Near the end of Al Gore’s presentation at the Westminster Town Hall Forum Thursday noon, the former vice president and current environmental activist concluded his book tour presentation by answering a question from the overflow audience with another question: Who are we? Normally, such a ploy smacks of lawyerly subterfuge, but in this instance his question reflects people’s genuine uncertainty about change and America’s ability to deal with it.
Earlier he noted that “we have never lived in a time where so many revolutionary changes are happening simultaneously,” and his subsequent speech delineated those changes by following the chapters of his latest book, “The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change.” His pertinent statistics and folksy, crowd-pleasing anecdotes were designed to reinforce his theme of technological equivocality and its unintended consequences. Like the farmer who responds to the policeman’s query about his health after witnessing the cop shoot his cow, Gore reacts to all questions about the future with an ironic “I feel fine.”
The reasons for his ambivalence aren’t hard to find. Robo-sourcing, the global mind, and the “stalker economy” are a few recent examples of global change that have generated mixed reactions and unintended consequences, good and bad. Reacting to the creation of the spider goat whose genes have been modified to secrete strands of spider silk through its milk, Gore asked rhetorically, “Is everybody OK with that?” because “I feel fine about it.”
These new life forms demand that people consider “their long-term future [within] the web of life” while simultaneously recognizing the impacts of population growth and dwindling resources. Such developments necessitate reevaluating America’s economic policy and reexamining its income distribution or risk the current hyper-inequality that “is not good for democracy or capitalism.”
In the face of all these global changes and the power shifts that attend them, the “world needs a leader.” Despite “a series of bad and dumb decisions,” that leader must be the United States which Gore says is not only “an objective truth about leadership in the world” but also because American exceptionalism makes it the only viable candidate. “The future is at stake” and if Americans “reclaim the integrity and validity of [their] democracy” they can “become agents of constructive change.” Only by choosing an economic and political identity that benefits all can Americans with their “many capacities for good or ill” lead the world in meeting the changes that lie ahead and fulfill their spiritual destiny “to care about those who come after.”