Presidential Timber

Will Al Gore's green vision lead him to the Oval Office? Knock on wood.

Aug 1, 2000
Outside Magazine
GORE TRACES HIS GREEN roots back to when his father, three-term Democratic Senator Albert S. Gore of Tennessee, made him work as a summer hand on the family farm in Carthage, east of Nashville. When Al was in his early teens, his mother, Pauline, now 87, read and was deeply affected by Silent Spring, Rachel Carson's 1962 book on pesticides and their devastating effect on birds and the larger ecosystem. Gore remembers impassioned discussions on the subject around the dinner table.

When Gore took his predestined place in Harvard's Class of '69, he soon came under the tutelage of oceanography professor Roger Revelle, a pioneer in global-warming theory who had begun collecting carbon-dioxide data from atop Hawaii's Mauna Loa volcano in 1957. (In the 1980s, at the first congressional hearing on global warming, young Representative Gore invited Revelle to be the lead-off witness.) In his early twenties, Gore briefly morphed into a longhaired, motorcycle-riding pot smoker, but five days after graduating from Harvard he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He married his high-school sweetheart, Tipper Aitcheson, before he landed in Vietnam as an Army journalist in early 1971. When he returned five months later, he set out to earn a master's degree at Vanderbilt University's Divinity School while working as a reporter at the Nashville Tennessean—but not before a taste of the open road.

"When he first came back from Vietnam," Tipper Gore says, "we went all around the country, camping out of the trunk, going from national park to national park." They drove an old Chevy Impala, packed a Coleman stove, a lantern, and a tent; and camped their way across Michigan, Wisconsin, South Dakota, the Pacific Northwest, California, and then back across the Southwest to Tennessee. Thus began 30-plus years of outdoor excursions, later with four kids in tow: swimming in a creek on the family farm;rafting 225 miles down the Colorado River the summer of 1994. Last August Gore and his 17-year-old son, Albert, summited Washington's 14,410-foot Mount Rainier, along with several nervous Secret Service agents and mountain guides who watched as the Gores trudged through hail and lightning.

Throughout his 15-year career in the House and Senate, Gore made the environment one of his leading causes, and he made it the key theme of his unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988. The loss was a searing one for Gore, who had hoped voters were ready for a talking head who spoke green. A year later, Gore's son, Albert, then six, was hit and critically wounded by a car outside a Baltimore baseball stadium. While his son recovered, Gore rethought his priorities, and one result was Earth in the Balance. (Some men get through a midlife crisis with an extravagant car purchase; Gore issued extravagant policy directives.)

Today, Gore stands by the bold claims he made in the book—holding Detroit to its promise to develop cleaner engines, proselytizing population control, arguing for sustainable development guided by "A Global Marshall Plan," and making a Kennedyesque call for a "Mission to Planet Earth." This is the very stuff Governor Bush will almost certainly rip out of the pages of Earth in the Balance to mock and criticize come fall, but whether Gore's green cri de coeur helps or hurts him is for the voters to decide.


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