In his new book, "The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change," Al Gore tries to expand his public role to issues that relate to but go beyond climate change. Gore addresses what he sees as the six major challenges for the future of the world.
Readers contribute as much to what they get out of books as the authors do. This may be even more true than usual for readers of Gore's book. What you get from this book strongly depends on the reasons you read the book in the first place. Right-wingers will be infuriated. Those looking for a broad view of the challenges facing the world from a science-based but fairly mainstream perspective will find exactly what they are looking for. Those looking for an explanation of the fundamental causes of those challenges will find the book less than adequate.
The breadth of issues discussed by Gore is impressive. He has access to leading researchers and academics in many fields, and seems to have a voracious mind, eager to discuss and connect cutting edge developments in many fields. From robotics to gene therapy, from agriculture to income inequality, from climate change to brain research, from campaign finance reform to bioethics, he reports and links many developments into a relatively coherent whole. This is quite an accomplishment considering the range of issues, developments, and problems he writes about.
One of the paradoxes of U.S. politics is that someone as uncharismatic as Al Gore can become such a polarizing public figure. His role in popularizing explanations of climate change to the general public makes him a lightning rod for criticism from climate change deniers, fossil fuel company flacks, and fossil fuel company owners and major shareholders who will have their pocketbooks diminished if Gore's message about climate change is heard and acted on by tens of millions of people in our country.
Because of who he is and the role he has played in U.S. politics, Gore's book is receiving mainstream attention including major reviews and appearances on talk shows (and Jon Stewart's "Daily Show"). And that is mostly a good thing. Gore's identification of problems and explanation of the primary and secondary causes of those problems is a real contribution to public debate. His indictments of U.S. economics and politics will drive right-wingers to fury. His reporting of masses of facts will make it harder for opponents to dismiss his claims out-of-hand.
Conversely, those who read expecting a thoroughgoing expose of the major problems facing the world are more likely to find themselves buried under a mountain of facts, statistics, and "profound" statements which often correctly identify many problems but gloss over their key underlying causes.
If what you want is a wide-ranging, erudite discussion of all the main challenges facing humanity, from climate change to the role of corporations and the super-rich to economic transformations due to globalization and automating of production processes, then this book is a treasure trove of details that are important to understanding those challenges.
Nonetheless, those seeking an understanding of why we are in the position we are, and of the fundamental necessary transformations in world politics, economics, and production, will run up against Gore's ideological advocacy of what he (and many others) term "sustainable capitalism."
Gore's strengths and weaknesses are on full display in "The Future." Recognizing Gore's limitations, it is worthwhile to plow through this long and detailed book to get an important perspective on profound challenges facing us, and their "drivers."
"The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change"
By Al Gore
2013, Random House, 592 pages, $30.00