The Future is Al Gore’s latest foray into speculation about where he thinks the world is headed over the next several decades. In this well-written and thought-provoking book, he hasn’t found a lot of reasons to be any more optimistic than he was in An Inconvenient Truth seven years ago, at least with regard to such frightening prospects as massive global climate change, the continued and increasing disproportionate power in the hands of corporations and their lobbyists, and the dangerously sky-rocketing affluence of new middle classes throughout the developing world.
The key to this book, as opposed to Gore’s earlier work, is that he does not focus on a single major issue that will impact humanity, but rather that he focuses on the interconnectivity of six major factors (as indicated by the book’s subtitle). These are: Earth Inc. (the rapidly growing and inter-connected global economy); The Global Mind (personal rather than economic or corporate connectivity – and his hopes for a new kind of electronic egalitarianism); Power in the Balance (the shift of global economic power, particularly from West to East); Outgrowth (our ever-greater demands on ever-dwindling resources, addressing both energy and food consumption patterns); The Reinvention of Life and Death (the additional stresses placed on society by an aging population, looking at Japan as the new paradigm that will eventually be realized in most industrial nations, as well as the costs – social and financial – of new life-extending and -improving technologies that may or may not be available to all); and The Edge (Gore’s most pessimistic look yet at just where we are as a planetary eco-system – the title of this chapter gives a pretty clear indication of exactly where he feels we are). This approach works very well, and is one of the book’s greatest strengths.
The other strength is the depth of research conducted. While the book proper weighs in at 374 pages, the bibliography and notes are an additional 154 pages. Climate change deniers tend to rely on anecdotal evidence (Fox News’s response to the blizzard (the “Snowpocalypse”) in Washington DC three years ago comes to mind – to paraphrase: “Well, that sure makes those Global Warming people look bad!”), whereas those knelling the bells have had the science solidly on their side for the last two decades at least; however, never in my reading have I come across a clearer argument, with a greater abundance of solid and varied evidence, that we as a planetary civilization are facing some very difficult times, than that made in this book. Kudos both to Gore and to his team of researchers.
This is not to say that Gore is all gloom and doom. Each chapter suggests solutions, alternate paths, or better possibilities that we can still reach if we can find the will. The greatest hope comes in his chapter on The Global Mind. He addresses the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements as two recent revolutionary actions that have ties to shared information and social networks, more so for the latter than for the former (this has more to do with the ubiquity of devices, connectivity, and reduced censorship as opposed to an active and conscience choice of differing methods of organization). He suggests that this could possibly be a harbinger of things to come, when people are able to find new centres of power within networks, and eventually move to a greater and more transparent form of democracy. High hopes indeed, somewhat tempered by his concerns over several countries that are choosing to follow in China’s footsteps – tight controls, censored sites, and limited connectivity to social networking not directly controlled by the government.
Gore ends the book with a call to action, and expresses grave concerns over our ability to come to consensus in a timely fashion. We are, according to his research, approaching a precipice (his “Edge”) which, should we not halt our forward momentum, we may pass over into thin air without realizing it until it is far too late, much like Wile E. Coyote running in place before falling to the canyon floor below.
Steve’s Grade: A
A well-written, solidly researched extrapolatory journey into a frightening and challenging future that is becoming all the more likely with each passing year.