For his work to highlight global warming-ridiculed by George W. Bush leading up to the 2000 election-Al Gore just won the Nobel Peace Prize. Well done, citizen Gore.
Candidate Gore still lost Florida.
It was an historic blunder of proportions one inadequately grasps for tools to measure. Still–notwithstanding the Nobel Peace Prize–it is important to remember history.
Leading up to the stolen election, Gore had plenty of advice from his campaign manager, Donna Brazile, and Florida fund raisers like real estate attorney Mitchell Berger and lobbyist/developer Chris Korge that sublimating the environment was the right choice in a tight political campaign.
But it was Bill Clinton, beginning in 1992 and his two terms as president, who promoted the drift by Democrats toward the right -especially in respect to the environment.
During the Clinton years federal authority for the environment-encapsulated in the nation’s most powerful environmental laws like the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and National Environmental Policy Act-began to crumble.
Clinton’s political calculus responded the growing capacity of the conservative right, with leaders like House speaker Newt Gingrich, to define the problem of government as government itself.
At the same time, the mainstream media was pushed, pulled, and prodded to a notion of “balance” in reporting on the environment, in the direction of right-wing bloviators for whom global warming was a ripe opportunity to belittle.
We see the results today: a federal government that reflects the paranoia and anti-democratic tendencies of an insulated and threatened economic elite.
In fact, no external threat sends today’s political elite into fits-call it conservative, neo-conservative, or Republican-or even internal organized opposition-call it liberal, progressive, Democratic, whatever.
It is simply the reality of a global economy threaded with the pressure of climate change that has turned the tables on the status quo.
This is not yet a political theme, nor even one that citizen Gore will publicly broach. Mr. Gore stays to the high road, “The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity.”
Good enough, for now. There is still the need to account for the present by expunging the ghosts of the past.
It was the rush of an economic headwind, lead by the builders and developers of suburban sprawl, that stymied candidate Gore in 2000.
Florida developers organized in 1998 to propel Jeb Bush to governor of one of the nation’s fastest growing states. Jeb, who became wealthy as a Miami developer in the 1990’s, was in no mood to patiently wait for a new balance between the economy and the environment. It was the economy that needed to be strengthened, first-and from a strong economy all environmental benefits would follow.
In the years leading up to his ascension as governor, citizen Bush spent considerable time and energy helping to build the arguments for sharply limited government authority-more famously memorialized by Grover Norquist in the formula, shrinking government to a size it could be easily drowned in the bathtub.
The same political energy that organized around the push to Jeb Bush in the governor’s mansion of Florida, materialized in Florida to steal the presidency for George W. Bush in 2000.
It was mostly developers and builders-like Al Hoffman of WCI Communities who chaired the finance committees for both Jeb and George W’s campaigns-seeking the edge toward explosive growth and profits for their industries: condos, tract housing, roadways, cement, ports and airports.
Of course, to be competitive in the 2000 race, candidate Gore had to dip from the same bucket, drink from the same well, till the same fields for campaign contributions.
In states like Florida, where Gore’s political fate would be sealed, access to those contributions was controlled by wealthy developers who were, for the most part, Republican. Don’t provoke them, don’t offend them, don’t push more campaign money into Bush’s warchest was the admonition candidate Gore heeded.
At the time, the dot.com bubble had started to burst. When “free market” champion George W. Bush would take the White House and encourage Fed Chief Alan Greenspan to lower interest rates to historic levels, construction and development would sprout like 1000 flowers blooming: a state-mandated unleashing of wealth intended to secure Republican dominance of Congress and the White House for generations to come.
From this maelstrom, candidate Gore retreated to citizen Gore and the Nobel Peace Prize: a most unconventional path to greatness. Things change.
‘The Power of Yes’ was the slogan for Washington Mutual’s Long Beach Mortgage which between 2004 and 2005 according to the Wall Street Journal “made $48 billion in high-rate loans, and used armies of brokers to push subprime loans into the suburbs.”
What is salient about this particular power of yes, generated from a particular Republican stronghold, is that it turned into a gathering avalanche of foreclosures and credit woes afflicting the world’s largest financial institutions totaling in the hundreds of billions of dollars, dragging the dreams of Republican dominance of American politics into its own toxic waterways.
Today, the Bush dynasty’s primary campaign contributors are in financial disarray. Al Hoffman’s former company, WCI Communities, was sold off in a fire sale to corporate raider, Carl Icahn. The debt of publicly traded production homebuilders like Horton Homes, Lennar, and Pulte are trading at virtual junk bond status.
In its own way, the reversal of fortune of the economic elite that propelled Bush to the White House is as remarkable as transformation of candidate Gore who avoided the environment to citizen Gore who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his activism on the environment. And it all happened in seven years.
Along the way, there were plenty of cautionary voices to the housing boom now imploding and the warning signs of environmental distress, of local rivers and watersheds polluted by corporations, of civic activists trying to protect neighborhoods, aquifers, wetlands and the needs of existing residents, a fair percentage of whom were also swept up by refinancing, home equity lines of credit, and other manias.
And where we are, today is discomforting-notwithstanding stock markets trading at near record highs.
On August 30, AP reported a story that reverberated through network television news: “Lake Superior has lost about 1 foot of water in the past year and about 2 feet over the past decade due to a lack of rain and increased evaporation”.
On October 11, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported, “Lake Sidney Lanier, metro Atlanta’s main source of water, has about three months of storage left, according to state and federal officials. That’s three months before there’s not enough water for more than 3 million metro Atlantans to take showers, flush their toilets and cook We’re going to have another drought after this one when we can’t guess, but we can be assured we’ll have another drought that’s actually worse than this one. … With that in mind, our planners have to start looking at this in terms of how many more families, how many more businesses, how many more gallons of water can we allocate.”
And in South Florida, weighted down by so many condos and so much tract housing, Lake Okeechobee-the source of the region’s water supply-is at ten feet, nearly five feet below its historic average for this time of year.
Back in 2005, in Miami-Dade County the building and development lobby pushed local government towards approval of more than a dozen applications to move the Urban Development Boundary. Land outside the boundary, only a decade earlier that had sold for only a few thousand dollars, had been bid up to nearly $1 million per acre on the expectation that tract housing would quickly flood the area and confer millions of dollars in profits to speculators.
The lobbyists from the building trades ran around Miami with a powerpoint presentation showing that the incessant growth of population virtually demanded the expansion of suburbia to the edge of the Everglades. Get your water supply in line with growth, warned Governor Bush to his allies in Miami.
That would be the Everglades that Vice President Al Gore vigorously described as necessary to restore, to a rapt audience in Senate chambers in 1998. As Gore unveiled the plan (that has already tripled in cost, largely due to speculative land values encouraged by Governor Bush), he left the audience spell-bound with his mastery of detail and fact.
But of the facts to recall, one worthy of note is the map in Gore’s movie and powerpoint presentation, “An Inconvenient Truth”, showing on the same geographic latitude the state of Florida with its $2 trillion in coastal real estate value and Sub-Saharan Africa: the only difference in rainfall is accounted for by powerful ocean steering currents.
As the Greenland ice sheet melts and housing markets wilt, in local counties like Miami-Dade, the building and construction lobby is gearing up, again, to move the Urban Development Boundary. A great struggle is underway pitting angry Floridians against the building and construction lobby to change the Florida Constitution. Citizens want the ability to vote directly on big land use changes, since local government will not moderate its behavior in favor of whatever the building lobby wants.
The building lobby has initiated a campaign based on lies that is vitriolic as the one that undid candidate Gore. What is happening suggests it will take sea level rise lapping at the ankles of Floridians, for the steering currents of politics to change.
In the 2008 presidential election, we may see if American politics can break through what stupidity holds Florida in its grip. But then again, Americans may just wait until all the ice has disappeared to elect a candidate like the new Al Gore.
ALAN FARAGO of Coral Gables, who writes about the environment and the politics of South Florida, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.