A Week in Books

On the road again with Gore the Green
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The Independent Culture

When the Italians went through a sticky period of crises, conspiracies and confrontations in the Seventies, commentators dubbed it the anni del piombo - the Years of Lead. On the Marxian principle that tragic history returns as farce, the past few days must count as Britain's Week of No Unleaded. And one of its lesser themes has been the eco-doomsters' warning that quick-fix tax cuts will merely delay the moment when we have to kick the gas-guzzling habit.

When the Italians went through a sticky period of crises, conspiracies and confrontations in the Seventies, commentators dubbed it the anni del piombo - the Years of Lead. On the Marxian principle that tragic history returns as farce, the past few days must count as Britain's Week of No Unleaded. And one of its lesser themes has been the eco-doomsters' warning that quick-fix tax cuts will merely delay the moment when we have to kick the gas-guzzling habit.

Right on cue, here comes a green-tinted thinker with a minatory book that calls for "the strategic goal of completely eliminating the internal combustion engine over, say, a 25-year period". This woolly type goes on to praise higher taxes on fossil fuels as "one of the logical first steps" towards global environmental responsibility. Such a weirdy-beardy would hardly last 30 seconds in the average western-world saloon bar. As for trying to attain a position of influence - forget it, Swampy.

Well, Mondeo Man may like to know that - if the poll trends prove correct - the author of those words will, within weeks, become the most powerful person on the planet. Al Gore first published his green manifesto, Earth in the Balance, in 1992. This week a new edition appears from Earthscan (£12.95), with a foreword that re-iterates that menace to the auto. "I'm proud that I wrote those words in 1992," the Vice-President says, "and I re-affirm them today."

Earth in the Balance remains about the most impressive exercise in joined-up thinking to have come from the pen (or at least the staff) of an active politician in many decades. Punters in the petrol queue may just begin to think about its themes if the lure of a cheaper litre ever palls. With its sharp strictures against a "dysfunctional civilisation", it also achieves a sweep and vision that puts to shame the usual run of apologias by office-holders.

Yet what politicians write and what they do seldom coincide. Greens in the US fell out of love with Gore long ago; one wildlife expert even likened working with the Clinton administration to "date rape". Still, we have this hostage-to-fortune book again, with a bolder endorsement than ever from its creator. Sooner or later, Gore's message will get through - even if it goes down like a lead balloon on the next picket-line.

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