Well, from postings on the web it looks like as of Ubuntu 8.10 the intel 945 driver has regressed. Not much I can do it seems unless I move back to 8.04 which I'm not going to do.
My workaround for the moment? Have a panel button (fusion-icon package) which switches off compiz when I want to use googleearth and then switch it back on when done.
Just an update to note that while the method above does allow the globe to display, there are missing letters and numbers in the 3d font. Apparently this is an Intrepid issue as described in the bug report linked to below.
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