Community views, discusses Gore's global warming documentary
Feb. 16, 2007
By Tom Bosco
Global warming: What is Ohio University doing about it? For many, a first step was viewing former Vice President Al Gore's 2006 documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" Thursday night.
Students, faculty and community members packed an auditorium in Walter Hall, with an overflow crowd sitting in the aisles to view the Academy Award-nominated film and discuss it afterward. Kim Brown from the Department of Environmental and Plant Biology, along with Ohio University's Office of Resource Conservation, the Sustainable Living Organization and the Sierra Coalition, hosted the screening, which took place on the eve of the second anniversary of the Kyoto Treaty taking effect. The treaty -- which the United States has not signed -- aims to reduce greenhouse gasses.
Brown said she was delighted by the turnout but surprised that no one in the audience questioned the science behind global warming. In the film, Gore points out that the existence of global warming is unchallenged in the scientific community, but is often debated in the mainstream media and by politicians.
Brown expected debate, but she said its absence may be a sign that people are getting the message about the effects of greenhouse gasses.
"There is less and less debate on whether or not global warming is occurring and whether humans are influencing the process," Brown said.
"It's the politics that is the real problem, more than the science," said Lois Whealey, an Athens resident.
In the film, Gore laments that politicians didn't spring into action when he brought up global warming while he served in Congress in the 1970s and 1980s. Whealey echoed that sentiment. "Zero senators voted for the idea of Kyoto in '96 and '97. That is the political problem."
Before the screening, slides flashed across the screen with statistics and facts about global warming, asking the audience, "What is Ohio University going to do about it?" Sonia Marcus, coordinator of the Office of Resource Conservation, pointed to the creation of her office as a sign of Ohio University's commitment to environmental responsibility.
Created in May 2006, the office is committed to improving the efficiency of university facilities and promoting environmental practices on campus. Ohio University is the first public institution of higher education in the state to create an office of this kind.
Marcus also cited innovations at the new Baker University Center, like the use of biodegradable utensils and a new trash sorting procedure that encourages users to separate items that can be composted and recycled.
"That is a serious paradigm shift, to think of food waste as a resource," Marcus said. "That is radical."
One participant questioned whether Gore's message is being heard too late to stop the catastrophe he predicts in the movie. Brown said it's never too late to get started.
"The climate doesn't stop on a dime," she said. "But there is a cost to delaying action."
"We might buy ourselves some time for what's going to come," added Kim Cuddington, assistant professor of biological sciences and a population ecologist.
At least one participant seems to have heard Gore's message. Bob Binkley, a sophomore from Spencerville, Ohio, studying chemistry and pre-med, saw the film for the first time. "I knew (global warming) occurred," he said. "I guess I didn't realize how large of a scale it was."
Binkley said the film had an impact on him and that he plans to be more mindful of how he can reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
"For me it will start small. It will just open my eyes to different ways to help take care of the planet," he said.
Despite what might be interpreted as a "gloom and doom" message from Gore, Warren Currie, assistant professor of biological sciences and a biological oceanographer, was encouraged after the screening.
"I was impressed by the sheer number of people here," he said. "This message is not new, but it's relevant. George W. Bush mentioned it in the State of the Union that there is climate change happening now.
"That is a sea change. The message is being heard."
Tom Bosco is a writer with University Communications and Marketing.