WH Allen, £25 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop

The Future, By Al Gore

Office bore he may be, but the former vice-president's policy prescriptions still merit a hearing

It was with a slightly sinking heart that I picked up Al Gore's 550-page tome, only to realise that it has more than 160 pages of notes and bibliography. This turned out to be good news and bad – good because the book itself is all the more manageable, bad because the former US Vice President has tried to synthesise everything he has ever read about the sorry state of the world. It makes an urgent and important debate just a bit – dull.

Still, despite having unkindly tagged Mr Gore as the office bore, I'm wholly in sympathy with his belief that modern societies have been living for too long on the planetary never-never and the time has come to pay off some of the debts. It's also surely right to try to join the dots between different areas of policy in order to change what an Occupy protestor would call "the system".

The book starts with a summary of six trends that together explain why a moment of choice is looming for policymakers and people. These are: global economic links; modern communications and computers, connecting everything; a new geopolitical balance of power; environmentally unsustainable growth; the development of radical new technologies; and climate change. Each one is developed in subsequent chapters.

The discussion is framed in terms of a timescale far, far beyond any normal policy horizon. "Roughly a quarter of the 90 million tons of global warming pollution... each day will still linger there – still trapping heat – more than 10,000 years from now." That's quite a contrast with the usual focus on tomorrow's headlines or even the next minute's tweets. Given the scale of the challenge, it is hardly surprising, as Gore notes, that so many people feel powerless, even the powerful. Where do you start?

That sense of powerlessness is only intensified by the detail of the individual trends. We are taken through inequality, outsourcing, the rise of China, financial trading by computers, trade policy, agricultural subsidies, nanotechnology, 3D printing, privatisation and the crisis of capitalism in chapter one – and the torrent continues.

Gore repeats the much-loved but untrue factoid that economic growth does not make people happier once a certain income level is reached. On the contrary, there is a strong correlation between GDP growth and well-being, just as between growth and height or life expectancy – it just isn't a one-for-one relationship, otherwise we would be 20 metres tall and deliriously joyous all the time. Accepting the inconvenient truth that we do like growth does not undermine the case for sustainability.

The most interesting parts of the book are about introducing policies to address the multiple problems. Gore does not pull his punches about US politics, with government decision-making "feeble, dysfunctional and servile" to corporate interests. He notes that the provision of public services is the last part of the institutional landscape to benefit from the efficiencies and opportunities offered by digital technologies.

I would have liked more from somebody who has been a very senior politician about the difficulties of introducing, in our hyper-media democracies, policies requiring sacrifices. Top of his to-do list is the need: "To restore our ability to communicate clearly and candidly… about the difficult choices we have to make." He envisages, "Vibrant and open 'public squares' on the Internet". Surely this is someone who hasn't been on Twitter lately? How on earth can people functioning every day on internet time be persuaded to focus on the next 10,000 years?

The other proposals are hugely sensible: a carbon tax, sustainable use of forests and natural reserves, better education for girls, a halt to most of the arms trade, and so on. Reasonable people will agree; we just don't know who will do these things, or how. Let's hope Gore can turn his new book into a hard-hitting documentary that will change the intellectual climate and prepare us all to make sacrifices for the sake of having a future.

Diane Coyle's most recent book is 'The Economics of Enough' (Princeton University Press)

Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game