Book Review: The Future – Six Drivers of Global Change

the future (book cover image)

Gore, Albert, Jr. The future : six drivers of global change. Random House, 2013.

(Guest Reviewer – Randall Mayes) Roughly eight years ago someone asked Al Gore what he considered were the major drivers of global change. After responding with a rather simplistic answer, the question would continue to linger in his sub-conscious. On a plane flight back home, Gore spent several hours outlining his thoughts on his computer.

Drawing on his studies as far back as the 1970s of the works of futurists, Gore’s outlines eventually grew to extensive flow charts which precede each of the chapters of his most recent book, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change.

In the final analysis, it turns out that of Gore’s six major drivers, three are technology. Technologies are significant because they present a Faustian bargain. Some technologies revolutionize the existing infrastructure. Robotics has made our lives easier, but has increasingly resulted in unemployment, a phenomenon Gore refers to as robosourcing. This is not a surprising or unique phenomenon. Roughly a century ago, Henry Ford’s revolution of transportation put many people in jobs relating to horses out of business, but created jobs in the auto industry.

Our modern technology driven world also brings potential risks and tests our values. We are in the century of biology. Advances in biotechnology that will potentially lead to cures for bird flus, Superbugs and advance personalized medicine have a dual-use nature. They also enable the production of biological weapons and ethically controversial athletic and cognitive enhancements.

Digital electronic communications has led to privacy issues not only with DNA, but in other areas including online banking, medical records, commercial trade secrets, our personal lives, and national security. But, overwhelmingly advanced societies feel the benefits of technology outweigh the risks.

Next, Gore argues that the shift of power from countries and political systems to multinational corporations and markets is not in our best interest. However, markets allow competition in the private sector driven by consumers that result in lower prices and more sustainable and higher quality products. IKEA is great example of a highly successful company that has developed a brand based on economic profits and social responsibility. In contrast, during the Clinton-Gore era, Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown brought down the Human Genetic Diversity Project, which collected samples from populations worldwide, by commercializing discoveries in indigenous populations without their informed consent.

The other two major drivers of global change are ecology related. Increased consumption of resources and population growth will not only influence climate change, but also outpace the available life sustaining arable land and drinking water.

An impending ecological crisis requires stewardship and a roadmap for sustainable growth. Gore has championed technology while living in his large Tennessee estate and flying on private jets, both large emitters of greenhouse gases while simultaneously gaining notoriety as a spokesman for reducing our carbon footprint and sounding the alarm on the fallout from climate change.

The Tragedy of the Commons reminds us of the need for property rights, torts and liability, and markets. When the social costs of greenhouse gases are internalized through carbon taxes or user fees, the relative price and cost of alternative energy sources will become more attractive.

For those not familiar with the major factors shaping our future, The Future with 558 pages provides comprehensive background reading. However, for those looking for an in-depth analysis from a former vice-president, it unfortunately provides partisan and less than compelling solutions.

Guest Reviewer Randall Mayes is a Duke Alumnus, author, science writer, and policy analyst residing in Durham, NC.

© Reviewer: Randall Mayes & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
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