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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, June 12, 2008

An Inconvenient Truth comes to Knox

By Tyler Schuling

KNOX — A couple who use wind and solar power hosted a live, updated version of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth at their Octagon Barn on Monday. 

Stephen Leibo, a professor of international history and politics at Sage Colleges and commentator for Northeast Public Radio, is one of nearly 2,000 people who have been trained personally by Gore to give presentations for The Climate Project, a nonprofit organization based in Nashville, Tenn., Gore’s hometown.

On Monday, Leibo outlined Gore’s message that storms are getting bigger and more powerful, heat waves are becoming longer and hotter, and glaciers are melting faster and the ocean is getting warmer.

The project began in June 2006 with the mission of increasing public awareness of the climate crisis at the grassroots level.  Those who are trained give slideshow presentations, much like the one in the movie, throughout communities in the United States and abroad. 

The presentation was requested by Amy Pokorny, who, with her husband, Russell Pokorny, owns the barn and lives nearby.  The Pokornys have raised a windmill and solar panels at their Beebe Road home.

In 2006, a meteorological tower was raised on their land, which took wind speed, wind direction, and temperature measurements for a research project on community wind called the Helderberg Wind Project.  A presentation on the study will be held on June 18 at the Berne-Knox-Westerlo auditorium. 

Since it hit theaters in 2006, the Academy Award-winning film has generated a buzz throughout the world, at the White House, and around kitchen tables.  In 2007, Gore and the International Panel on Climate Change were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  Leibo called the updated presentations “an evolving version of the movie.”

He outlined Gore’s message and led a discussion with a dozen attendees on alternative energy, the economy, and global changes due to climate change.

He also outlined changes in human and animal behavior. 

In 1776, about one billion people inhabited the earth; in 2005, that number reached 6.4 billion.

The Dutch are building floating homes and have given up on holding water back, jellyfish killed a salmon farm in Ireland, and trees are being attacked by pine beetles. 

 “The pines are dying right here,” said Stanley Busch. 

History and economics

At the beginning and end of his presentation, Leibo drew attention to a fundamental question. 

For the past 100 years, he said, people have been arguing over a very simple question: What should the relationship be between the government and the economy?

For thousands of years, human beings had been living off their own energy and using animals.  About 150 years ago, people began living off the dead and harnessed a new power — fossil fuels.

“It created in a sense, three different planet earths,” he said.  “From the perspective of the planet earth, none of this mattered…It didn’t matter whatsoever because all three of these systems worshiped at the same church and it was a church of massive industrialization.  It was the church of massive growth.”

For most of human history, people lived off the energy of the living — their own physical energy, their bodies, and the bodies of other people they could hire or enslave or turn into serfs, Leibo said, “and a few big animals who were stupid enough to take direction from us.”

About a hundred years ago, people began to live off the energy of the dead, he said.  We discovered the huge amounts of dead animals, plants, and trees that had been under the ground “and crushed and squished and cooked” for millions of years in the form of coal.  Fossil fuels, he said, give off incredible, phenomenal power — enormously more than humans. 

“I mean, a good tractor today has more power than an Egyptian pharaoh had,” Leibo said.  “This was a way to harness a kind of power we had never had, and it opened up the universe of everything that we’ve accomplished.”

“Now, you have to ask yourself though: They were taking on a new kind of energy that we had never used in the human condition.  Did they do an environmental impact statement?” he asked.

People turned to religions, which said that the world was here for humans to use.

The problem was that they were not asking the right question, he said. 

In 1979, it was discovered that levels of carbon dioxide — greenhouse gases — had been rising for decades.

The only thing that mattered, he said, was an incredibly thin biosphere. 

“You hear a lot about global warming being bad,” Leibo said.  “That’s not entirely true.”

We live by virtue of global warming, he said, by virtue of trapping the sun’s heat.


Throughout his presentation, Leibo outlined world conditions — rising human population, the Arctic getting smaller, recent record-high temperatures, major flooding, and deforestation.  Ice and permafrost — “huge chunks of half-rotten matter and vegetation” — are breaking up that have been around for tens of thousands of years. 

Leibo said, “We are having a planetary crisis…It’s about too much water too fast.” 

Leibo said clean energy equals good jobs.  Concentrating on solar power could displace 20 coal plants by 2030, he said. 

“You cannot outsource making buildings here more efficient,” he said.

Per capita, the United States is the leading contributor of global warming at 30.3 percent.

Leibo ended his presentation by saying, “You have an incredible amount of power.  You have the power to make things much worse.  Or perhaps, much better.”  

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