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Al's Army

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The slide show that won Al Gore an Oscar last week is coming to a church near you. The former presidential candidate has trained more than 1,000 volunteers in Nashville and Sydney, Australia, to present his slideshow on global warming, made famous by the documentary An Inconvenient Truth. The volunteers, who span a gamut of ages, ethnicities, and socioeconomic status, include three Memphians and a onetime honorary Memphian, actress Cameron Diaz.

The "climate change messengers," as they're called, came from around the country to spend three days in a Nashville hotel, listening to Gore as he went through his slides on carbon-dioxide levels, ice shelves, and temperature change. Volunteers are required to present the slideshow at least 10 times within a year of their training.

Life-insurance agent, local resident, and "messenger" Bill Stegall calls himself a member of "Al's army."

He started e-mailing Gore's Climate Project after seeing the movie, and he was accepted as a volunteer.

"I plan on targeting the people who probably didn't run out and see Al Gore's movie," he says. Because of that, he wants to give the 40-minute slideshow at area churches and synagogues.

"I want to give the presentation at conservative Christian churches," he says. "I think that would be a great thing for the environment, because churches have a culture and tradition of stewardship."

Stegall is not alone in thinking about churches. Many people have compared the Climate Project to a religion, with Gore as the Messiah-figure and the messengers as his proselytizing disciples. And, no, those comparisons have not all been meant to showcase Gore in a positive light.

In fact, what they seem to be implying is that the Climate Project is a cult. A crazy, liberal cult bent on taking away SUVs, destroying American business, and forcing everyone to wear hemp.

I haven't drunk any Kool-Aid recently, but I did see the movie a few months ago. But it wasn't something I was predisposed to do.

I think I'm like most people. When I get home from work, I like to hang out, relax, maybe veg a little bit. I don't usually want to do anything heavy. And talking about the implications of our species' actions on this planet seemed nothing but heavy. And boring.

So -- and I'm just being honest -- when I finally watched it, it was because I got it on Netflix, and I wanted to send it back and get something else.

But I can't say it didn't affect me. Seeing Gore climb into a cherry picker to illustrate the rise in the earth's average temperature for the past 50 years gave me chills.

I think once we know something is wrong, we have a responsibility to ourselves and others to try and fix it. Unfortunately, what often happens with environmental issues is that it takes a "train wreck" type of event to focus the problem. I'm speaking in green generalities, but until something drastic happens, people argue that protecting sectors of the environment will be too costly, that it will adversely affect the economy, or that environmental changes don't really affect human lives.

(In a world where the number of Category 4 and Category 5 hurricanes has almost doubled in the last 30 years, try telling that to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.)

And when the train wreck does happen, it's too late. You can't stop the problem; you can only deal with its ramifications.

I was out running errands recently, and a drug store employee commented on the pretty trees outside. It was February, and the trees were in full bloom. And, yes, they were pretty but nothing I was happy to see.

The signs are all around us, yet people are still ignoring or refuting the evidence. Having an Oscar onboard is nice, but he's not as important as people like Bill Stegall and the other members of "Al's Army."

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