Last Thursday, more than 5,000 scientists packed two ballrooms of the San Francisco Marriott Hotel to hear former Vice President Al Gore's keynote speech at the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting, the world's largest scientific gathering. In an impassioned address that was also interspersed with self-deprecating humor, Gore urged scientists to become more active in spreading the word about climate change, and warned that the American people were becoming “desensitized” to censorship of scientific data. Earlier this year, Gore released a well-received film on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, which challenges the Bush administration's refusal to admit the gravity of the climate change problem. Those federal officials insist the science behind global warming is too murky, and caution that environmental cutbacks will have a profound effect on the country's bottom line. Are you an apologist for global warming? Take our quiz and find out!
1) In his speech to the gathering of scientists, Gore said they needed to find a way to communicate the direness of the situation, and closed by declaring: “In the United States, the will to act is a renewable resource.” Do you agree?
A) Yes, but it was his spot-on imitation of Bill Clinton that I'll remember most. Who else but Al Gore, master comedian, could make global warming funny?
B) Gore is asking scientists to communicate to normal people? Obviously, he and Tipper haven't invited enough nanophysicists to their Christmas parties.
C) I certainly do not agree. In the United States, oil is a renewable resource.
2) Gore's speech came only days after a report at the same conference said that the permanent Arctic ice sheet could melt away within 40 years, nearly two decades earlier than the previous estimate. What did you think of the news?
A) Wait, is the Arctic on the top or bottom? Let me rephrase that: Which ice cap is more important?
B) Forty years? Hell, I'll be almost 70 by then. Who's gonna complain about warm weather?
C) Good thing we found evidence of water on Mars, huh? When one planet goes, we'll just hop to the next one.
3) Which of the following quotes from prominent scientists who were in the audience for Gore's speech gives you the most hope for the future?
A) Dan Kammen, co-director of the University of California's Institute of the Environment: “Science is inherently a discipline of skepticism.”
B) James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies: “Scientists have not done a good job communicating with the public.”
C) Jerry Porter, atmospheric scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory: “(Gore)'s a deeper thinker about environmental issues than those of us in the environmental sciences.”
4) Gore's views are shared by the Union of Concerned Scientists, who last week issued a statement signed by 10,600 researchers alleging political interference in hundreds of cases of scientists working for U.S. federal agencies. The UCS statement comes as a new federal directive is set to take effect that will require scientists to submit some data before publication for political review. What do you think the relationship should be between the government and its scientists?
A) Nonexistent. What does President Bush know about science? And, no, “bartending” is not a science.
B) Oh, please. When has this government ever interfered with or manipulated the research and data collection of well-trained analysts and experts? OK, wait, that didn't come out right …
C) Hey, if “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” worked for the Army, it can work for NASA, too.
5) On the same day as Gore's speech, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. received permission from the state Public Utilities Commission to allow business and residential customers to make up for their carbon dioxide emissions by paying for forest restoration projects in California. Some experts, however, have decried this approach, arguing that so-called “carbon offsets” have little impact on global warming and don't break the bad habits of polluters. What do you think?
A) Gee, I thought the Catholic Church had outlawed the selling of indulgences centuries ago.
B) Makes perfect sense to me: Drive a Hummer, plant a tree.
C) Look, until they make hybrid cars and solar panels reasonably priced and easily obtainable, I have no patience for this argument. (Bonus point for adding: “And by 'reasonably priced and easily obtainable,' I mean 'something that all my stylish rich friends are doing.'”)
6) Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard its first global warming case, wherein the state of Massachusetts argued that its 200 miles of coastline are endangered by the Environmental Protection Agency's failure to regulate the greenhouse gas emissions of new vehicles under the Clean Air Act. The Bush administration countered by warning that enforcement of the EPA regulation could have a dramatic financial impact, because 85 percent of the country's economy is tied to sources of emissions. What do you think the justices will decide?
A) Absolutely nothing.
B) That it's time to get that other 15 percent of the economy spewing some gas.
C) In the end, I'm sure the Supremes will do what our Founding Fathers, those glorious authors of the Constitution, intended them to do: legislate.
7) With so much controversy and political maneuvering on both sides of the global warming debate, the future appears hard to predict. What do you think the Earth will look like in 50 years?
B) Well, if I had to compare the Earth to a celebrity, I'd hope it looks like Dick Clark.
C) I think we'll continue down this same path of sensible restraint, careful that those pesky scientists don't get too carried away with their “sky-is-falling” attitude. But don't listen to me — I'm just an optimist.
How to score:
Score zero points for every “A” answer, one point for every “B,” and two points for every “C.”
0-6 points: Yes, it's another El Niño winter. But winter is the new spring, you know?
7-10 points: Not sure where you stand on global warming? Then just make sure it's not too close to Al Gore!
11-14 points: Congratulations! You're a true apologist for global warming. Now go burn a copy of the Kyoto Protocol with that extra gasoline you keep in your second SUV.