Nineteen hours I listened to the erudite drawl of former Vice President Al Gore last week, on the audio version of his new book, “The Future.”
Nineteen hours of childhood obesity, outsourcing and global anxiety.
“Tell me about it,” Gore exclaimed, on the phone from a book-tour stop in Philadelphia. “I had to read it!”
But the length and breadth of the book are what it takes to cover what churns through Gore’s brain. The man remains one of the country’s biggest dorks, immersing himself in research and data, conferring with scientists and authors about the worries and wonders of the world, and then presenting it all to the rest of us — as he did with global warming in the 2006 book and documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.”
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“I wanted to get my arms around the major drivers of change, and then describe them clearly,” said Gore, 64, who will appear at First Hill Baptist Church on Feb. 14 at 7:30 p.m. “Point out how they are interacting with one another and then suggest a road map for making intelligent choices that can unlock opportunities for minimizing the dangers.”
The book, a sometimes dizzying compendium, is an all-encompassing examination of what Gore considers the six “drivers of global change”: the global economy; the global electronic communications grid; a new balance of political and military power; technological advances; and a new relationship between human civilization and the Earth’s economical systems.
No wonder, then, that the numbers and percentages come to him so easily: 90 million tons of global warming pollution are sent into the atmosphere every day, trapping more heat than 40,000 Hiroshima bombs. Every day.
Of course, such dangers can be overwhelming. The technology that makes our lives easier, but that puts many of us out of work. The loss of human connection. The damage to the Earth. The loss of privacy. And the worry about what we may — or may not — leave behind.
Gore doesn’t want to scare us, exactly, but to remind us that there are things we must take in, and at least consider.
“One consequence of the complexity of the changes we’re now facing is that it is tempting to tune out,” he said. “That is the wrong reaction.”
Gore’s no stranger to the complexity of change. He’s been roundly criticized for the recent half-billion-dollar sale of his Current TV network to Al-Jazeera, a broadcasting company largely funded by the country of Qatar. Qatar gets its money from oil reserves, which are fossil fuels. Which, presumably, are Gore-the-environmentalist’s sworn enemy.
But Gore defended the sale (in which he received a reported $70 million), saying that Al-Jazeera’s coverage of climate change outweighed any concerns about the hypocrisy of it all.
“I’m proud of the transaction,” he said. “(Al-Jazeera) is going to be a positive addition to the U.S. media landscape. People will be able to see for themselves in a couple of months, and those few who have had the chance to see Al-Jazeera know that it is an outstanding network that has created a global brand.
“I am proud of what we did with Current,” he went on. “We won many top awards and yet, as an independent, we did not have deep corporate pockets.
“And so we reached the stage where we had to make a move, and in vetting the quality of Al-Jazeera, I felt that it was the right choice.”
He is hopeful that the sale will result in better coverage of climate change than what the American media has done. The issue didn’t even come up in the last round of presidential debates, he pointed out.
“I think there are complicated reasons why many in the news media have been timid on climate change,” he said. “The deniers stomp their feet. It’s a little like an alcoholic family, where the father gets furious if anyone talks about the elephant in the room.
“Of course, climate denial has become a major cottage industry,” he said. “Liars for hire.”
Last year alone, he said, the United States had $110 billion in climate-related disasters, from the droughts that affected 60 percent of the country to the wildfires in the West to Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast.
“People are connecting the dots,” Gore said.
Back in 2006, when “An Inconvenient Truth” came out, critics derided the dramatization of the World Trade Center Memorial site being flooded by rainwater.
“But it sure happened in October,” Gore said. “There are now communities that have 100-year events every few years.”
Gore is eager to get back to Seattle, where he has “so many friends,” and where he and his son, Albert, climbed Mount Rainier in 2009.
“That was a highlight,” he remembered. “That was wonderful. It was hard to do something completely private when you’ve got Secret Service all around. But we love it there.”
On one of his last visits, he was with his then-wife, Tipper. They separated in 2010.
“It was a genuinely mutual decision and it came after 40 years of marriage,” he said of their split. “We remain very close friends and we make time to have the children and grandchildren together with the two of us several times a year.
“It is working out well.”
So, it seems, does being a “recovering politician.”
In 2007, Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in climate change, and received an Academy Award for “An Inconvenient Truth.”
And when he isn’t researching and writing, he’s on his farm, at the movies, playing basketball or with his partner, Elizabeth Keadle.
But always, he says, he is thinking about the future — and the everyday acts that shape it for better or for worse.
“All I know how to do is lay out the best truth I am capable of finding,” Gore said, “and present it as clearly as I can.”
The rest, he said, is up to us.
Nicole Brodeur: firstname.lastname@example.org