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A Day at the Movies Is Quite an Eye-Opener

by: Lisa Rein    12 January 2007

The environmental agenda in the Maryland House of Delegates yesterday led off with popcorn and a front-row view of rising sea levels and melting glaciers spelling disaster for the planet.

In their first meeting of the 2007 legislative session, members of the House Environmental Matters committee watched "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore's chilling documentary on global warming. The film rolled just after 1 p.m. on eight flat-screen televisions in the committee hearing room. For 100 minutes, the place fell silent -- except for the clatter of the popcorn machine wheeled in for the occasion.

The afternoon at the movies, on a day otherwise devoted to organizational matters, was ordered up by Chairman Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore), who first saw the former vice president's film when it came out last spring. It fits in neatly with the committee's ambitious environmental agenda, which will include bills to limit car emissions, push renewable energy and clean up the Chesapeake Bay. With a new Democratic administration, legislative leaders say they might have an opportunity to implement policies stymied under Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

Her members might think they care about the environment, McIntosh said. But Gore takes it to a whole new level.

"I'm all green and all that kind of stuff," she said. "But it had a profound effect on me. I see the science. This is real."

So real that McIntosh says she will push legislation to form Maryland's first commission to study global warming's effects on the state.

"We could lose 18 percent of the Eastern Shore. Ocean City could be underwater. Cambridge -- gone!"

The film has become the third-highest-grossing documentary of all time, excluding concert films and Imax movies. Gore has convinced many Americans that global warming should be considered a moral issue, not simply a scientific one. He mixes straightforward facts with charts, photographs, jokes and personal history. It's a gloomy message: The planet is hurtling toward environmental disaster because of fossil fuel emissions.

Gore takes shots at the Bush administration, showing clippings of newspaper stories about a climate change expert who said NASA tried to silence him. That perked up the delegates, some of whom had opened a newspaper or used the down time to prepare bills or write memos. Still, the film seemed to touch a bipartisan nerve.

"When you have 70-degree days in January, people are beginning to wonder what's going on," Del. Ann Marie Doory (D-Baltimore) said. "It's timely." The lawmakers also oohed and aahed as they heard Gore explain that China's auto emissions standards are much tougher than those in the United States.

"A lot of people go straight from denial to despair without going to the interim step of actually doing something about the problem," Gore intoned. "We have everything we need but political will."

The delegates nodded in agreement.

McIntosh announced to the morning session of the House that the movie would be showing. Del. Susan Krebs (R-Carroll), who is not on the committee, came in halfway through, joining a few reporters and members of Speaker Michael E. Busch's staff.

"It's very important that we educate ourselves since we're going to be making decisions on some of these bills that come through," Krebs said.

Del. Paul S. Stull (R-Frederick) called the film an "eye opener" as he pursues legislation to promote wind power and other renewable energy.

The House's environmental agenda is likely to rub up against business interests.

"It's novel, a political documentary being shown during a meeting like this," said Bruce Bereano, a well-known Annapolis lobbyist who poked his head into the hearing room. "It's a new legislature. It's more to the left politically than the previous one."

About 16 of the 22 committee members were in attendance yesterday. Those who didn't make it would be well-advised to return next week for a repeat showing or risk the wrath of their chairman: She's made "An Inconvenient Truth" required viewing.