Al Gore is back. A dozen years after he was denied the U.S. presidency and turned his attention to the warming atmosphere (and won the Nobel Peace Prize, an Academy Award and a Grammy), he is opening his lens wider.The result is The Future, a 500-page examination of the six major forces that he believes are producing dramatic change in the world: an increase in economic globalization; an expansion of digital communications; a balance of power moving away from the United States; an economic system that produces inequality and overconsumption; a set of revolutions in biotechnology and the life sciences and, of course, the world’s warming atmosphere and damaged ecosystems.
In this conversation, Mr. Gore offers a preview of his latest thinking, which he will discuss in detail on May 7 with Globe and Mail editor-in-chief John Stackhouse at Ryerson Theatre in Toronto.
You’ve spent the past dozen years fighting climate change. How do you feel about Canada’s role?
As an elected official and as someone following international affairs, my respect and admiration for Canada has deepened over the years. The enlightened approach to policy in general, the welcoming approach to immigration, the decision to uphold human values that I believe are central to humanity’s future, all these things are handled by Canada with grace and aplomb and skill.
The outlier in recent years, of course, has been the climate issue and particularly as addressed by the present government.
It’s not hard to understand how the economic prospects in Alberta and Western Canada have tempted political leaders to compromise what would otherwise seem to be core principles of safeguarding the human future. It’s also easy to understand, given the policy failures of my own country … all that’s easy to understand. But I confess that I was still surprised at the decisions that have been made, and I found them inconsistent with the view of Canadian governance that I grew up admiring and respecting. It doesn’t change the admiration and respect for all of the other good things Canada is doing.
Have the oil-sands boom and pipeline debates affected Canadian-U.S. relations?
Yes, and I think that ultimately it hurts Canada. The so-called resource curse is most often understood in the context of small nations whose revenue streams are dominated by the exploitation of a single resource. It’s a bit more complex than that with Canada, but the resource curse has multiple dimensions and [that includes] damage to some extremely beautiful landscapes, not to mention the core issue of adding to the reckless spewing of pollution into the Earth’s atmosphere as if it’s an open sewer.
We will come to our senses, but I had hoped that Canada, like Australia, would point us in the right direction and added to the chances for the world as a whole to make a moral and courageous decision sooner rather than later.
Your six challenges sound daunting, yet you remain optimistic. Is this not naive?
If you had asked me a few short years ago how likely I thought it would be that the United States and most of the world would endorse gay marriage in a short period of time, I might have failed to see the non-linear shift that has just occurred. When our consciousness changes and we focus on the fundamental choice between right and wrong, and see it and understand it clearly, then policies can change with dizzying speed. I saw it as a young boy in the South with the civil-rights movement. I’ve seen it with gay rights, I saw it on apartheid, I saw it when the Berlin Wall came down in a single day. I saw it in Montreal when Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and other world leaders adopted the Montreal protocol on climate barely two years after the alarm bells were sounded by the British Antarctic Survey and then confirmed by U.S. and Canadian scientists. There is a bubble of illusion on carbon fuels, and the dawn of realization that we are destroying the climate envelope within which human civilization has flourished will change everything. The dramatic advances in both the cost reduction and widespread deployment of renewable resources is going to make that transition much easier than it seems right now.