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Gore urges area students to take lead on environment Data 'hits home,' says Hutch-Tech senior

Julia Marcusa, a junior at Williamsville North High School, saw it as a call to action.

Jessica Usborne, a junior social gerontology major at the University at Buffalo, viewed it as a political calling.

Their reactions were to challenges issued Friday by former Vice President Al Gore -- a call to reverse the effects of global warming.

Gore on Friday afternoon addressed 3,500 high school students from 80 area high schools in the University at Buffalo's Alumni Arena. The North Campus auditorium was sold out for the evening presentation of Gore's slide show that was featured in last year's Academy Award-winning documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth."

Friday afternoon, teens fidgeted noticeably during his 80-minute presentation, but Gore's urgent message hit home with many.

"I learned a lot from the presentation," said Verlen Davis, a junior at South Park High School. "It made me feel like I can make more of a difference in the world and help stop global warming."

"I didn't really believe there was that much of a threat from global warming, but now I do," said Juliana Didas, an 11th-grader at Mount St. Mary Academy in the Town of Tonawanda. "I understand a lot about what we can do to make the environment safer for the next generation."

Added William Richardson, a senior at Hutchinson-Central Technical High School: "When you actually see the data, it hits home."

Friday evening, Gore was put on the spot while fielding prescreened questions from UB students.

Usborne asked Gore if he might better serve the issue of global warming by running for president.

"I'll vote for you," she said.

Gore demurred.

Earlier in the day, Gore recalled the youthful challenges of his generation.

"When I was your age, the civil rights revolution was taking hold. Now this is your turn. . . . You have the opportunity to be the conscience of our country," Gore said.

Gore was known for environmental concerns during his years in the Senate and later as vice president. He held the first congressional hearings on global warming more than 20 years ago and wrote "Earth in the Balance," a 1992 book warning of environmental calamities. But since the 2000 presidential election, he has emerged as the marquee force in sounding the alarm about the imminent danger of global warming.

Still, Gore poked fun at himself when he came on stage.

"I am Al Gore. I used to be the next president of the United States. . . . The way I look at it, you win some, you lose some, and then there's that other category," he said to laughter.

He also injected humor at times in what was a nonpartisan speech.

"[The Earth] is our only home. Don't let anybody tell you that the solution to global warming is colonization of other planets. We couldn't even evacuate people [in reaction to] Hurricane Katrina."

Gore was professorial as he explained how man-made greenhouse gasses are causing mountain glaciers and ice sheets to melt, temperatures to rise, hurricanes to become more frequent and intense, and many animal species to become threatened with extinction.

He suggested solutions, including greater promotion of renewable energy, energy efficiency and greater international cooperation. He also said many states and other countries are much further along in showing leadership.

"It's time we accept the reality of this and start solving the problem," Gore said. "We have everything we need except for political will, and in a democracy, political will is a renewable resource."

He also praised UB's energy conservation practices.

"This school is one of the great leaders of energy-efficient initiatives," Gore said.

Frederick Stoss, a UB librarian in the sciences and engineering library, trained with Gore in January in Nashville to give the slide show presentation and has done so twice this week, with another dozen appearances lined up.

Walter Dszonak, a teacher at John F. Kennedy High School in Sloan, thought Gore was on the mark with the young audience.

"I thought he did a really good job, and the kids were really interested in it. You might as well get the youth to take care of the world, because obviously the adults aren't doing a very good job."

Marcusa said she hopes what students learned will be translated into action.

"Sometimes we don't see the big picture, and he put it in terms that people can understand," she said. "Hopefully, we can take what he said and do something with it."

Evan King, a sophomore at St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute in the Town of Tonawanda, said he was inspired.

"It made me worry about where the world is going, but it told us about what we can do to make a difference. I want to do more research to see how I can help the world."

News Staff Reporter Harold McNeil contributed to this report.

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com

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