A hand rose up from the back of the room following a screening of "An Inconvenient Truth" in a Springfield church.
"The film does a good job of showing us what's wrong," said Ken Randall. "But what I really want to know is, how long do we have until we have to start building Noah's Arcs?"
The film, which focuses on former Vice President Al Gore and his slideshow on climate change and global warming, was released in theaters earlier this year. Now, thanks to partnerships with Paramount Pictures and the Interfaith Power and Light Committee, more than 4,000 churches have been given access to the film to show to community groups and church-based organizations to start the discussion on what people can do now to help abate the rapidly changing environment.
"This is a major moral issue," said Dr. Peter Hildebrand, chief of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Institution in Greenbelt, who answered questions following the film. The Goddard Center houses NASA's Center for Climate Change, which studies climate patterns and predicts possible environmental impacts of those patterns.
"If you melt the glaciers in the Himalayan Mountains, you will deprive the 40 percent of the world's population of a significant portion of their water supply," Hildebrand said. "Those people would have to move or die, and most are too poor to be able to move."
OVER 1,400 congregations in the Washington area are showing the film over a 10-day period beginning last week, Hildebrand said. The presentation at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Springfield on Sunday, Oct. 8 was the third time in that week that Hildebrand spoke to audiences.
"One of the things we do at Goddard is come up with informal and formal education materials that line up with teacher's requirements," he said, adding that teaching from the film makes for a good opportunity to show people the real things they can do in their everyday lives to help conserve energy and use resources wisely. The film also provides startling footage of melting glaciers, the disappearance of glacial lakes and the erasure of the storied snow on top of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Critics of the film have said the messages within it are doing nothing more than preaching to the proverbial choir, something to which viewer Ed Barnes agreed.
"I saw a lot of this information on other programs, but it's good for reinforcement," he said. "We should take it all seriously and do something about it."
Barnes asked Hildebrand if any steps were being taken at a legislative level to reduce carbon emissions, due to the film's statements that carbon dioxide was the greatest creator of greenhouse gases.
"I don't know," said Hildebrand, "but I agree that we've got to do something."
In response to Randall's question about rising sea levels when glaciers melt, Hildebrand said simply that people should start acting now to slow the rate at which melting occurs.
"As a country, we need to act,” Hildebrand said. “Within the next five to 10 years, we need to make serious action to begin to cut the carbon dioxide levels to prevent a runaway heat-up of the Earth."
One of the questions raised by scientists in the debate over global warming is whether a tipping point exists at which the damage done to the top layer of the atmosphere, which holds in the greenhouse gases and increases temperatures on Earth, will be insurmountable.
"Climate scientists are concerned we will go over that point and we won't be able to do anything about it," he said.
Daniel Swope asked Hildebrand how to best educate citizens about the causes and problems associated with global warming.
"The problem is we're making the wrong cars," Swope said. "We see a lot of electricity being wasted. How can we get it into people's heads that we need to do something," he asked.
"I don't know how to change people's minds," Hildebrand said. "We have to take personal steps to change our own habits first."
MANY OF THE QUESTIONS put to Hildebrand were answered with an "I don't know," a sign that research may still be the best and most powerful tool in combating global warming.
He did suggest, however, that the more than 40 people who gathered at St. Mark's look to the Internet to find eco-friendly companies to support, along with small steps they could take to reduce their own impact on the environment.
Dan Ancona, a member of St. Mark's who helped organize the film presentation, said he hoped those who saw the movie would talk to their friends and spread the message.
"I think it's terribly important for us to do something to help solve this problem now," Ancona said. "We have to do it not for us but for our children."