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Senator Al Gore was on a book tour promoting Earth in the Balance. He hadn’t yet been picked as Bill Clinton’s running mate when I saw him at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, in April of 1992. He spoke for about forty minutes about the grave responsibility people around the world had to be more conscious of environmental degradation and then allowed for questions. I raised my hand and asked the Senator what he thought about the fact that the United States was the world’s greatest polluter and the greatest abuser of the earth’s resources.

I asked what the Senator thought of an editorial suggestion in the Houston Post that countries with large rainforests like Brazil and Malaysia should be allowed to tax the rest of the world for their usage of the primary resource they produce: clean air. (The idea was that the U.S. should be made to pay these countries not to deforest – the Post editorial had called it an Oxygen Tax).

I suggested to Senator Gore that the Global capitalist system – authored out of the U.S. and Europe – may have been the root cause for much of the irresponsibility he wrote about, quoting then Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad, who had that year remarked that “Democracy and free markets are not magic. They do not make backwardness and ignorance disappear.”

In response, Senator Gore asked me if I was from Malaysia.

When I said I was not he replied, “Good – because they’re the worst!” and went on to complain about deforestation of the islands of South East Asia, ignoring the responsibility of facing the economic facts of environmental degradation.

When he’d finished, some grad students in the audience tried to pick up my call for greater responsibility to be placed on the demands of Northern and Western markets, but Senator Gore just didn’t want to get it. While Republican President GHW Bush was the one who’d said he would never apologize for the actions of the U.S.A., whether or not they were wrong, by the early 1990’s the Democrats weren’t much better at owning up.