Gore calls on scientists to advocate change

CHICAGO âÄî Friday night, former Vice President Al Gore gave the speech everyone was expecting him to. His familiar topics of climate change, shrinking polar ice caps, and the need to find alternatives to carbon-based fuels were delivered with a different tone than usual. This time he was addressing researchers and urging them to get involved in the political process, saying it will take aggressive policy changes to eventually end the countryâÄôs carbon dependence. âÄúScientists can no longer, in good conscience accept this division between the work you do and the society you live in,âÄù Gore said. He was addressing the largest interdisciplinary science conference in the country: the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His message fit the theme of this yearâÄôs meeting: âÄúOur Planet and Its Life: Origins and Futures.âÄù Many of the lectures and discussions, which filled the meetingâÄôs five days, dealt with questions of the future: How will the worldâÄôs growing population be fed? Where will the water come from? How will the climate affect these changes? Deon Stuthman, a professor of agronomy and plant genetics at the University of Minnesota organized a symposium outside his specialty entitled âÄúWater: Who Gets the Last Drop?,âÄù feeling the need for the topic to have special attention. He said he had attended similar symposia at previous AAAS meetings and had inferred from increased attendance that interest in the topic was increasing. As a part of the symposium, University professor Kenneth Brooks presented his research on improving water quality in the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. New ways of managing land and drainage would hold more water and still allow for continued production and profitability. These new methods include planting different crops in key areas near streams, and different methods of ditching. Agricultural drainage has more water flowing into the Mississippi River , independent of increases in rainfall over the last hundred years, according to a 2008 study Brooks cited. This increased flow damages rivers and streams, and carries with it larger amounts of soil and dissolved nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous, which are the main cause of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, he said. Regardless of how they feel about the environment, it will have to make economic sense for most farmers to change the way they are draining their fields, he said. Runoff will need to be reduced eventually, to comply with the Water Quality Act , he said, and incentives will probably be more effective than penalties because the origin of pollution would be very hard to trace.