Former Vice-President Al Gore Shows AIRS CO2 Images in Testimony to U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and at AAAS Annual Meeting

Sharon Ray, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory,

Former Vice-President Al Gore appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 28, 2009 to urge lawmakers to adopt a binding carbon cap and push for a new global climate pact by the end of the year. As part of a slide show presented to the committee, Gore displayed two global maps of carbon dioxide from July 2003 and July 2008 (see below), cre- ated with data from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) that flies aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite. Gore used the images to demonstrate the increase in carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere in this 5-year time span.

In addition to the Senate testimony, Gore also dis- played the AIRS CO2 images at the recent American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Chicago, IL, on February 12–16. As Gore addressed attendees at the AAAS Annual Meeting (the world’s largest general science conference) he called on scientists to communicate the urgent nature of climate change to the political leaders and the public.

Speaking to an overflow audience at the AAAS Annual Meeting, the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winner welcomed the signs that long years of political and policy gridlock in the U.S. are ending. But, he said, scientists must use their knowledge and their respected status in the com- munity to press for broad, swift changes in energy and environmental policies.

Gore spoke for about 50 minutes; with charts and images, he described the immediate nature of the threat: record-high global temperatures; the shrinking Arctic ice cap; diminishing ice in the high Himalayas; droughts in China and California; an “extraordinary” die-off of trees in the American West; and a 500-year flood that has wrecked Cedar Rapids, IA. Wildfires in Greece have nearly toppled a government, and wild- fires this month in Australia have left scores of people dead and sparked a new national debate about climate change.

But today, Gore said, the climate problem is interwoven with a national security crisis and the world financial meltdown. According to Gore, the common thread is, “Our absurd over-dependence on carbon-based fuels.” An extended excerpt from his speech is printed below.

“We have a full-blown political struggle to communi- cate the truth,” he said. “...This is a task for all of us. And those of you who have not been engaged in trying to communicate effectively in your communities—to those who respect you and who understand that you have worked hard to obtain the knowledge and wisdom that you have—this is no time to sit back. This is an historic struggle.

“We as a species must make a decision. How absurd that sounds—it sounds absurd because we’ve never made a decision as a species, and it seems implau- sible to think that we could. But we’ve now reached a stage where continuing on our present course would threaten the entirety of human civilization.”

“Many of the most distinguished members of your professions, in scientific fields, have been saying now, for a few years, that in their estimation, we could have around a decade within which to make major changes in our direction lest we lose the opportunity to retrieve a climate balance that is favorable for human life and human civilization...

“And the only way that’s going to happen is if those of you who are in a position to exercise influence and communicate your understanding of what this is all about make a decision to get involved....

“I’m asking you for help. I believe in my heart that we do have the capacity to make this generation one of those generations that changes the course of human- kind. The stakes have never been higher. We have the knowledge, we have the emerging technology, we have new leadership, we have cabinet members and science advisers and NOAA heads and policymakers in all of the important positions who are of you, who are your colleagues...

“If I could,” Gore concluded, “I would motivate you to leave this city after this meeting and start getting involved in politics. Keep your day job, but start getting involved in this historic debate. We need you.”

The audience responded with a standing ovation that lasted over a minute, until Gore had left the room.

Moustafa Chahine at NASA/Jet Propulsion Labora- tory produced the AIRS global maps of CO2 that Gore displayed. The maps show that despite the high degree of mixing that occurs with carbon dioxide in the at- mosphere, the regional patterns of atmospheric sources and sinks are still apparent in mid-troposphere CO2 concentrations.

Said Chahine, “This pattern of high CO2 in the North- ern Hemisphere (i.e., North America, the Atlantic Ocean, and Central Asia) is consistent with model predictions.”

Climate modelers, such as Qinbin Li at the Univer- sity of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Yuk Yung at Caltech and Eugenia Kalnay at University of Mary- land, College Park, are currently using the AIRS data to study the global distribution and transport of CO2 and to improve their models.

Related Links

Earth Observer publication: This article found on page 36 in the Earth Observer,

The AAAS Annual Meeting Blog: 0214gore-a-call-to-action-on-climate.shtml. This site has more information on Gore’s speech.

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