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An Inconvenient Truth

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An Inconvenient Truth Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth, begins with a general description of the process of global warming. Essentially, sunlight enters the earth’s atmosphere (which comparatively is as thick a classroom globe layered with a coat of varnish). The majority of what entered is reflected off of the earth’s surface in the form of UV rays and is projected back into space. A small amount of sunlight is trapped inside of the earth’s atmosphere and helps to heat the earth and keep it at a constant temperature. What is happening is that as we release more and more CO2 into the air, the earth’s atmosphere is thickening, trapping more and more UV rays, causing an increase in the atmospheric temperature. Roger Revelle, an old professor of Gore’s, was the first to suggest measuring the CO2 levels in the atmosphere. What researchers have found is that in a cyclical pattern (patterns of steadily increasing up and down movements), the atmospheric levels are on a constant increase. These patterns are cyclical in nature because in the spring, when the northern hemisphere is facing the sun (the northern hemisphere being where the largest amount of vegetation is located), the plant life absorbs the majority of the CO2 levels, reducing the levels of CO2 in the air. In the fall, when the northern hemisphere is facing away from the sun, the CO2 is released into the air, increasing the CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Evidence of an increasing atmospheric temperature is everywhere; Mount Kilimanjaro has virtually no snow covering its peaks and the polar ice caps are reducing in size at, as researchers would put it, at “extraordinary rates”. As Gore showed in his presentation, over the past 1000 years, the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are directly correlated with the atmospheric temperatures. In Antarctica, the same has been shown in research going back as far as 650,000 years. In that time period, the levels of CO2 have never gone above 300 parts per million (ppmm). In the last 50 years they have reached 400 ppmm and have increased temperatures to match. It is estimated that the levels of CO2 will increase to anywhere around 700 ppmm in the next 50 years, increasing the temperature so much that live on earth would be virtually unlivable. In fact, to further emphasize his point, the 10 hottest days ever recorded have occurred since the 90’s (1990, 1991, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005). Ocean temperatures are also indicating a rise in atmospheric temperatures, and as a result, there have been signs of worsening storm patterns. According to scientists, as water temperatures rise, winds levels and moisture levels rise, causing the severity of storms like hurricanes, tornados, and typhoons to increase. Increased moisture levels also changes the pattern of moisture, increasing the amounts when it rains and increasing the periods of drought. Floods are increasing in some areas, while simultaneously; droughts are increasing in neighboring areas. Increasing atmospheric temperatures increases the levels of both oceanic and soil evaporation, further adding to the problems with changing moisture patterns. One of the biggest problems according to Gore is the melting ice caps. The Arctic ice caps have decreased at a rate of 40% in the past 40 years, and are estimated to completely melt in the next 50-70 years. What is happening is that usually, the sun’s rays are hitting the surface of the ice cap, and 90% are reflected back into the atmosphere. As these ice caps melt, there is less surface area for the rays to hit, and they begin to hit the water surrounding the ice caps. The ocean, unlike the ice cap, absorbs 90%, thus quickening the melting process. Antarctica is a bigger problem, according to Gore. As Antarctica’s land-based ice shelves melt, the levels of oceans worldwide are increasing. If the west Antarctic shelf melts, or if Greenland continues to melt (relatively the same size of Antarctica’s western shelf), ocean levels worldwide will increase by at least 20 feet, causing a displacement of approximately 100 million people. As temperatures rise, the globe is facing another serious problem, the increase of disease. We have seen increases in what are known as the “vectors for infectious disease”, or disease-carriers, such as mosquitoes, rodents, tsetse flies, live, algae, ticks, bats, fleas, and snails. In the past 25 years, there has been 30 newly documented diseases (including Ebola, SARS, and Lyme disease) and reemergence of dormant diseases (including malaria, west Nile, and the avian flu). The pressures on the earth are increasing as populations increase. According to research, it has taken up until 50 years ago for the global population to reach 2 billion people. In one lifetime, the world’s population has increased to 9 billion. Recent studies have shown that of these contributors to global warming, the United States contributes 30.3 %, more than all of South America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East combined. In fact, as the globe’s average for CO2 dispersion is 1 ton per person, the United States averages 5.6 tons per person. Something needs to be done. As said by Winston Churchill, “The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences.” According to Al Gore, there is a solution to our problem of global destruction for which we already have all the tools. Using fuel efficient automobiles, decreasing the use of electricity, and using renewable resources are just a few ways that we can lower the CO2 levels below those of the 1970s. “Global warming is possibly the greatest hoax on the American people” - a quote that seems to be shared by a lot of the people on this earth (including my roommate). I can’t help but wonder where they think all of the information in this movie came from – made up I suppose. With all of the evidence supported by scientists worldwide I don’t see how people can actually believe that the planet is in the same condition that it was in before we got here. Air quality is getting worse, seasons are blending together, and I can not tell you how many times I have heard my mother say, “When I was little I had no problem walking up to a stream or body of water and jumping in…now I would be too afraid of the diseases I would inevitably contract.” I am thankful that so many nations (not necessarily the United States) and so many major cities are taking a stand against the problem of worldwide pollution, but I fear that it is too little too late. A drastic change needs to be made just to stop the vicious cycle that has taken place in the last century, let alone to begin reversing what we have done. By the time we actually stop what we are doing we will be at the point of no return. A common argument (in fact it is one shared by my roommate) is that this will not affect us in our lifetime. I can not help but want the best for my children, and a livable environment is a given. More important is the insincerity of destroying what we have been given the privilege of using. Our generations are going to destroy what has been in existence for longer than any of us can fathom. And why are we destroying the place that we live? So that we can drive in the most luxurious of automobiles, have the latest in technology, and waste resources so that we can have what we want, when we want it, on the go. Recently I had to read Tuesdays with Morrie for an ethics class, and in the book, Morrie makes a point of saying that society teaches people the wrong thing, and that it has our priorities all mixed up. He says that because of this backward culture, we do not appreciate the things we have until it is too late, and although we know this will inevitably happen, we do nothing to change the path that we are on. Now I know that this is just a book, but I feel that it is a universal statement, one that applies perfectly to our current worldwide environmental problem. Why, when we have so many indicators or what will happen, do we continue down the path that we are on? Is it that we are so afraid of change that we can not grasp the reality of our current situation? I hope that this is not the case. I, like Mr. Gore, feel that we can tackle any problem that we put our minds to. Some examples he gave were the founding of our great nation, women’s rights, desegregation, and two world wars; I couldn’t agree more that this is a problem hat we can help solve, as an individual, as a nation, and as a globe. I think what is holding us back from taking on the responsibility of solving such a serious problem as global warming is not our confidence in success, but our lack of respect for anyone but ourselves. And this includes not only the respect for the environment, but the respect for others – respect for our neighbors, respect for out children. The fact that this problem will not directly affect us in the manner that we fear for future generations should not be our excuse. The burden should not be on future generations to fix what we have destroyed, it should be on us. This is obviously an idealistic way of thinking, however, hoping that everyone will chip in and “do their part” is all that a person can really do. There is not way to actively force people to do what is “right”, although it would be nice if it could be done. I hope that we all change for the good and make serious efforts to follow Al Gore’s message and attempt to make changes. Unfortunately, despite efforts being made by countries around the world, I fear that on an individual level, people are not ready to take on the personal responsibility necessary to bring our planet back to where it should be. All-in-all I feel that this is a movie that everyone should see. A change may be made possible if everyone sees what is being done to the environment on a daily basis. Hopefully it will create a sense of urgency in those who see it as it did in me. I think this is something that should definitely be shown to people college age and younger. Starting the education process about the environment at an early age can only help our current situation by creating a generation of people who care about the repercussions of their actions.

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