Belated Satisfaction for Al Gore

The former U.S. vice president fought for climate action early on. However, only Joe Biden has achieved what American politics blocked for so long.

It happened during the Earth Summit, the United Nations’ major environmental summit early in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro. A young American senator by the name of Al Gore, largely unknown internationally, led a small congressional delegation and made a passionate appeal to the world. He declared that it was time for a global climate pact, a “Global Marshall Plan,” and that America would have to lead the effort.

This marked a completely new tone by the United States. After all, the administration of President George H.W. Bush, a former oil manager, did everything in its power to undermine or even prevent slowly emerging international efforts for greater climate and environmental protections at the time. A few months later, Bill Clinton replaced the Republican president and Gore himself became vice president.

However, the United States found it difficult even then to lead the world in international climate and environmental policy through its own example in the way Gore had called for. “Finally, now we have crossed a major threshold,” he said this weekend. Gore was referring to the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which the Senate passed on Sunday, the farthest-reaching climate package ever in America. Once it is implemented, it will allow the United States to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by the end of the decade measured against 2005 levels.

This Is a Historic Voting Victory for Biden

Almost three decades earlier in 1993 at Gore’s urging, Clinton drafted a form of climate action legislation for the first time. However, the Senate did not even debate the proposal to tax carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. In Washington political jargon, it was deemed “dead on arrival.” The Democratic senators, who, like today, held the majority in the Senate, signaled to the White House that such a proposal would not find enough supporters even among themselves — not to mention resistance from the Republican opposition.

Clinton and his vice president did not attempt climate action legislation again.. The Kyoto Protocol, the major international agreement for climate action, which Clinton and Gore helped to negotiate, was not even discussed in the Senate. Nothing changed with regard to climate legislation until this Sunday — which further emphasizes the historic significance of this victory for Biden.

Gore nevertheless rose to become an international star of climate policy. His documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth” about the global climate catastrophe, became a worldwide hit in 2006; one year later Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize. That did little to change the political situation in the United States. In 2010, a new push under President Barack Obama to introduce emissions trading didn’t have a chance in the Senate either.

Of course, floods, heat waves, droughts and forest fires have likely now contributed to this change of heart. We can no longer overlook the consequences of global warming, something that people have long denied in America. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the United States has been affected by 89 weather and climate-related catastrophes in the past five years, which killed 4,500 people and caused $788 billion in property damage.

However, there is one difference altogether that likely made the climate action bill politically acceptable. Unlike the proposal by Gore and Clinton 30 years ago, Biden’s new legislative package does not contain any form of energy tax. It relies entirely on subsidies and grants for climate-friendly investments. Gore should be fine with that, too. As he wrote in The New York Times, “I did not for a moment imagine it would take this long.”

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About Michael Stehle 104 Articles
I am a graduate of the University of Maryland with a BA in Linguistics and Germanic Studies. I have a love for language and I find translation to be both an engaging activity as well as an important process for connecting the world.

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