A few weeks shy of his 65th birthday, the grandfather of three, Al Gore is free of the past and all about the future. More specifically, he’s all about The Future, his latest book. An attempt to sum up six key realities—he calls them drivers—that will shape the years ahead, Gore’s book touches every base: robots, deep-sea phosphorus, financial derivatives, even urine recycling and goats modified to secrete spider-silk proteins from their udders. In the classroom of life, he’ll always be the kid whose hand is up.
The Future offers a glimpse of the thinking that has made the former Vice-President a go-to guy for the giants of Silicon Valley. Many high-ranking public officials make millions peddling their names and connections, but Gore, the subject of a new piece in the latest issue of TIME (available to subscribers here), has something extra, which the business world values at a steep premium. The late Steve Jobs installed him on Apple’s board, encouraged Gore’s regular interventions around company headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., and compensated him with stock options that Gore recently exercised for nearly $30 million.
That check landed close behind Gore’s estimated $100 million profit on the sale of Current TV to al-Jazeera, a deal in the waning hours of 2012 that sent Gore bashers into orbit. Gore is also a co-founder, along with former Goldman Sachs executive David Blood, of Generation Investment Management, a private partnership that pursues what Gore calls sustainable capitalism. With more than $3.5 billion under management, the firm pursues Gore’s belief that companies prosper over the long haul if they pay attention to values beyond the quarterly earnings report.
Through these and other enterprises, Gore has built his net worth to some $300 million, according to the scorekeepers at Forbes. By their measure, he is now richer than the renowned supercapitalist Mitt Romney.
Explaining his book during an interview with TIME, Gore begins with a simple premise: “One of the striking characteristics of our time is we have multiple revolutionary, historic changes under way simultaneously.” Transnational businesses, able to move costs and profits easily from country to country, are staging an economic revolution that Gore dubs “Earth Inc.” The still dawning digital revolution Gore calls “the Global Mind.” A revolution in biology, from genetic engineering to organ farming, is nothing less, in his view, than “the reinvention of life and death.” Meanwhile, climate change demands an energy revolution.
This superstorm of change demands stronger U.S. leadership, Gore says. However, at the very moment when we need better, faster decision-making, he continues, we find ourselves saddled instead with unresponsive government dominated by moneyed special interests. And a free market distorted by its obsession with short-term results.
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These are complex problems, and Gore has written a complicated book. Around the world, humans are finally getting a handle on fatal diseases and breaking the grip of brutal tyrannies—just as we seem to be broiling the planet and gobbling up the last of its resources. Can the future have a happy ending?
Maybe, he says—but we have to work fast. “I am by nature an optimist,” he says. And why shouldn’t he be optimistic? He is a man who not only survived one of the truly excruciating losses in U.S. political history but then picked himself up, staggered forward and soon found himself winning an entirely new race. As our conversation came to an end, Gore seemed content in a way he never did in politics, truly himself.
TIME MAGAZINE: From Chads to Riches