The future of the world — according to former Vice President Al Gore
By Maria Saporta
Trying to follow Al Gore as he speaks is like trying to drink water from a fire hose.
The former vice president is a fountain of knowledge and ideas, stimulating thought and concern as he weaves a tale of the future.
Gore was in Atlanta Friday evening at the Carter Center to talk about his most recent book: “The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change.”
Calling former U.S. President Jimmy Carter “a hero,” Gore quickly began his one-man act describing a world that is rapidly accelerating technologically with a big question mark of how human beings will respond to the growing challenges we face.
“Every generation has probably had the sense that their time on earth was unique,” Gore said. “This time in human history is truly unique. In a great many respects, we have never had so many revolutionary changes happening simultaneously. Our world is being reshaped.”
Gore said we are creating a global mind — digitally and electronically — not only among human beings but increasingly with intelligent machines. Corporations have found a way to digitally capture information on their customers creating a “stalker economy” with customers (at least information about them) actually becoming their products. One driver for change is the global mind.
A second driver is what Gore calls Earth Inc., a world that the former describes as economic globalization on steroids.
“Capital speeds around the world at the speed of light,” Gore said, adding that companies are investing hundreds of millions of dollars just so they can be closer to super-computers and efficient fiber-optic cables. “One of the underlying themes in the book is that the role of us as human beings is being changed…contributing to the hollowing out of the middle class and the growing inequality of income.”
Instead of just outsourcing, there’s now robo-sourcing where companies are now having robots do the jobs that people used to do. “Our economic policy and our economy as a whole has depended on the middle class having enough money to go into the stores and buy things,” said Gore, adding that we are now in a period of exponential change.
Another driver is the reinvention of life and death — the ability to alter life and all matter. Science keeps pushing new frontiers of being able to alter genes and DNA. It is not so far-fetched for couples to be able to decide whether they want a child with brown hair or blond hair, one with superior intelligence and/or superior athletic ability. “We are now the principal agents of evolution,” Gore said.
Another driver is what Gore calls “outgrowth.” The world economy is based on growth and short-term results. But we are not taking into account the long-term costs of that mindset.
“The population of the world has quadrupled in the last 100 years,” Gore said. “It took 200,000 years before we reached the population of 1 billion. In the first 13 years of this century, we added another 1 billion.”
With 7 billion people now inhabiting the earth, Gore said: “we are putting pressure on natural resources and physical limits.” While some people believe science can find a solution for everything, Gore said technology can’t replace or generate fresh water.
Another driver — power in the balance. “We are seeing a resorting of power in the world — the new world,” said Gore, specifically mentioning the growing influence of China and India.
“The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population,” Gore said. “Many feel they are seeing a relative decline in the United States relative to the rest of the world.”
Gore then got on a soapbox on how “our democracy has been hacked,” and that members of Congress have forgotten that they are there to serve in the best interest of their constituents rather than their biggest donors.
“It is a desecration of our democracy; it’s time we take control of our democracy in the name of the American people,” Gore said forcefully to loud applause.
The last driver Gore talked about was the climate crisis. Resisting the temptation of saying: “I told you so,” Gore told the audience of how 2012 was the hottest year on record in the United States. There was $110 billion in damage due to climate-related disasters. Half the North Polar Ice Cap is gone.
Every day we are spewing 90 million tons of global warming pollution (the equivalent of 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs) treating our atmosphere like “an open sewer,” Gore said. “We are hearing mother nature’s voice very loudly.”
Later Gore added: “We have some big choices to make,” but after eight years of working on his book, he said he was more optimistic than he was when he started. “We have to decide that the future is a priority for us.”
The audience then asked the former vice president who lost the presidency by a hair some questions.
The first person opened up by saying: “You will go down in history as the greatest president we never had.”
Gore then said the internet provides a “low-cost” entry for people to share their global mind; that China is beginning to pilot a price on carbon and shift to renewables; that he’s against the Keystone XL Pipeline project; and that he hopes the Citizens United ruling will be overturned.
Attorney Miles Alexander then asked Gore about the gridlock in Washington, D.C. and his views about it taking more than 60 votes to stop a filibuster.
“I’ve called for changes in the filibuster rule. Look at page 374.”
And then Gore proceeded to read the last three paragraphs in his book, which I’m sharing with you below:
Finally, the world community desperately needs leadership that is based on the deepest human values. Though this book is addressed to readers in the world at large, it is intended to carry a special and urgent message to the citizens of the United States of America, which remains the only nation capable of providing the kind of global leadership needed.
For that reason, and for the pride that Americans ought to feel in what the United States has represented to humanity for more than two centuries, it is crucial to halt the degradation and decline of American’s commitment to a future in which human dignity is cherished and human values are protected and advanced. Two priority goals for those who wish to take action are limiting the role of money in politics and reforming outdated and obfuscatory legislative rules that allow a small minority to halt legislative action in the U.S. Senate.
Human civilization has reached a fork in the road we have long traveled. 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, and the possibility that civilization as we know it would come to an end. The other leads to the future.