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Energy experts side with 'Truth'

Al Gore would be pleased to hear that "An Inconvenient Truth," his documentary on global climate change, passed the MIT test. Ernest J. Moniz, director of the MIT Energy Initiative, and Peter H. Stone, professor of climate dynamics at the MIT Center for Global Change Science, declared that Gore did "a fine job framing the problem."

Moniz and Stone led a discussion of the film Friday following a screening sponsored by MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI), the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment (LFEE) and the Lecture Series Committee.

Moniz, the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems and co-director of LFEE, said that Gore made a "powerful case: we currently have the knowledge and technology to turn back the trend and reduce carbon emissions to the pre-'70s level."

The film is an expanded version of a slide show Gore has been presenting to audiences around the world.

In the film, Gore said he naively expected that numbers alone would convince his fellow politicians of the need to take immediate action. When this did not happen, he took his show on the road: showing images of dissolving glaciers, previously snow-capped mountains turning brown and huge inland lakes drying up. He shows the correlation between upward trends in temperature and carbon dioxide emissions, and warns that suddenly introducing large volumes of fresh water into the oceans could have dramatic effects on sea levels and weather patterns.

Stone, who has worked in the climate field for 30 years, said the hundreds of students who packed Room 26-100 to see the film formed the largest audience he has ever seen drawn to the "small field" of climatology. Gore is "basically right," Stone said, "although he didn't say too much about how fast things may or may not happen."

Moniz said he is "somewhat optimistic that political realities are changing very rapidly. The oil companies are suddenly putting a lot of money on the table for biofuels; moving toward carbon-free electricity is very interesting for those who make electricity. You see the business structures beginning to change. Industry sees risk, but it also sees the potential for new markets."

Moniz said that the technology exists today to bring about significant change in the coming decades. With energy options from MIT and elsewhere, and with some political will, "we can in fact meet that challenge even though it is quite hard. What has been lacking is the sense of urgency and the will to change."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 27, 2006 (download PDF).

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