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Al Gore’s ‘Future’ Tackles Technology, Global Economy, American Democracy

January 31, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Former Vice President Al Gore's new book, "The Future: Six Drivers of Climate Change," examines major shifts in science, technology, the global economy and democracy. Jeffrey Brown talks with the Nobel Prize winner about his vision of the future, as well as the recent sale of Gore's television network Current to Al-Jazeera.

JEFFREY BROWN: And now to our interview with former Vice President Al Gore.

Since he conceded the 2000 presidential election, Mr. Gore’s of course become best known for his advocacy on climate change issues, work that led to both a Nobel Prize and an Academy Award. Lately, his business and corporate connections have also been in the news, when he sold his cable channel, Current TV, to Al-Jazeera, the network owned by the government of Qatar in the Persian Gulf.

Gore is back in print now with a new book titled “The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change,” examining major shifts in science, technology, the global economy, and American democracy.

I spoke to him earlier today.

Al Gore, welcome.

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE, United States: Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, you wrote that someone asked you years ago about the driving forces of the future. That’s how this book started.

But I wonder, now that you’re done …


JEFFREY BROWN: … what is it? What is this book? Is it a warning, a wakeup call? What are you trying to tell us about the future?

AL GORE: Well, I have always been fascinated with those who try to look over the horizon and see things that are coming at us.

And many of the changes now under way have arisen out of the still accelerating scientific and technological revolution and the hyper-growth that we have in the global civilization and economy in which we now live.

Years ago, C.P. Snow wrote a famous essay about the two cultures, saying that the culture in science and technology on the one hand was increasingly separate from popular culture. And I think that’s true. And what I have done at times in my career is try to get these expert communities to exercise enough patience to repeat things in simple language, so that I can understand them, and then try to communicate them.

And I have done that in this book.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, what’s interesting, you have — you have — you tackle very big issues in technology and science and you tackle some very nitty-gritty issues of our time.

And I want to focus in on one of them, is the breakdown of politics.


JEFFREY BROWN: Now, you write about — use the expression that democracy is being hacked.

AL GORE: Has been hacked.

JEFFREY BROWN: You attribute this to an influence of big money.


JEFFREY BROWN: What does that mean? We just had an election. Is the process tainted?

AL GORE: Well, when you use the word taint, it implies a lack of legitimacy. And I don’t want to imply that.

I do think that it has been degraded and it has been partially, significantly captured. I first went to the Congress, the House of

Representatives, in the ’70s, and I have watched the arc of this degradation. And it is connected to the influence of big money.

It’s also partly an outgrowth of a tectonic shift from the early days of our republic, when the printing press and the public square that was informed by the printing press has been replaced by television. Now Americans watch television five hours a day, those my age and older seven hours a day on average. Somebody is making up for us. But, as a result, the role of money has been greatly increased. So…

JEFFREY BROWN: But to what impact? To the sense that we can’t pass legislation?

AL GORE: Correct.

JEFFREY BROWN: And affecting our elections as well?

AL GORE: For a free country to continue thriving, there have to be regular reforms, because any society, any economy that stays in place, you’re going to see repeated attempts to exploit the openings for twisting policy to the advantage of those who already have wealth and power.

It’s a common theme throughout human history.

AL GORE: And we have been less vulnerable to that because we have had a free flow of ideas, and people who, for whatever reason, feel that there need to be changes and reforms have had an avenue for convincing their elected representatives to bring about change.

They can’t do that as much now. The Congress is virtually incapable of passing any reforms unless they first get permission from the powerful special interests who are most affected by the proposal.

JEFFREY BROWN: And that affects — for example, right now, we’re in the midst of a gun control debate in this country.


JEFFREY BROWN: And you don’t think there’s — do you think there’s the possibility of passing some sort of comprehensive plan, the way the president put it out?

AL GORE: I hope that this is an exception. And there are exceptions.

But the gag point, if you will, the point, the threshold beyond which there is enough public outrage to capture the attention of the Congress, that threshold has been raised to a ridiculously high level. I’m hoping that we will be able to get reform in the gun laws.

But here’s the simple mechanism at the heart of this. The way our founders designed American democracy, the role of the elected representatives was to go to Washington and immerse themselves in information and learn more, but always keep in mind, how is this going to affect my constituents? What is in their best interests? Or, to put it another way, how are they going to react if I vote this way or make this speech?

Now, because representatives and senators spend five to six hours a day every day begging for money from wealthy interests and wealthy individuals to build up a war chest, so they can buy their television commercials, the next day, when they go to vote or make a speech, they think to themselves, how is this going to affect my fund-raising?

And so their constituents take a backseat, unless it is an exceptional situation, where the public is passionately aroused.

JEFFREY BROWN: This — this money and influence question has been one that has been hitting you in the past few weeks since you sold Current TV to Al-Jazeera, Al-Jazeera owned by the government of Qatar, the royal family there. It gets its wealth from — from natural gas and oil, fossil fuels.

And what a lot of folks said — and you have been asked about in the last few days, I see — is this question of hypocrisy. How can you, telling all of us that it’s important to think about cutting back on our energy use, how can you sell to a company that really is backed by that very thing?

AL GORE: Well, I understand the charge.

I reject it and disagree with it, but for one simple reason. In doing diligence on what Al-Jazeera really is, you will find very clearly that it has long since established itself as a truly outstanding news gathering network.

And let me give you one example. Their coverage of the climate crisis is the highest quality and most extensive of any television network. By contrast, we just went through here in the United States a long presidential campaign in a year that was the hottest in American history, with superstorm Sandy and 60 percent of the country in drought, and massive fires in the West, and $110 billion of climate disasters, and not one journalist asked any of the candidates in any of the debates a single question about climate.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, you know, you wrote that, and I have heard you say that recently in interviews, but — but, therefore, what? Because…

AL GORE: Therefore, we, in the United States …

JEFFREY BROWN: No, but I’m …


JEFFREY BROWN: But I’m asking you, I can’t get in the heads of the moderators who didn’t ask — they — presumably, they had other things, important things to say.


JEFFREY BROWN: Are you suggesting they didn’t ask about climate change because they were influenced somehow by — by money or by big corporations? I mean, that’s the, “Therefore, what?”

AL GORE: I think that more diversity is a good thing, and fresh points of view articulated by people who are committed to excellence in journalism is a beneficial change in the American media landscape.

And a news organization that regularly and constantly explores this issue, by contrast to the way it has been ignored, up until superstorm Sandy has begun to bring about some change — but we have had a kind of odd silence about this issue.

And the United States is the only nation that can lead the world toward a solution on this issue. In any case, this organization has proven itself. It has a fantastic reputation. I’m proud of what Current TV was able to do. We had an excellent lineup of programming. But, as an independent in an age of conglomerates, without deep pockets, we faced a point, even though we were profitable each year, where we had to make a move.

And this organization, I think, is a very good addition to the U.S. television dial.

JEFFREY BROWN: Let me ask you, finally, you call yourself a recovering politician. Now, I’m not going to ask you if you’re planning to reenter politics, because you’re no doubt not going to tell me.

But I wonder how you see yourself, your role today. Do you think you have been more effective out of politics or in?

AL GORE: Well, I don’t have the illusion that there’s any position or role in the world with as much potential for bringing about change as that of president of the United States.

But that wasn’t to be. And I found other ways to serve. And I have found a lot of good ways to make a positive difference. And I plan to continue doing that.


We’re going to continue this discussion online about climate change and other issues. And I hope our viewers will join us then. But, for now, the book is “The Future.”

Al Gore, thanks for talking to us.

AL GORE: Thank you.