That his political philosophy wiped out a hundred million people in the 20th century and created environmental damage on a scale not witnessed in the western world is an irony missed by the man himself, and his dedicated followers.
As he flies around the world to tell people that they should fly less, or organises rock-star extravaganzas to tell the masses they should live more meekly, some sceptics have asked: ‘Who the hell does Al Gore think he is?’Say you're concerned about the environment. Tell us you support Gore. But don't tell us you believe in liberty and democracy.
Well, now we know. He seems to think he is the spokesman for the human species, the legitimate representative of every human being who has ever lived or who will ever live in the future. He thinks he and his supporters ‘control the destiny of all generations to come’, a boast that even the worst dictators in history never dared to make. Al Gore is an enviro-tyrant with delusions of global domination.
In his speech at the climate change conference in Bali last week, Gore expressed some deeply anti-democratic views. He told an audience of 1,000, including NGOs, green campaigners and journalists, as well as UN representatives and government officials, that they should ‘feel a sense of exhilaration that we are the people alive at a moment in history when we can make all the difference’. He suggested the audience should not be worried about being seen as a minority, a tiny brave group that recognises the ‘planetary emergency’ facing Earth and its inhabitants, but rather should consider it a ‘privilege to be alive at a moment when a relatively small group of people could control the destiny of all generations to come’.
Throughout history, from the feudalistic era through the Stalinist dictatorships of the twentieth century to places like Burma and Nepal today, vast swathes of mankind have considered it a drag to be ‘alive at a moment’ when ‘small groups of people’ controlled theirs and others’ destinies. Now we’re supposed to see it as a privilege that an apparently right-minded clique, which claims to represent ‘the human species’, would like to shape the human destiny as it sees fit.
Gore openly expressed hostility towards the democratic process. He described certain elected governments as ‘obstacles’ to the environmentalist agenda being drawn up in Bali, and called on the ‘relatively small group’ of eco-enlightened ones to ignore or leap over these obstacles. ‘My own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali…’ he said. ‘But if we look realistically at the situation that confronts us, then wisdom would call for moving forward in spite of that obstacle.’ Who needs to take into consideration the views of a government elected by tens of millions of Americans when you have ‘realism’ and ‘wisdom’ on your side?
Gore seems to believe that it is precisely the fact that he is unelected, and thus above the grubby process of winning public support and representing public interest, that makes him an honourable and fearless representative of humankind. ‘I am not an official of the United States and I am not bound by diplomatic niceties’, he boasted. ‘So I am going to speak an inconvenient truth [about the planetary emergency facing humanity].’ Here, planetary interests, as represented by a self-styled, unelected spokesman for Mother Earth, trump the public interest, as represented by politicians who worked to win the support of millions of Americans. President George W Bush might represent the desires – yuk! – of a majority of the American people, but Gore represents something far more important: planet Earth itself, and all of the billions of human beings yet to be born. As the numerous newspaper headlines said in celebration of Gore’s speech: ‘The world cannot wait for George Bush.’ Or for his 50 million supporters, presumably.
Gore opened his speech in Bali with the words: ‘We, the human species…’ Nothing better sums up his megalomaniacal delusions than those four words. American governments have claimed to speak for ‘We, the people’ (some with more right and legitimacy than others). Outside of the democratic process, tyrannical leaders have often claimed to represent ‘the nation’ or ‘the masses’: apparently they have some special emotional insight into what the people need and desire. But no one has ever claimed to represent the human species before.
Unlike those who merely represent a people or a nation, the self-described representatives of the human species, that ‘relatively small group’ of privileged warriors for planetkind, have a blank cheque to do and say as they please. Legitimate representatives of the people are dependent on the people’s support: they are confined and directed by the electoral process. Representatives of the nation are restricted by borders: their writ extends only to the ends of their sovereign territory. But a wannabe representative of the human species like Al Gore recognises no democratic mandate or territorial border, because he thinks he represents every human being who has ever existed, who exists now, and who will exist in the future: the species itself. Gore’s mandate is timeless and borderless, and it most certainly does not require the rubber-stamping of the mass of the population, that relatively large group of people who apparently do not appreciate the urgency of today’s ‘planetary emergency’.
For the past seven years, Gore and his supporters have claimed that he was robbed of presidential victory by the conniving Bush regime. Gore has posed as a sincere democrat whose place in the White House was stolen from him by Dubya. Yet today, Gore claims to speak for future generations (who cannot vote, on account of the fact that they aren’t born yet), the planet (which has no vote, on account of the fact that it is not a sentient or rational organism), and the human species itself (a natural/biological category that falls outside of the political process). And he is cheered by the very same people who wept when Bush allegedly stole his election. It seems that when it comes to ‘saving the planet’, you can be as undemocratic and dictatorial as you like.
Gore’s off-planet fantasies about being some kind of new Timelord who speaks for the human species expose the anti-democratic strain in the politics of environmentalism. Many green-leaning leaders and spokesmen claim that the threat facing the planet is so dire that normal democratic debate and processes must be suspended in order to deal with it. Dictators of old used to impose states of emergency in order to freeze democracy; today’s eco-megalomaniacs use the more PC phrase ‘planetary emergency’ in an attempt to justify allowing small groups of people to override the ‘obstacle’ of individual nations’ democratic processes.
Where the modern democratic system has been defined by ideas of sovereign independence and territorial integrity – where a people are, at least on paper, the masters of their nation’s fate – today we are told that the threat of climate change makes the institutions of sovereignty obsolete. Because pollution and CO2 emissions are, in Gore’s words, ‘invisible’ and ‘global’, climate change activism must override borders and do away with ‘diplomatic niceties’. In the real world, the new green disregard for sovereignty has allowed powerful nations in the West to demonise India and China for daring to develop, on the extremely dodgy basis that India and China’s development is poisoning us over here.
Modern democratic politics was also traditionally defined by time constraints. In America, presidents can only serve for four years at a time, and never for longer than eight years; in Britain the PM must submit to the electorate’s interrogation and judgement every four or five years. But in the name of saving the planet, both elected officials and unelected campaigners now push through far-reaching policies to ‘protect future generations’. They draw up 50-year plans for tackling climate change, and demand that nations cut their emissions by 60 or 80 per cent by 2020 or 2050, without thinking about what voters in four years’ time might consider to be an acceptable level of carbon output or a desirable level of industrial development. Democratic politics was also once driven by debate: it involved putting forward proposals, arguing the toss over them, and then deciding whether and how to act on them. Today, green-fingered officials and activists frequently argue that the threat to Gaia and her organisms (that includes us) is so great that we must ditch debate. Instead we should have ‘action, action, action’. As Gore says, ‘The debate about global warming is over’.
Once an individual or a campaign group can pose as the mouthpiece for the needs of the planet, there is no limit to their authority. Freed from the shackles of responsibility to an electorate, and from the time and territorial restraints of democratic politics, campaigners can make sweeping declarations about the needs of the human species and about what is good for people now and in time immemorial. ‘We are one people on one planet with one destiny’, said Gore in Bali. That sounds nice and hippyish. But it is actually an attempt to deny and undermine the stuff of politics itself: debate; disagreement; the clash of interests; heated scraps over the destiny of mankind. We don’t only have ‘one destiny’. My desired destiny for mankind is a whole world away from Al Gore’s, just as the needs and desires of people in poorer parts of Africa are different to the needs and desires of those 1,000 well-heeled people who packed the conference hall in Bali.
Airing these differences, and arguing over them, is politics itself – or it will be, once we do something about the anti-democratic, debate-phobic Al Gore and his acolytes in the environmentalist lobby.