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)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

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

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
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
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.

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape