A question asked of Gore when he was on the road eight years ago was: ”What are the drivers of Global change?” He answered it at the time by listing the ‘usual suspects’ and left it at that. However, the question kept him thinking and demanding a more precise, accurate and detailed answer. This was the genesis of this book:
After years of reflection Gore has come up with the six drivers of global change: 1) economic globalisation, 2) the rise of the internet and the digital revolution, 3) climate change, 4) over population and thus dwindling natural resources, 5) Shifts in the global balance of power, and 6) advances in the life sciences.
He identifies the trends in each of these areas and the perils and opportunity’s they offer. His final paragraph sums up the thesis of his book: “Human civilization has reached a fork in the road we have long travelled. One of two paths must be chosen. Both lead us into the unknown. But one leads toward the destruction of the climate balance on which we depend, the depletion of irreplaceable resources that sustain us, the degradation of uniquely human values, the possibility that civilization, as we know it would come to an end. The other leads to the future.” (p. 374).
Gore has gathered scientists and expert opinion on these topics to present a book looking at the very big picture. He backs up his arguments with a great number of references to the work of these experts.
As a helpful addition, Gore uses ‘mind maps’ in the book. They are very good guides to show the topics interrelate in each chapter.
An example of this is in his analysis of life sciences or and biotechnology. The major danger he sees here is that the discoveries and innovations are being made faster than we are able to consider their ethical and potentially negative consequences. He writes: “Reductionism-the belief that scientific understanding is usually best pursued by breaking down phenomena into their component parts and subparts-has sometimes led to a form of selective attention that can cause the observer to overlook emerging phenomena that arise in complex systems, and in their interaction with other complex systems.” (p. 217).
Climate change and the damaged nature of US political decision making are other examples that Gore explores. He makes the point that another sign of the hacked nature of the political system in the USA is that during the last presidential debates there was no mention of climate change despite epic climate disasters such as widespread drought, historic fires and storms like ‘Superstorm Sandy’ cutting short the campaign.
He points out that democracy in the USA has been ‘hacked’ and that it has been degraded and captured by corporates and moneyed interests. Now instead of serving their constituents, senators and congress people beg for money from these interests 5 hours a day and ask at every vote ask themselves how is this going to affect my fundraising. To get elected enormous amounts of money are spent in TV advertising paid for by their ‘sponsors’. Television is still the main source of information for most Americans and Gore asserts that TV audiences are the mostly easily manipulated by moneyed interests.
He argues that the buying of democracy cripples democracy in the USA, as Gore puts it: ”Congress…is now incapable of passing laws without permission from the corporate lobbies and other special interests that control their campaign finances.” (p. 104). However, Gore asserts that the USA is the only country capable of providing the kind of global leadership needed to address climate change.
The book has this special message for citizens of the USA in particular. If the USA is going to reinvent the global leadership it once had, it needs reforms to stop moneyed interests from taking control. As Gore puts it: “Not since the 1890s has US government decision-making been as feeble, dysfunctional and servile to corporate and other special interests as it is now.” (p. 93). As Gore puts it: ”The best chance for success in shaping a positive future and avoiding catastrophe is the re-establishment of a transcendent capacity for global leadership by the USA.” However, he points out the this leadership has some flaws that need correcting like: The routine interception of private communications poses a serious threat to liberty and must be stopped.
He is ultimately hopeful in that he points out that we [the USA] should try to steer the boat [the world] through these rapids of change (and with the USA as a re-empowered leader) but points out that: ”The currents of change are now so powerful that some have long since taken their oars out of the water, having decided that its better to surrender, enjoy the ride and hope for the best – even as these currents sweep us along faster toward the rapids.” (p. 361). Also ”our decision about the way we choose to live will determine whether the journey takes us, or whether we take the journey.” (p. 361).
The Future by Al Gore
Published by Random House; ISBN-13: 978-0812992946
Reviewed by Matthew Hodgetts