Gore uses videoconferencing to make global warming point

In four-city session, Nobel laureate chats with Cisco CEO on use of collaboration technology to reduce travel costs, fight pollution

Global climate change was the topic of discussion via live videoconference Wednesday between Nobel laureate Al Gore and Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers, both speaking from separate cities to an audience in the US.

Cisco's TelePresence system, the collaboration technology used in the hourlong session, became the focus of the discussion on ways to reduce pollution by lowering the need for workers to travel.

The high-quality videoconferencing network connected Chambers and Gore with Cisco Chief Marketing Officer Susan Bostrom onstage in front of 2,500 attendees of VoiceCon 2008, and with a crowd in an office in a London suburb.

Gore praised the quality of the video transmission as an effective means of improving collaboration between groups around the globe, being careful to state that he is not a Cisco shareholder wasn't paid to endorse the system. "I'm here because I'm close to home and it's easy to use," he said.

He said that efficient and high quality videoconferencing "is one clear option that will play a role" in reducing pollution, which he linked to global climate change. "I think a lot of businesses will find this attractive," Gore said. "This is just spectacular. I just came a couple of blocks and can reach four different locations."

Gore spent most of his time talking about his mission of raising awareness of pollution and global climate change, topics that led to his winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

"The good news is that we're seeing movement [on climate change issues] but not nearly enough," the former vice president said. "Today, as the Earth turns, we human beings will put 70 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere as if it were an open sewer." A chief pollutant is CO2, or carbon dioxide, which is "invisible, odorless, tasteless, with no price tag, and is invisible to markets," he added. He called for governments to consider imposing CO2 emissions taxes on businesses and employees.

Chambers said Cisco has saved US$150 million in travel costs since launching TelePresence internally, reducing travel costs by 10 per cent per Cisco employee. In all, Cisco has 185 TelePresence systems for internal use, which boast large high-definition monitors and cameras and use guaranteed quality-of-service networks, Cisco officials said. Bostrom estimated 100,000 hours of videoconferencing have been used instead of travel by its workers, resulting in 15 million cubic tons of reduced carbon emissions.

Chambers called for a process that would set overall goals for reduced emissions, and urged officials in the world's largest economies -- the US and China -- to lead that process by showing that efforts to reduce pollution make economic sense, as they do in Cisco's case. He warned that failing to curb pollution has "huge economic costs," among them that people become sick from pollution, which drives up health care costs.

Collaboration, through videoconferencing and other means, will be a means to finding answers, Gore said. He said he hopes that his generation will be able to tell future generations that reducing pollution "was easier to solve than we thought. We have to find the moral courage to do the right thing."

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Matt Hamblen

Computerworld

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