Former Vice-president Al Gore gave a talk discussing his new book this evening at an invitation-only event at the Clinton Presidential Library, with students of the Clinton School of Public Service and a who’s who of local politcos in attendance, including David Pryor, Dale Bumpers, and Mack McLarty.
"The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change" is Gore’s attempt to forecast and explain radical changes coming to the world through globalization, technology, scientific advances, medical advances, artificial life and artificial intelligence, outsourcing of jobs to robots and mechanization, increasing inequality, overpopulation, the Internet, erosion of democratic institutions, genetic engineering, murkier identities of nation states, climate change….And so on! Really, there’s much more, and Gore crams a dizzying array of world-historical trends into his six sweeping and interrelated “drivers,” each with a catchy tag like “Earth, Inc.” or “The Global Mind.”
He argues convincingly in the book that “there is no prior period of change that remotely resembles what humanity is about to experience.” Despite the hefty ambition and sweeping scope, it’s actually a relatively breezy read, recalling the style of best-selling writer Malcolm Gladwell, cited approvingly a few times in the book. Like Gladwell, Gore offers a big survey of big ideas from the social and hard sciences, replete with fun factoids — Genetic engineers have created goats that secrete spider silk from their udders! Seventy percent of pictures on Facebook are posted by women!
While the book is measured and professorial, his talk was fiery and passionate, as preacherly as it was erudite. Al Gore may be wonky but he’s mad as hell. The crowd ate it up. Having grown up with Gore as my U.S. Senator in Tennessee, I was struck by the oft-noted contrast between the young Al Gore, a careful, often stiff politician seeking establishment approval — and the old Al Gore, a tell-it-like-it-is firebrand with a cult following among idealistic young liberals.
Unsurprisingly, his passion reached its highest pitch on the topic of climate change, though he was equally fired up about the corroding influence of moneyed special interests in the U.S. democracy.
He closed with a call to arms:
We have the opportunity to seize the future. Aristotle wrote that the end of the thing defines its nature. What is our end destined to be? Should, God forbid, we not rise to the occasion and these incredibly powerful changes sweep us along and bring about an end to civilization — as the scientists say, certainly, the climate crisis can — what does that say about our nature? Or to put it another way, who are we as human beings? Are we destined to prove the proposition that the combination of opposable thumbs and the neocortex was just a big mistake? Are we destined to be creatures that destroy our own future? I refuse to believe that! I refuse to accept that! I know what men and women in Arkansas and Tennessee and throughout this country are made of. And we have our limitations, and we can make mistakes. But when the chips are down and the stakes are high, we, all of us as human beings — and particularly those of us whose minds have had the opportunity to be freed in our country’s system — have the ability to rise to challenges and seize the moment when it is necessary to do so. I hope you will help to save our future and make it worthy of our children.