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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - John Berlau

RealClearPolitics - Articles - John Berlau

Last Build Date: Fri, 12 Oct 2007 09:30:06 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

Al Gore and the Mission of the Nobel Prizes

Fri, 12 Oct 2007 09:30:06 -0600

But, at the very least, the stated aims of Carter and even Arafat were the improvement of human life. Gore, by contrast, does not even profess improving the human condition as his fundamental goal. Rather, his stated desire is to stop human activity that he sees as ruining what he calls the "ecosystem." Awarding the prize to Gore in 2007 is the equivalent of honoring the Luddites who tried to stop the beneficial technologies of Alfred Nobels's day. A common theme of selection for the Nobel Peace Prize and the other Nobel awards has been the use of science and technology to overcome problems afflicting humans such as starvation and disease. This fulfills the vision of Swedish inventor and entrepreneur Nobel, who pioneered the product of dynamite. For the first time, an explosive device could be stored safely and detonate predictably on a large scale. Nobel's products were used for war, as even the most primitive explosives had been for centuries. But dynamite also vastly improved the 19th and 20th century standard of living through its use in the construction of buildings, railroad tunnels, and sea passages such as the Panama Canal. In creating the annual prizes for physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and the promotion of world peace (roughly the same five fields for which Nobels are awarded today today), Nobel stated the desire in his will to honor "those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind." According to Alfred Nobel: A Biograpy by Kenne Fant, an earlier draft of Nobel's will stipulated that prizes in all categories should be "a reward for the most important pioneering discoveries or works in the field of knowledge and progress." But for Albert Gore, Jr. the fields of knowledge and progress are suspect, and so are many types of technology with benefits to mankind. This is a man who speaks despairingly of "our civilization" and sees as flawed man's attempt to rise above "nature." He describes global warming as "the category 5 collision between our civilization - as we currently pursue it - and the earth's environment." He has been critical of "civilization" and human technological advancement even before global warming became his main issue. In the introduction to his 1992 book Earth in the Balance, Gore writes, "In one sense, civilization itself has been on a journey from its foundations in the world of nature to an ever more contrived, controlled and manufactured world of our own imitative and sometimes arrogant design. And in my view, the price has been high." But exactly what part of "controlling" and "contriving" does Gore object to? Does he really think the price of curing diseases through new drugs or feeding the world through advance farming techniques been too "high." In many passages of his writing, the answer seems to be yes. This puts him conflict with the vision of Nobel as well as that of many of the previous prize recipients honored for their pioneering achievements in agriculture or medicine. Several Nobel prizes, for instances, have honored life-saving breakthroughs in stopping cancer. But in Earth in the Balance, Gore wonders aloud whether cancer treatments should be used if they would result in the harvesting of what he considers to be to be too many trees. On page 119 he writes: "The Pacific Yew can be cut down and processed to produce a potent chemical, taxol, which offers some promise of curing certain forms of lung, breast, and ovarian cancer in patients who would otherwise quickly die. It seems an easy choice - sacrifice the tree for a human life - until one learns that three trees must be destroyed for each patient treated." As Gore's apologists have pointed out, he does later in the passage list one of his reasons as saving some trees for future generations. But there is no discussion in Gore's passage about a basic solution to this dilemma -- simply plant new groves of yews! Thus, he still seems to be giving the life of an old Pacific Yew a competing claim with a dying cancer patient. But it's not just cancer [...]