Al Gore Speaks at Supercomputing ’09

By Lindsay Sill, Project Manager, Calgary

I was among thousands of individuals at Supercomputing in Portland last week fortunate enough to see the former Vice President of America, Al Gore talk on Climate Change. He began by warming the crowd up with some light humour. Then he proceeded to tell us how bad the state of the world is and what we can do to help, all while plugging his latest book, Our Choice. In the book and during the presentation, he mentions the old African proverb that says "if you want to go quickly, go alone; if you want to go far, got together". Gore's response to the proverb is that we have to go far, quickly to solve the climate crisis.

He appeared to be almost begging us a group to get involved and help end the world climate issues and it would be a waste of our intellect and computing science knowledge not to make a difference. I couldn't help but notice that he never once mentioned the words "Green IT" or the fact that supercomputers are contributors to the world's carbon footprint. For example, A £30 million supercomputer, installed in the Met Office's headquarters earlier this year, is a key part of helping scientists predict the weather and long-term climate change. However the supercomputer is anything but green, using enough energy to power a small town and producing 12,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. How ironic.

He made the audience laugh (or wake up after a not-so-stimulating middle section of the presentation) when he commented on trying to build a machine that removed carbon from the air…but wait, "that already exists and is called a tree". Followed by a witty joke that computer scientists would enjoy, "if you scale the machine, it is called a forest".

I did feel kind of guilty having flown down to the conference. I chose to offset my carbon for $13 to clear my conscious. I'm also thinking about getting informed by finding out how inconvenient the truth really is.