I’m feeling like a girl who went out with the class brain, wished he would tell a joke or put his hand on my knee, then realized as he droned on that he would make a loving husband and responsible father and ended the evening ready to say “I do.”
That is, I just plowed through “The Future,” Al Gore’s magisterial but not always exciting analysis of where we are and where, God help us, we may be going.
With awesome comprehensiveness, Gore addresses six areas of rapid change: the world economy; the creation of a “global mind” via the Internet; the international balance of power; runaway growth in population and consumption; advances in medicine and genetic tampering; and global warming.
Choose your catastrophe. Here’s one: Demographic shifts will soon mean that 75 percent of human beings live close to coastlines. Cataclysms of climate change (like Hurricane Sandy) on top of sea levels rising with the melting of the polar ice caps could mean the inundation of millions.
At least those who drown won’t starve to death after all the crop failures resulting from the increasing desertification of the earth as its population simultaneously mushrooms:
“It took 200,000 years for our species to reach the 1 billion mark, yet we have added that many people in just the first 13 years of this century. In the next 13 years, we will add another billion, and yet another billion just 14 years after that.”
In these pages you enter a wonk’s paradise of projections, calculations and statistics. Usually they’re startling:
“More than half of the babies born in developed countries after the year 2000 are projected to live past the age of 100.” (Who’s going to pay for their retirement?)
Sometimes they’re amusing, in a grim way: “Between 20 and 30 percent of all divorces in the U.S. now involve Facebook.”
The message is mixed: Doom is nigh -- but come on, guys, we can win this thing! Jeremiah meets Pollyanna.
Jeremiah: “The surveillance technologies now available -- including the monitoring of virtually all digital information -- have advanced to the point where much of the essential apparatus of a police state is already in place.”
Pollyanna: “The good news is that we do have the capacity to begin solving the climate crisis -- if we awaken to the reality of our circumstances and decide that saving the future of human civilization is a priority.”
Although Gore jokes that he’s a “recovering politician,” you’d never know it from the canned tone of his prose. And yet the passion is unmistakable. So is the knowledge. Practically every page offers an illumination.
The analysis of American politics -- lobotomized by television, preyed on by corporations and taken hostage by reactionary nut jobs -- is soberingly frank.
Yet one thing this wise book proves (once again) is that wisdom isn’t enough. Gore cites a quotation ascribed to Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” Not one sentence in “The Future” cuts that sharply. Wit isn’t one of the arrows in Al Gore’s quiver.
As I lumbered along, it was hard not to think about the saner world we’d be living in if Gore had secured the presidency in 2000, and equally hard to forget the reason he didn’t.
It was said at the time that a lot of Americans wouldn’t want to have a beer with him, and as idiotic as that statement was, it mattered. He’s earnest and kind of dull. So is his book.
Knowing how to hold a crowd is as basic to a writer’s skill as it is to a politician’s. Without it, a visionary is just one more alarmist shouting “The end is near!” to people who give the guy one look and decide they don’t have time to listen.
“The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change” is published by Random House in the U.S. and W.H. Allen in the U.K. (558 pages, $30, 25 pounds). To buy this book in North America, click here.
(Craig Seligman is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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