Al Gore’s crystal ball

Al Gore’s crystal ball
Al Gore’s crystal ball

Al Gore’s crystal ball

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Al Gore has been thinking. Since the former Vice President’s fateful 2000 presidential bid, he has tried writing, documentary filmmaking, broadcast journalism, and venture capital — among other things — largely to keep one message in the national conversation: climate change is a serious and immediate threat to society.

That campaign has made his name an epithet in some conservative circles, while many typically left-leaning climate activists view him as somewhat of an icon. Gore has apparently grown accustomed to his assumed role as cultural touchstone, bestowing his new book, which he discussed at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs Friday, with the sagely title The Future.

Six factors will drive change in the years to come, Gore said, and the ability of society to cope with them will determine its fate.

Gore considered many topics — he jumped from cataloguing advances in life sciences (goats that produce spider silk) to globalization and the mania of modern high-speed trading — but he ultimately deferred to the democratizing power of the internet to inspire individual action and organization.

“Short-termism,” he said, has come to dominate political planning, while a two-dimensional view of economic growth has served as “a mental shortcut” preventing the emergence of a sustainable way forward.

“We’re going to see growth that wrecks our supply of freshwater and topsoil,” he said, “that destroys the web of living species with which we share this land and on which we depend.” He likened current inaction on climate change to 19th century city-dwellers tracing the cause of cholera to contaminated drinking water, yet refusing to cap or abandon the poisonous well.

Gore levied much of the blame on a political system corrupted by economic disparity and unequal political access.

He said growing up he knew the battle for civil rights had been won when he heard people standing up against off-hand racist remarks. He placed his faith for the future in the power of such “individual conservations,” touting the disruptive power of the internet, where he said ideas trump clout.

“New reform movements are thriving on the internet, leading to dramatic change,” Gore said. “I know we can win conversations about the future.”