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Gore Speaks at Environmental Conference

By Orli G. Bahcall
and David D. Hsu
Staff reporters

Vice President Al Gore both stressed the importance of protecting the environment and condemned the Republican Congress for "extremist" views during his Saturday evening talk to the Society of Environmental Journalists' four-day conference here.

Under Secretary-General of the United Nations Environmental Program Elizabeth Dowdeswell and Pulitzer Prize-winning naturalist and Harvard Professor Edward O. Wilson also spoke at the event, which drew hundreds of journalists and students to Kresge Auditorium.

Other guests included former Massachusetts governor Michael S. Dukakis, who moderated a panel on the public's opinions on the environment.

While some attendees had reservations about Gore's message, overall reaction to the speakers was positive.

Gore blames Congress for inaction

Gore widely praised the efforts of environmental journalists. "Slowly, you are getting your point across," he said."News about the environment is extremely important to the American people."

Gore also commended Professor of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences Mario Molina, who recently won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work linking man-made factors to the hole in the atmosphere's ozone layer.

Even though Gore "was anxious to work in a bipartisan way" toward saving the environment, he said the Republican Congress was following an "extremist, radical, and reckless harmful agenda."

"This Congress is the most anti-environment Congress in the history of the United States," Gore said.

Gore called Congress "out of tune with the American people," citing a poll showing that 60 percent of Americans favored protecting the environment to deregulation. Furthermore, the poll was unbiased, he said, since it was conducted by a pollster of Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).

The Republicans want "sweeping cuts in everything that protects the environment," Gore said. He said lobbyists from special interest groups are being invited by the GOP to rewrite the environmental codes, calling it the "selling of democracy to the highest bidder."

Student questions OTAclosure

Following Gore's speech, members of the audience posed questions to the vice president. Two MIT students were preselected to ask questions.

Marybeth Long G, a student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineeringworking on international environmental policy, asked Gore about the Republican decision to close the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment.

The OTA, which issued studies on new technologies for Congress and was seen on the Hill as notably non-partisan, was shut down this summer over questionable concerns about its effectiveness.

Gore supported the OTA but said that it would be difficult to resurrect it in the face of the Republican Congress, which approved the measure to disband it.

"If the majority is in favor of [closing the OTA], there's not much we can do," he said.

For Long, Gore's talk "confirmed that someone in the White House is concerned with these environmental issues." Gore seemed to be "very strongly opposed to Congress' lack of effort to promote the environment."

"Whether [Gore] will do something about this is yet to be seen," she said.

Enrique R. Vivoni '97, the other student, did not get a chance to ask his question. Vivoni, a junior majoring in environmental engineering, had planned to question Gore about the Global Marshall Plan.

This plan was proposed in Gore's book, Earth in the Balance, and asks the United States to take an active leadership role in solving environmental problems, Vivoni said.

Students have mixed reactions

Although Vivoni did not get the opportunity to address the vice president, he was excited to see "that many of my own concerns were represented." Gore's talk "convinced me that the Republicans are just trying to eliminate environmental issues," Vivoni said.

The talk "proved to me that the Contract with America is trying to do away with environmental issues as a whole," Vivoni said. He added that Gore's "speech made me see that their administration is doing something productive."

But other students were not as enthusiastic. "All he did was bash Republicans," said Lauren S. Kuhn '98.

The "Democratic party did not do anything for the environment in the two years there was not a Republican Congress," Kuhn said. Gore brought up the five restrictive Republican versions of the Endangered Species Act now in Congress, Kuhn said, but there "is not even one" such Democratic act out there.

All the "Republican-bashing was unconstructive," said Kristine E. McCaffrey '97, and "reflected badly upon Gore."

Wilson discussed biodiversity

The conference featured Wilson as keynote speaker Saturday afternoon. He discussed surveys that measured the rate at which species go extinct as habitats are destroyed.

Wilson stressed the need to begin work on the two-year-old National Biological Survey, a program that aims to catalog all the species of life in this country.

The "more we know about [biological diversity], the better we will be at regional planning" and at finding "alternate uses for the land," he said. This will help us to "come closer to win/win solutions for complex social and economic problems."

Wilson was a highlight of the conference, Kuhn said. He convinced "a lot of people into believing that there is a crisis," she said.

"It is not too late to make a difference," Wilson said to the journalists.

Unlike Gore, Wilson said that there is a decrease in the environmental interest in the population. Wilson cited a survey that found "only 20 percent of Americans know what biodiversity is."

"You in this room will make a big difference," said Wilson, since "education, especially in prominent places, will play a key role in the near future.

"I do not ask you to be partisan. I ask you for the ideal of journalism: to report the facts, and to report them vividly and prominently."