Before there was Al Gore, there was George Mitchell. Politicians have been casting themselves as environmental crusaders, saving the planet, for two decades.

George J. Mitchell spent 15 years in the US Senate, between 1980 and 1995. In 1991 his book, World on Fire: Saving an Endangered Earth, appeared.

So what were politicians saying about the environment 21 years ago? Pretty much the same things they say today. The planet was “under siege.” An environmental “Holocaust” was underway.

Acid rain, ozone layer damage, rainforest depletion, and global warming were the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse (I kid you not) that were “killing our water, our air, our plants, our animals” and were on course to smite us, too.

Here’s a quote from pages 20-21 of the hardcover edition:

Planet Earth is sending out distress signals. They carry ominous messages. They tell us that the world is about to grow warmer, warmer than at any time in recorded history, and that the warmth will bring catastrophe. They tell us that holes as wide as the United States and as deep as Mount Everest are being ripped in the stratosphere’s ozone layer, which is our only protection from the lethal ultraviolet rays of the sun.And they tell us that a silent stalker, acid rain, continues to fall like a shroud over our planet, killing plant life on land and fish in the water and threatening human health..The greenhouse effect is not a theory. It is not a mathematical model. It is a reality. America’s three leading scientific academies have warned us that humans are daily plying earth’s systems with new stresses that could trigger traumatic climatic surprises and devastation worldwide in the years and decades ahead. Mostafa Kamal Tolba, the executive director of the environmental arm of the United Nations is even more blunt. He calls what is happening an “ecological holocaust.”

And here’s another sample, from page 199, near the end of the book:

action against climate change must begin with a call to arms. The problem must be moved to center stage of national and international consideration. It must begin to dominate our scientific, political, and diplomatic agendas, for it is that important. All of our skills and technologies must be mobilized at the highest levels.As one scientist has put it, “we’ve got to get the planet into intensive care.”

Remember, back in 1991 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was only three years old. Any international scientific consensus regarding what was happening with the climate was highly preliminary.

And yet Mitchell had already made up his mind. He thought the battle against climate change was more important than anything else. He urged his fellow Americans to apply all of their skills at the highest levels to that one particular problem.

Political egos can’t help themselves, can they? Playing the superhero, saving the planet – they find it irresistible.


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