Posted by: gcarkner | March 16, 2014

Review Of Al Gore’s The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change

A Review of Gore, A., 2013. The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change. Random House, New York. 558 pp.

Al Gore’s selection of the six key drivers of global change can be debated, but no one should underestimate the thought and vision that has gone into the writing of this book. If you are worried about investing in 558 pages of text I would strongly recommend that you read the final chapter (Conclusion) first. The range of recommendations is bound to impress and the evidence on which such recommendations are based should intrigue the reader to return to the opening chapter and stay the course. This is not another climate change peroration but a balanced warning in relation to the trajectory of the six major drivers of change, as perceived by Al Gore.

The six drivers are as follows:

  1. The emergence of a deeply interconnected global economy which is characterized by an expanding global wealth gap. Increasing speed of transactions, complexity, integration, capitalism in crisis and the changing nature of work.
  2. The realization of global electronic communication, a global brain, big data and the threat of “big brother”, a crisis in education and health care, the conundrum of the search for security and the loss of privacy.
  3. A new balance of political, economic and military power, the unpredictability of China, the growing influence of corporations,  the nation state in transition and the uncertain meaning of the decline in wars.
  4. Rapid unsustainable growth, exemplified by city growth, mass marketing, waste and pollution, continued population growth, family migration, refugees, soil erosion and dust storms.
  5. A revolution in genetics and materials science, ethical issues surrounding the genome, creation of new body parts, fertility control and GMOs.
  6. A new relation between the power of civilization and Earth’s ecological system, questions around mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, risks, fracking and species extinctions.

In his conclusion, Gore says that our decision about the way we choose to live will determine “whether the journey takes us or whether we take the journey”. He lays out his assumptions about human nature: intrinsic human nature does not change but aspects of human nature which we routinely express can and do change. Some genes are expressed while others remain inchoate and vestigial. Neuron trees grow dense and vibrant when they are used; others atrophy when they are not. Better education is essential but is not, in itself, enough.

Long periods of stability enhance the vulnerability of the system: e.g. pests in monocultures and hackers in computer systems. The intrinsic nature of the pests and hackers do not change; their learned behaviours do. Democracy and capitalism have both been hacked. The awakening of the global mind presents new opportunities; but the massive growth of Earth Inc. (Gore’s term for the takeover by international conglomerates of the traditional roles of nation states) presents new dangers. America’s potential for world leadership depends on enough people committed to a sustainable future. Three billion people added to the middle class offers hope. What are the implications of the substitution of intelligent machines for human labour? Are we ready for decisions with respect to altering life. New models for health care and social support systems? Fertility management and stress on planet? Can we reduce global warming pollution?

Fixing market capitalism and representative democracy should be at the top of the agenda. We need to migrate the public square to the Internet as a venue for reform and positive change. The news media failed completely at the last US election because of the corporate interests that outlawed the asking of relevant questions (In particular he notes that at a time when natural hazards associated with climate change were pressing, not a single question relevant to that issue was debated by the candidates for election nor encouraged by the media).

Loss of privacy and security information on the Internet is a critical question. The list of recommended actions is long and poorly defined. Ways of achieving these goals are only sketchily discussed. Nevertheless, they form a challenging “to do list”.

Precision medicine and effective waste management are essential. Capitalism can no longer afford to ignore externalities in its calculation of human well-being. Reliance on GDP as a measure of progress is passé and carbon taxes should be used with strict controls on the way in which moneys raised from such taxes are used towards the pursuit of sustainability. Creation of more public goods, redesign of agriculture, forestry and fishing, reversal of depletion of soil, groundwater and biodiversity. Emphasize education of women. Urbanization and the aging population should be seen as opportunities. Designing humanity is an awesome responsibility. The profit motive in for example GMOs is creating new risks. List of dangerous practices that should be stopped. The world needs wise and strong leadership.

I agree that we need leadership. But from whom? And with what ethical values?

What about the administration of justice? What about the very idea of justice (Amratya Sen)?

What about faith? Gore says we have lost faith. I agree. What can be done about this?

What about hope? Gore says we have become cynical: I agree. Where does that leave hope?

What about love? Gore says nothing about this. Can it or should it be mentioned in the public square?

Whether or not you agree with Gore’s list of necessary actions, and whether or not you agree with his list of drivers (I think, for example, that drivers 4 and 6 can be more meaningfully combined into “population pressure on the environment”), there is no doubt that this is yet another important wake up call for our ailing western secular capitalist system.

~Olav Slaymaker, Ph.D., D.Sc.,

Professor Emeritus, Geography, UBC.

Other Books in this Genre

Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus Climate.

Jeff Rubin, The End of Growth.

Quentin Schultze, Habits of the High-Tech Heart: living virtuously in the information age.

D. Stephen Long, Divine Economy: theology and the market.

Albert Borgmann, Holding onto Reality: The Nature of Information at the Turn of the Millennium (1999)

Steven Bouma-Prediger, For the Beauty of the Earth: a Christian vision of creation care.

See YouTube by Katharine Hayhoe

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