THE FUTURE, by Al Gore
Reviewed by Robert Colvile ONE of the many grave problems our planet faces, according to Al Gore – or rather, one of the many, many problems, each of them graver than the last – is overpopulation. On which score, his new book will definitely help address that particular concern. For it would be a brave man or woman, after reading this extensive tale of woe, who dares to bring a child into a world so set on self-destruction.
It is easy to dismiss Gore as a swag-bellied hypocrite who campaigns against Big Oil while selling his left-wing television network (the little-watched Current TV) to the gas barons of Qatar, in a deal that has reportedly left him richer than Mitt Romney.
The trouble is, he makes a worryingly convincing case. Gore’s essential argument is that the world is rapidly spinning out of control – that we have entered a turbulent new age, in which technology is running amok, the planet is being pillaged ever more rapaciously, and governing institutions have been suborned by vested interests obsessed with short-term gain rather than sustainability.
To give a sample of the issues he raises: economically, global outsourcing and "robo-sourcing” – the replacement of human workers with computers – threaten to leave the middle and working classes jobless, while the rich reap the gains. Our financial markets are at the mercy of algorithms whose high-frequency trades are carried out in microseconds. We are engaged in the wholesale manipulation (genetic and otherwise) of the environment, and of our own bodies. Even if you ignore the millions of tons of carbon being pumped into the air, we are losing vital resources – such as water and topsoil – at an unsustainable rate.
Crunched together into one paragraph, this makes his book sound like a rant. But it is more a flavour of the way in which Gore sandblasts you with ideas, as he bounds bombastically from topic to topic. While he is given to the deployment of catchphrases such as "Earth Inc” and the "Global Mind” he – or his minions – have obviously done their research: there is clearly a roving and restless mind at work here, one willing to venture into terrain that few other former politicians, and certainly none still in office, would dream of exploring.
Indeed, perhaps the most striking aspect of this book is the sheer scorn Gore has for the practice of politics.
"Not since the 1890s has US government decisionmaking been as feeble, dysfunctional and servile to corporate and other special interests as it is now,” he thunders, a sentiment repeated elsewhere at length.
But what of Gore’s solutions? Well, anyone who has ever called Barack Obama a socialist ought to read this, in order to see what a real attack on capitalism looks like – although they would find it hard to see the pages through the red mist that would surely descend.
One of his chief suggestions is to abandon our current measure of progress – GDP – since this largely reflects how good we are at chewing through the Earth’s resources.
As part of this, he points out how bizarre it is that we list the billions of barrels of oil and gas underground as assets, when we cannot actually burn them without causing catastrophic damage to the atmosphere.
Normally, such books conclude with a rousing chapter on how things can still be turned around but Gore seems to have left optimism behind a long time ago.
True, there are a few rote calls for a restoration of "American leadership”. But even that might not be enough, given that the rest of the world may well ignore any calls for restraint.
This is one of those books that will never be 100% right – and certainly, I can think of several counter-examples to his prophecies of doom (for example, rising prosperity does increase global warming, but also leaves poor countries better able to cope with its consequences).
But even if he is only 10% right, we’re in for a tough time. Maybe then, at last, we will come to see the wisdom of Al Gore’s words – and appoint him to the role for which he has long been auditioning, as philosopher-king of a ruined Earth. – The Daily Telegraph