Kara Swisher

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Some More Inconvenient Truths (Including Spider Goats): Al Gore Talks About “The Future” at SXSW

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Former Vice President Al Gore took to the stage at the SXSW interactive festival today to tell a packed auditorium at the Austin Convention Center about the future.

No, really, “The Future,” which is the name of his new book, with the heavy-duty subhead “Six Drivers of Global Change.”

Among these drivers are — no surprise for him — severe environmental damage, as well as overpopulation and changes in biology via technology, and all the problems that come with that. Among the other critical issues, Gore also noted money politics, the ever-more-sophisticated antibiotics for livestock, and the reliance on supercomputers for stock market trading.

Gore told AllThingsD editor Walt Mossberg in an interview that some of these global developments were both a “peril and opportunity.”

But, in all, it’s a pretty depressing picture overall that he is painting, despite pointing out that knowing you have a problem is the first step.

“Our country is in very serious trouble,” he said. “But that does not mean I am not optimistic.”

Which is right before Gore started reeling off the problematic pressure that money has put on politics. “Our democracy has been hacked,” he said.

“American democracy has never been perfect, but more often than not, the will of the people did drive policy,” he added. “Congress today is utterly incapable of passing any reform of any significance unless they get permission from special interests.”

For example: “The NRA is a fraud,” about the National Rifle Association and its links to gun manufacturers.

“I wish I could get you to be more outspoken,” joked Mossberg.

“Timidity has always been an issue with me,” joshed Gore back.

spider goat

Gore, who often likes to talk in full and very extended paragraphs, slowly worked through the rest of the list, before he got to the issue of spider goats.

Indeed, spider goats, which are created using genetics to mix the genes of spiders and goats.

“You can’t farm spiders for a number of reasons, so people are talking the genes from spiders and splicing them into goats,” explained Gore. “They look like goats, then these spider goats secret silk through their udders. ‘Everyone okay with that?’”

Um, no.

Still, Gore added that there are “blessings” that come with genetic engineering, including the elimination of a range of devastating diseases.

Gore soon moved onto the issue for which he is best known — global warming — after his movie “An Inconvenient Truth” gained worldwide attention.

“It’s not me saying it — I’m delivering the message. Every single national academy of science on the planet agrees with this, he said, before moving onto the recent devastation of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast. “Mother Nature has the most powerful voice in this debate.”

But Mossberg and Gore soon parried over the sale of Gore’s media company, Current, to Al Jazeera.

You sold your network to Al Jazeera, which is owned by a government that’s a big oil producer,” asked Mossberg. “How could you do that?”

While hemming and hawing about that, Gore then came back with a good one: “I don’t ask you why you continue working for Rupert Murdoch.”

This meant war, since this site is owned by News Corp. “Last I checked, he’s not in the oil business,” countered Mossberg.

“He’s also not strictly in the news business, either,” said Gore.

Oh dear, time to get back to global warming, because it’s getting hot in here.

It was then onto a short Q&A, with one question about the Internet — an issue near and dear to Gore’s heart. In truth, despite all the jokes, he was critical when a senator to turning the Internet over to the people, from its origins as a government project.

And in this Gore finally pointed to a bright glimmer of hope. “The future of democracy,” he said, “may well depend on the continued freedom and independence of the Internet.”

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald