress in restoring the ozone layer high in the upper atmosphere, where it protects us. Our worldwide ban on ozone-depleting substances is beginning to heal the delicate stratospheric ozone layer, which acts as a shield against cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation. In the last two years, we have measured an actual decrease in these substances in the stratosphere. If we remain diligent, we will be able to say in the future that because the world joined together to face this global problem head on, banning the chemical culprits and developing low-cost substitutes, the ozone hole over Antarctica will close by 2050, over the next two generations.
Source: New foreword to Earth in the Balance, p. xi Apr 23, 2000

Big Lie: good environment is bad economics

The argument made against this book is that “excessive” protection of the environment hurts the economy. The lobbyists’ definition of excessive is almost always the same: any measure that gets in the way of short-term gain for their clients. It’s never stated this way, but it’s often little more than an appeal to tolerate profits that depend on ignoring pollution. The big lie in this debate is that a good environment is bad economics.

We ought to seek, and we can find, sustainable growth that doesn’t undermine human health or the natural ecosystems that support life. The Clinton-Gore administration has been committed to that ideal. We have our environmental critics, but I think it’s fair to say that in these years, we’ve had the strongest economy in the world, while we’ve repeatedly strengthened environmental protections, all across the board.

The bottom line is that there is not only an environment to be saved but money to be made in reducing the buildup of greenhouse gases.

Source: New foreword to Earth in the Balance, p. xiii & xviii Apr 23, 2000

Strengthen CAA; polluters pay for air cleanup

Last November, under pressure from utility lobbies, the majority in Congress sought to write dozens of loopholes into the Clean Air Act, weakening enforcement of the law against old and dirty power plants. Instead, we need tough standards for soot and smog, with reasonable flexibility but a real timetable for implementation. In the Environment Decade, polluters should pay to clean up the pollution they’ve created rather than impose the burden on taxpayers.
Source: New foreword to Earth in the Balance, p. xix Apr 23, 2000

Replacing internal combustion is possible & will create jobs

I was criticized for suggesting in this book that we should move away from the internal combustion engine over the next quarter-century. The attack was never more than smoke and fumes; I was calling not for an end to the car industry but for new types of cars. Now the automakers themselves are investing heavily in alternatives to internal combustion; they are acknowledging that fuel cells and other environmentally preferable alternatives are key to future competitive success, at home and overseas.

For those who want to attack my view, let me save you the trouble of reading the entire book. On pages 325-6, I wrote, “It ought to be possible to establish a coordinated global program to accomplish the strategic goal of completely eliminating the internal combustion engine over, say, a 25-year period.” It is possible; it needs to be done; it will create more jobs, not destroy jobs. I’m proud that I wrote those words in 1992, and I reaffirm them today.

Source: New foreword to Earth in the Balance, p. xviii & xxiv Apr 23, 2000

  • The above quotations are from Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit, by Al Gore.
  • Click here for definitions & background information on Environment.
  • Click here for other issues (main summary page).
  • Click here for more quotes by Al Gore on Environment.
2012 Presidential contenders on Environment:
Pres.Barack Obama(IL)
V.P.Joe Biden(DE)

Gov.Mitt Romney(MA)
Rep.Paul Ryan(WI)
Third Parties:
Green: Dr.Jill Stein(MA)
Libertarian: Gov.Gary Johnson(NM)
Justice: Mayor Rocky Anderson(UT)
Constitution: Rep.Virgil Goode(VA)
Peace+Freedom: Roseanne Barr(HI)
Reform Party: André Barnett(NY)
AmericansElect: Gov.Buddy Roemer(LA)
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Page last updated: Apr 16, 2013