Editorial: From Al Gore, a grim warning
Seeing Al Gore on stage in Concord for the first time since he won the 2000 popular vote for president and lost in the electoral college, it was impossible not to wonder how things might have been different had he been president instead of George W. Bush. There would not have been debt-swelling tax cuts and perhaps no war in Iraq. The nation would have taken a leadership role to combat global climate change. Science would have been elevated by the federal government, not quashed and denigrated.
But Gore came to New Hampshire yesterday to talk not about the past but The Future, as his new book is titled, and the six major forces he believes could determine it. Gore has proven prescient in the past. He was an early proponent of the development of the internet. And he was among the first politicians to recognize that the continued burning of fossil fuels would lead to rapid climate change, a prediction that’s sadly come true. Gore’s analysis of what’s in store for the planet is, we think, grim, and correct. Altering that future for the better will require concerted action by an informed populace willing to apply political pressure on political candidates and Congress.
The first force for change Gore calls “Earth Inc.” Companies that produce goods and offer services are now connected globally but are rootless. Workers compete not just with rivals in nations where labor is cheaper but also with robots in factories all over the world.
The second force, The Global Mind, occurred when corporations, customers and every person with a cell phone or computer could communicate, access vast stores of information and connect in ways that have created new things (like social networks) and killed old ones (like travel agents and postal services).
Third is a shift in the balance of international power away from the United States and toward Asia – and the absence of global leadership that has created. The vacuum has made it harder to address threats like climate change. Gore says efforts to regain a leadership role must be made.
Fourth is the continuous growth of the human population, which took 200,000 years to hit 1 billion and added a billion in just the first 13 years of this century. That growth is putting a tremendous strain on resources, driving the extinction of species, damaging the environment and fueling unrest.
Fifth is “the reinvention of life and death” – scientific advances that already allow genetically modified goats to produce spider silk in their milk and could soon allow parents to select their child’s eye color and other attributes. Death will be staved off by science and the ability to tailor-make replacement organs and other technologies.
And sixth is climate change, the crisis Gore has been warning about for nearly four decades. Each day, Gore says, the burning of fossil fuels sends energy into the atmosphere that’s equivalent to exploding 400,000 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs. As last year’s heat, drought, wildfires, floods and storms proved, the effects of climate change are arriving with a vengeance.
Bending the curve of what looks to be a bleak future will require cooperation and concerted action, starting with the United States. That action is being thwarted by the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few; Gore notes that the wealth of the six heirs of the Walmart-founding Walton brothers exceeds the combined wealth of the 100 million Americans at the bottom of the economic ladder.
Democracy, Gore writes, has been “hacked” by corporations and billionaires who use their riches to buy outcomes in Congress and elect candidates of their choosing.
Somehow, in the face of this horrible prognosis, Gore remains an optimist. He believes that if enough people can learn the facts and be stirred to act, they can change, and like Ebenezer Scrooge, alter what would otherwise come to pass. We can only hope so.