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ASEE PRISM
  American Society for Engineering Education
American Society for Engineering EducationOCTOBER 2006Volume 16 | Number 2 PRISM HOMETABLE OF CONTENTSBACK ISSUES
FEATURES
Trouble on the Horizon - BY THOMAS K. GROSE
Get SMART - BY THOMAS K. GROSE
Tulane's Next Move - BY JEFFREY SELINGO

DEPARTMENTS
COMMENTS
CONTRIBUTORS
BRIEFINGS
REFRACTIONS: ENGINEERING AND HISTORY - BY HENRY PETROSKI
CLASSIFIEDS
LAST WORD: The College Payoff - BY ANTHONY P. CARNEVALE

TEACHING TOOLBOX
Let Go of My Legos - Those little bricks are a wonderful way to teach engineering to youngsters. BY ALICE DANIEL
BOOK REVIEW: An Inconvenient Truth - BY ROBIN TATU
TEACHING: The Plague of Self-Plagiarism - BY PHILLIP WANKAT AND FRANK OREOVICZ
ON CAMPUS: The Write Solution- BY LYNNE SHALLCROSS










 
TEACHING TOOLBOX - BOOK REVIEW: An Inconvenient Truth BY ROBIN TATUTEACHING TOOLBOX - BOOK REVIEW: An Inconvenient Truth BY ROBIN TATU  

THE FORMER VICE PRESIDENT BRINGS THE ENVIRONMENT BACK TO THE FOREFRONT WITH A COMPELLING NEW BOOK.

An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It
By Al Gore
Rodale Books 2006, 328 pps.

Thirty years ago, the environment was a popular concern. Grassroots groups raised our awareness about recycling, carpooling, pollution and the ozone layer. Earth Day was proclaimed in San Francisco; and wrapped in his woolen sweater, President Jimmy Carter urged Americans to set thermostats to energy-saving levels. Yet somewhere along the way, these issues became less pressing as the country moved toward larger cars and greater consumption. Attention turned increasingly to global terrorism, not global warming. Now Al Gore wants to put the environment back on the agenda—and after another summer of record-breaking temperatures, more Americans may be ready to listen.

In “An Inconvenient Truth,” Gore declares that we have reached a point of planetary crisis. He begins by outlining the basic science of global warming, then traces four decades of scientific research to demonstrate the hazardous effect of escalating carbon dioxide emissions. From Katrina to Darfur, powerful storm systems, melting glaciers, increased drought and soil moisture evaporation are all indications of the devastating toll unrestrained development is taking upon the Earth. And while the United States is responsible for 30 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas pollution, our country has been slower than many to address the problems. Indeed, Gore charges that the federal government, big business and even the media have obfuscated the gravity of the situation. Why is it, he asks, that of 928 recent scientific articles, not one questions the causes of global warming, while in the popular press, 63 percent of articles suggest there is debate over the issue?

While Gore exposes the seriousness of global warming, his message is not an apocalyptic one. People need to avoid moving from denial to despair, he writes, because measures can and should be taken. “Each of us can become part of the solution: in the decisions we make on what we buy, the amount of electricity we use, the cars we drive and how we live our lives.” Gore suggests that the truth about global warming is an “inconvenient one” because people will have to make significant changes. But he argues that a collective effort can make a difference and will be harmful neither to the economy nor to our standard of living. The final section of the book provides suggestions for ways people can get involved individually, from lowering energy consumption in the home, to choosing hybrid automobiles, recycling, composting and telecommuting.

Gore has sounded the alarm about global warming for several years, in part through a multimedia presentation he’s delivered in cities around the world. More recently, he joined director David Guggenheim to produce a documentary based on this presentation, featuring dramatic film clips and simulations that demonstrate, for example, just how much of Florida, Holland and New York City will be submerged, should sea levels continue to rise unabated. For this book, Gore retained much of the same format, emphasizing visuals, charts and graphs over extended text. Yet as the hard-copy version of the film, the book provides greater elaboration of the arguments and allows readers to ponder statements that pass by all too fleetingly in the celluloid presentation. We also hear more of Gore’s own story. Discussing how personal experiences prompted his commitment to the environment, Gore writes that after his son’s near-fatal car accident, he felt convinced that he “was handed not just a second chance but an obligation to pay attention to what matters.”

Aimed at a general audience, “An Inconvenient Truth” may not achieve the level of depth sought by some engineers, especially those already at the forefront in combating global warming, whether on a local level or through ambitious macro-engineering projects. Yet with its cogent arguments and graphic examples, Gore’s book makes for compelling reading. Both it and the film, which should soon be released on DVD, can serve as useful pedagogical tools in the engineering classroom.

Robin Tatu is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.


 

 


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American Society for Engineering Education