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Gore's Nobel

10/23/07 7:55AM By Mike Martin
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(HOST) Commentator Mike Martin has noticed a cultural shift when it comes to environmentalism: he thinks that Al Gore's Nobel Peace Prize has finally made it ok for men to be green.

(MARTIN) Maybe it's because we call our planet Mother Earth, but for some reason being "green" has never been associated with virility here in the U.S. When you think of manliness, "tree-hugger" usually isn't the first word to come to mind. But say "gas-guzzler," "coal miner," or "clear-cut," on the other hand, and you can almost smell the testosterone. That's why Al Gore's Nobel Peace Prize is such a big deal. With serious bling-bling like the Nobel medal hanging on his chest, it'll be hard to write him off again as too touchy-feely, too new-agey, or too out-of-touch.

And Americans have been pretty tough on Al Gore. Back in 1992, some people made fun of Gore's best-seller Earth in the Balance, even though it sold more copies than any book by a U.S. Senator since JFK's Profiles in Courage. During the Presidential campaign that year, George H. W. Bush attacked Gore for his environmental call to arms and gave him the nickname "Ozone Man." And even when Gore won an Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth, he still didn't get the respect he deserved; his critics just said it proved he was part of the effete Hollywood elite. But that was before his Nobel Prize - there's just something about having a Nobel that gives you instant gravitas. Now who's laughing at Ozone Man and his goofy greenhouse gases?

Maybe we've pooh-poohed ecology for so long because it seemed too European, too socialist, too much like the Green Party. The Europeans blamed President Bush for unilaterally withdrawing us from the Kyoto Accord, but in reality many Americans fear multilateralism on global issues - think how many of us are against the United Nations, for example. Maybe being green seemed too internationalist, too utopian.

Or maybe it's because the word "ecology" comes from the Greek for "household," and not many macho men want to keep up with the domestic duties. This notion is like the French children's story The Little Prince, where the hero spruces up his planet by cleaning his volcanoes and doing the weeding. Like the good people who pick up trash on Green-Up Day, the environmentalist comes off like an earnest cleaner, a planetary picker-upper.

But, ever so slowly, there is a seeping realization that there is nothing cute or bleeding-heart about environmentalism. The challenges before us are for brave leaders, brilliant engineers, and pragmatic problem-solvers. There is nothing idealistic about saving our environment; on the contrary, it's an extremely practical matter.

I guess when you consider how inhospitable the rest of the galaxy is for human life, it seems normal that we've always thought of nature as a feminine force that nurtures us. (And maybe that's why men have sought to dominate her for so long.) But whether or not you're an earth-worshipper, you've got to admit that we need her more than she needs us. For, even if we manage to totally destroy our environment, the Earth will still be here for eons to come - it's just that we won't be.

Mike Martin writes about issues of culture and education and teaches French at Champlain Valley Union High School.
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