Canadian Consulting Engineer

Taking Lessons From Al Gore

July 1, 2008
By Lee Norton, P. Eng.

It's April 4, Friday afternoon, and I'm in stop and go traffic in a snowstorm in Montreal. My just-replaced windshield wiper is streaking so much that I'm having trouble reading signs and I'm afraid I...

It’s April 4, Friday afternoon, and I’m in stop and go traffic in a snowstorm in Montreal. My just-replaced windshield wiper is streaking so much that I’m having trouble reading signs and I’m afraid I’m going to miss my turn. I’m heading downtown to “The Climate Project -Canada.” It’s a conference where 250 selected volunteers are to be trained by Al Gore, the former U. S. vice-president. We are going to be taught how to give a live slide version of An Inconvenient Truth, Gore’s successful documentary on global warming. A few years ago I would have erroneously thought that if we really have global warming, it shouldn’t be snowing like this in April.

Although I hate waste and have always tried to reduce my energy use, it wasn’t done to minimize global warming. It was done for selfish reasons — not to waste my money on something intangible. I’ve added insulation and caulking to every house we’ve owned. We’ve had inside and outside clotheslines to limit our use of dryers. Except for a couple of choices, my cars have all had fuel efficient 4-cylinders with standard transmissions. But my thoughts on global warming were, “1 or 2 degrees — so what? A little warmth will do Canada good.”

I believed that global warming was going to be so gradual that I wouldn’t be affected, given a normal lifespan. Somewhere around the turn of the century, however, I was gaining knowledge that indicated I was mistaken. When I saw An Inconvenient Truth, the film put the missing dots together. I realized the earth is in trouble and wondered, “Why are people not seeing this?”

Up until the start of the 20th century, when the earth had about 1.5 billion people, it was a simpler life and our use of fossil fuels was limited. We are now at 6.5+ billion people and we have air conditioning and numerous other energy devices for work and play. At some point the human race grows big enough to have a lasting effect on the earth. I remembered reading in school that the first settlers to Upper and Lower Canada were sure that there were enough large hardwood trees for making ship masts to last 1,000 years, but the trees were gone in less than 100.

I’ve learned the debate on global warming is now over. Gore’s book of the same name as the film cites a report in Science magazine. A study by Dr. Naomi Oresko found that of 928 randomly chosen peer-reviewed articles on global warming, there were 0 articles disagreeing with the fact that greenhouse gas pollution has caused most of the warming we are experiencing. In the journals and newspapers read by the general public, it’s a different story — 53% of articles debate the issue. That figure cited by Gore is from a study of 14 years of articles from U. S. newspapers. It seems anyone can call themselves an expert in the mainstream media and get column space.

In April, Canada’s federal government proposed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the industrial sector by 20% by the year 2020. Unfortunately Canada has decided to use the year 2000 as the reference point and not the 1990 reference point set by the Kyoto Protocol, so our reductions do not match the Kyoto guidelines, which by some, are inadequate, but at least a starting point. However, by March 2008, over 150 communities across Canada, including Toronto, had committed to meeting the Kyoto emission reduction targets.

Last year when the opportunity to be trained by Al Gore presented itself, I sent in my resume to the Nashville Conference, home base for the Climate Project. It has certified approximately 1,000 people to give presentations in the U. S. I didn’t hear anything back, and later learned that only 21 high profile Canadians, were picked to go to Nashville.

Then in March I had almost deleted a piece of what I thought was junk mail, when I read “The Climate Project.” It started with, “Congratulations . . .” I had been selected to be one of the 250 Canadian volunteers to take Gore’s training in Montreal. Luckily I hadn’t deleted the e-mail and spoiled the 100% acceptance rate for this training.

Amazingly I found the hotel in Montreal without getting lost or making any wrong turns. The lobby and adjoining bar were packed with people. We received our material, had our introductory session, a buffet dinner and then a short walk underground to see Al Gore give his live presentation at Place Des Arts. The photographers were busy, and I noticed that David Suzuki and Quebec premier Jean Charest were present. Indeed, there were several Quebec politicians at the conference. Quebecers are proud of their just introduced carbon tax.

Saturday was a full day starting at 7 a. m. It was spent entirely with Al Gore. He explained his story behind each slide, why it was included, and how to present or how not to present certain ideas.

Sunday, the last day, was spent on the gritty mechanical details of giving a presentation. Experienced presenters told their war stories, giving us examples of what to do and what not to do. We learned that we could only receive reasonable expenses for a presentation. We had to select what we considered appropriate slides to give shorter presentations that were still valid. We were told that since we are not Al Gore, we are not likely to be allotted the full 90 minutes he takes to give his talk.

I’m now sitting preparing for my first presentation. I’ve reviewed all 400+ slides, some new and never seen by the public, and I’m ready. The target for the Canadian presenters is to reach one million people within the next year.

If you wish to book a presentation, log on to .

Lee Norton, P. Eng. semi-retired, was a principal with TMP Niagara in St. Catharines, Ontario. He is an editorial advisor to Canadian Consulting Engineer.


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