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This article is from the In-Depth Report News from AAAS

At AAAS, Al Gore urges scientists to get involved in climate change debate

CHICAGO—Fresh from adding a Grammy to his mantle Sunday, former vice president Al Gore told scientists gathered here for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to push administration officials and the general public for solutions to climate change.

"Scientists can no longer in good conscience accept this division between the work you do and the civilization in which you live," Gore said.

"Keep your day jobs, but get involved in the debate," he added.

In about a 45-minute speech, Gore reviewed the evidence for global warming, showing a set a slides that has evolved since An Inconvenient Truth. (A few of our Twitter followers—yes, we live—Twittered Gore's talk, so you can see the blow-by-blow here--pointed out that he had presented a lot of the slides at the recent TED conference.)

He began by noting a parallel between the mortgage crisis and global warming, saying the world has $7 trillion in subprime carbon assets that it can't get rid of.

This week, and 2009, he pointed out, was full of scientific anniversaries: Darwin's 200th birthday, the 150th anniversary of John Tyndall's finding that carbon absorbs infrared radiation (which allowed Tyndall to suggest the possibility of man-made global warming because of fossil fuel use), and Galileo's championing of Copernican heliocentrism (which Gore called the "inconvenient truth" of the time). And he invoked Lincoln, who shared Darwin's birthday, likening the struggle to solve global warming to the fight against slavery.

The coal industry, and in particular its $500-million ad campaign supporting allegedly "clean coal" technology, came in for particular condemnation. (You can see a few of the ads in a 60-Second Science blog post.) Gore likened one of the ads, a lump of coal wearing sunglasses, to Joe Camel ads that targeted children.

As he talked of millions of "climate refugees" in low-lying areas of the world, Gore pointed out that the Maldives now has a budget line "to buy a new country." He drew a link between global warming and extreme weather, from hurricanes to droughts to wildfires, showing photos of the recent blazes in Australia (and the now-famous rescued koala.)

Gore used a dramatic video of scientist Katey Walter lighting a plume of methane gas bubbling up from a frozen Alaskan lake to introduce the idea of methane as a potent greenhouse gas. Methane emissions from such lakes is thought by many scientists to be increasing as the permafrost thaws, allowing organic material trapped in the ice to be converted by the lake's bacteria into the gas.

(But Gore didn't stick only to climate change. He also revealed that he's an iPhone fan. A few minutes into his talk, he had to turn the phone off. As he did, he told the crowd: "Anyone who hasn't switched to one, you really should.")

Gore--who didn't take questions after the talk, citing his schedule--seemed optimistic about the Obama administration's appointments to the Cabinet and other senior posts. "This is a moment in our history as a nation and in the history of the world's population that is without precedent," he said. A few minutes later, he said, "We as a species need to make a decision."

Photo of Al Gore speaking at AAAS, taken from an overflow auditorium, copyright Scientific American. Follow us on Twitter as we post from AAAS.

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