Welcome to the website for LaGuardia's An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It. When you came to registration at LaGuardia, we gave you a copy of this book as a way of welcoming you to the college and honoring your decision to begin your academic career with us. This book is the seventh in a series of books the college has chosen for its common reading. I have the privilege of chairing the selection committee each year, and I would like to tell you a little bit about why we selected this book for 2007-2008.
The Common Reading
A common reading is a text that all first year students receive from the college to enhance their academic experience. LaGuardia has provided the book to you as a sign of our institutional commitment to your education. The goals of having a common reading, a practice used by many colleges and universities, are to establish a greater sense of community among students and to provide an introduction to the intellectual life at the college. One goal that our committee also keeps in mind is how the common reading can serve as an entry point for you into global conversations outside of the classroom. We are interested in connecting your education concretely to the world in which we all live and share.
An Inconvenient Truth
This year seemed like an important moment in our global history and the committee felt that by choosing this book, we were inviting you into some of the most important conversations people around the planet are having. Part of pursuing a college education in the United States means engaging in important conversations about the historic and contemporary issues facing our global civilization. We are living in a moment of immense environmental change; together, we will explore what that means for us as individuals, for New York City, for the United States, and for a global community increasingly connected through media and travel.
You may have already seen the film, An Inconvenient Truth, and you may have heard about global warming and climate change on the news. Lately, it seems everyone is talking about global warming. Now, more than ever, groups as diverse as The United Nations, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Real Climate, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Paleoclimatology Branch, the National Academy of Science, the American Meterological Association, and the National Academy of Science, among others, all agree that the climate is changing.
A 2004 article in Science magazine cites agreement among 928 scientists representative of those working in climate change over a period of ten years. While many of those scientists are still studying climate change, they all agree that we are living through extraordinary times. That article states, "Many details about climate interactions are not well understood, and there are ample grounds for continued research to provide a better basis for understanding climate dynamics. The question of what to do about climate change is also still open. But there is a scientific consensus on the reality of anthropogenic climate change" (Oreskes). Often, as we approach subjects we study in school, perhaps we expect the answers to already be before us. We expect a "correct" answer. In the world of climate change, this answer doesn't yet exist. There are many theories and ideas about why climate change is happening and what we can do. As you readAn Inconvenient Truth, you will enter that conversation.
The Roots of Today's Environmental Movement
For years, environmentalists have urged global citizens to take action to save our environment. Preservationist John Muir, who wrote about his travels through the wilderness, founded the Sierra Club in 1892 to bring attention to the natural resources of the United States. He greatly influenced Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, who is known as the "Conservationist President" because of his commitment to preserving 51 Bird Reserves, 4 Game Preserves, and 150 National Forests ("Theodore Roosevelt"). In 1962, Rachel Carson published the book Silent Spring which raised awareness about the ways in which technological advancement, and the everyday choices people make about their lives, affect the environment. These are just three examples of the long history of environmentalism in the United States.
Despite their early work on conservation and raising awareness about human impact on the natural world, today's climate is increasingly brittle. This is not the problem of the United States alone. Climate change is a problem that affects the entire world and questions the ways in which our lives have become increasingly global and increasingly connected. In June of 2007, China outpaced the United States as the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Responding to that new data, Executive Director of UK Greenpeace, John Sauven, said, "Responsibility for China's soaring emissions lies not just in Beijing but also in Washington, London and Tokyo. The west has moved its manufacturing base to China knowing it was vastly more polluting than Japan, Europe or the US" (Watts and Vidal). A 2007 United Nations report entitled "Confronting Climate Change: Avoiding the Unmanageable and Managing the Unavoidable" says, "Humanity must act collectively and urgently to change course through leadership at all levels of society... There is no more time for delay"
So, what can we do? Al Gore's book presents an interesting challenge to all of us in colleges and universities. In 1968, when Mr. Gore was a student in college, he took classes with Professor Revelle. Mr. Gore was not a science major, but he took classes in natural sciences as part of his undergraduate curriculum. From that first class with Dr. Revelle, Mr. Gore gained a life-long passion for the environment. In his spare time, he has used all of the advantages of his education to learn more about the environment and the changes in the global climate.
While you may know Mr. Gore as the former Vice-President of the United States, this year we will be considering Mr. Gore as an environmental activist. He has set a passionate and principled example for his fellow citizens, asking us all to join in the struggle around climate change. We will look at Mr. Gore's book on several levels:
- What is climate change?
- What is the "planetary emergency"?
- What does Mr. Gore say about climate change?
- Where does Mr. Gore get his information?
- What kind of future does Mr. Gore predict?
- What does it mean that Mr. Gore has essentially "translated" science for other people to understand?
- Why are people talking about climate change now?
- How does Mr. Gore's position as a public figure influence the discussions around global climate change differently than a scientist or activist?
- How has Mr. Gore shifted, in his media image, from politician to activist?
There are no easy answers to the issues surrounding global climate change. The world's best scientists are currently working on this problem. This year, you will enter into a privileged community of thinkers who are writing and studying these issues. We look forward to your contributions to thinking about the environment.
As importantly, as you begin your academic journey towards an Associate's Degree from LaGuardia Community College, one of the questions raised by An Inconvenient Truth is, how will you follow your passion? Mr. Gore sets a compelling example of someone who has used his education to address some of the most pressing problems facing the planet today. How will you use your education to make the world a better place?
This year, we will use the theme of "Education and Global Citizenship" as a way for you to connect your new academic, college life and the diverse student body of the college to your personal experiences. By reading writers such as Al Gore and learning about how he has used his education to impact the world in which we live, you will discover one path into the critical material you will encounter in college.
I wish you a wonderful first year of LaGuardia and I look forward to your ideas about the issues raised in An Inconvenient Truth. I hope to see you at our common reading activities throughout the year.
Dr. J. Elizabeth Clark
The Department of English