Monthly Archives: April 2012

Message from the Top of the World

The Arctic or North Pole fascinated me for years since this region is on the front line of climate change warming.  According to the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the average annual temperature of the Arctic increased almost twice as much as the average annual global temperature over the past 100 years.  Even more, according to NOAA, the summer Arctic sea ice has declined by 40% since 1979.  For several years now, the polar bear has become the ‘poster child’ for climate change since it hunts for seals on solid Arctic ice that is now rapidly sinking.  With their bright white color, living at one of the harshest climates on earth, and their propensity to hunt people if given a chance, polar bears have always fascinated me.

Thus, I was thrilled to hear this winter that an IMAX movie focusing on polar bears, To The Arctic,was coming to the St. Louis Science Center.  Since I worked at Science Center this winter, I recently got to watch To The Arctic.  With my interest in climate change, I was even more thrilled to read the film’s synopsis on the Science Center’s website that “To The Arctic tells the story of one mother polar bear’s determination to keep her cubs alive in the face of natural predators and a rapidly changing climate.”  I found this movie to be very inspirational with very beautiful shots of the frozen north.

Besides, the movie was narrated by Meryl Streep, one of my top favorite actors.  The music was by Paul McCartney, one of my all time favorite musicians.  They both provide solid and fun contributions to the film.
The film was also produced and directed by Greg MacGillivay, who also made a IMAX movie that I really loved back in 2000, Dolphins.  This looked like an All-Star team to motivate me to see a film about polar bears and the Arctic.

I was also spellbound by the opening helicopter shots of the roaring waterfalls at the at the edges of the cliffs of ice.  Sadly, the film eludes to the greater flow of these waterfalls probably due to climate change.  As the film continued to show incredible Arctic footage, the film also stated that summer now in the Arctic now lasts a month longer than what it did just decades ago.  As the film showed sea life, it mentioned ‘greenhouse gases releases from thousands of miles away is making the ocean more acidic and tougher for the plants and sea stars to survive.’

The real stars of the movie though were the polar bears.  I loved the shots of the adults gracefully swimming in the water.  Who knew such a bulky land animal could swim so fluidly.  Of course, the shots of the polar bear cubs playing were so adorable.  The image that stuck with me though was the mother turning around to confront a male who was stalking her and her cubs.  She successfully convinced the male with a stern glare and stand not to mess with her offspring this time.  Unfortunately, the film informs us that often males are eating cubs more often, even if they prefer seals.  The mother’s steel determination to protect her young made me even more impressed with polar bears.

The central message of the movie about polar bears having a hard time adjusting to climate change seemed to be very effectively delivered.  It did not seem to me to be too preachy or depressing.  It just laid out the unvarnished truth about climate change in the Arctic.  The daunting threat to the long term survival of polar bears is the shrinking Arctic sea ice, now melting faster than ever.  Polar bears depend upon floating sea ice to catch their favorite meal, the ringed seal.  Unfortunately, the film shows that the distance between the sea ice is growing.  The warming is leaving bears ‘on thin ice.’  If the distance between sea ice is too wide, it becomes a deadly swim for the bears, especially the cubs.

By 2050, the Arctic ice cap will be reduced to just a small fringe on the coast of Canada and Greenland.  Few climate and Arctic scientists would dispute this fact stated in the film.  Some scientists are more cautious and say the Arctic will be ice free in the summer by 2080, others are looking at the trends in sea ice loss and projecting 2013.  Either way, this spells bad news for the majestic and awe-inspiring polar bears.

With the images and stark message, this is where the film challenges us to do what we can individually and collectively to reduce the threat of climate change.  For the film says, ‘Just as mother polar bear fiercely protects her young, perhaps it can inspire all of us to protect the Arctic habitat.’  I am not a parent, but the film certainly inspired me to do more.  Hopefully, this message of parental care will connect with mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, mentors, and teachers seeing this film.

For I love the written quote at the beginning of the film by renowned ocean scientist, Dr. Sylvia Earle:
“As mothers, the greatest gift we can pass along to our children is a healthy planet.”




Titanic inspired me to be a Climate Change Communicator

To this day, I will never forget the first time I saw James Cameron’s movie, Titanic, in early January 1998.  I had just started working as a naturalist guide narrating the boat tours in the Flamingo outpost in Everglades National Park, Florida.  Part of my job was to be a ‘deck hand’ on the boat, assisting the captain with tying the lines, driving the boat on occasion, and participating in periodic man overboard training.  With a new job requiring me to be on a boat, watching for the safety of the passengers, boat safety was certainly on my mind when I saw the movie.  The soaring beautiful music of the first half of the movie when the boat was gliding across the ocean also played inside my head as our tour boats explored the waters of the Everglades.
As entertainment goes, besides the amazing musical score by James Horner, I also loved all aspects of the movie: the love story, the costumes, the way the ship was so vividly recreated, the acting by Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Kathy Bates, Billy Zane, etc.  The movie draws you in with an enticing love story, it then kicks you in the gut with the horrific sinking.  The sinking is what stayed on my mind ever since. All the innocent people who died lost their lives so tragically.
This disaster was totally a human caused disaster also.  White Star Lines wanted to break speed records to cross the Atlantic.  The Captain and crew ignored the iceberg radio warnings from other ships until it was too late.  The propeller, rudder, and engines were insufficient to steer the boat away from the iceberg once the boat was in eminent danger of hitting the iceberg.  To add insult to injury, there were only enough lifeboats to save half of the passengers on board.  Somehow, White Star Lines thought their boat was “unsinkable” and just followed the British maritime regulations for the minimum number of lifeboats.  Of the over 2,200 passengers on boat only about 700 people made it safely to the life boats.  Most of those who deaths were caused by hypothermia of the freezing waters of the Atlantic, not by drowning.
What was striking to me then in 1998 and to this day was the hubris and arrogance of White Star Lines and the ship’s designer, Harland and Wolff.   They thought they had outsmarted nature with their watertight compartments on board and other engineering advances.  They then foolishly believed their innovations would enable the ship to be “unsinkable.”  Well, we all know how that turned out once the ship hit that iceberg.
In January 1998, I was also deep into studying the Everglades to learn to be a naturalist to be able to explain the history of the Everglades to the passengers.  I was also amazed by the 20th century human arrogance about the Everglades was a ‘useless swamp’ by Americans moving into south Florida the same time that Titanic was constructed. Floridians sincerely thought from when Florida became a state in 1845 until the 1950s that if they could just drain the Everglades they would have this world class productive farmland and urban development.  However, the results were a disaster.  Up until the 1950s, the Everglades was teeming with birds, fish, alligators and other wildlife that was a sight to behold.  Up until the 1930s, locals talked about the skies so full of flocks of birds that it would block out the sun.  The old timers from around the same time used to mention that the creeks used to be so full of fish that you could walk across them.
However, by the 1960s, scientists had noticed that upwards of 90% of the total bird and fish population was gone due to the human draining of the Everglades.  The Army Corp of Engineers and the South Florida Management District dug over 1,800 canals to slice up the Everglades to drain it and provide water for the cities.  As a result, there was 68 threatened or endangered species.  However, the cities were actually running out of fresh water because the draining was allowing salt water from the Atlantic to creep into the underground water supply.
Just like the Titanic, the decline of the Everglades was a human caused disaster.  Ever since the year 2000, the state of Florida and the federal government has attempted to spend a couple of billion dollars to ‘restore the Everglades.’
In the same year that I saw the movie Titanic, I started educating myself about global warming.  Park visitors were asking me if global warming was impacting the Everglades.  Park visitors expect park rangers and naturalist guides to know everything.  Thus, I added global warming to my reading list to be able to answer their questions.  The first book I bought in a used book store was Laboratory Earth: The Planetary Gamble We Cannot Afford to Lose by Stanford University climate scientist, Dr. Stephen Schneider.  The book sounded an alarm bell that releasing so much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the massive global burning of fossil fuels is playing with the planet’s life support system.  A key point that Dr. Schneider made in this 1997 book was that “the faster and harder we push on nature, the greater the chances for surprises – some of which are likely to be nasty.”
Dr. Schneider did not really go into detail of what those nasty surprises could be in that book. However, by 2006, I noticed that he was sounding an alarm bell, similar to the men on the crow’s nest observation platform on the Titanic who first saw the approaching iceberg.   He states in the 2006 HBO climate change documentary, Too Hot to Handle that “It is getting warmer.  The storms are getting stronger.  And, the plants and animals are changing as you would expect as it is warming.  It is getting hard to say that this is an accident of nature.”
From seeing the movie Titanic, learning about the human caused damage to the Everglades, and reading Dr. Schneider’s Laboratory Earth book, lots of seeds were planted in me to eventually become a climate change communicator.
In the back of my mind, I always wondered if anyone else had noticed dangerous parallels with the Titanic sinking and the modern day threat of climate change.  It turned out that Titanic director James Cameron noticed the similarities.  Last week, the National Geographic TV Channel aired a two hour special Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron.  In this show, Cameron, brought together a team of engineers, naval architects, artists, and historians to solve the lingering mysteries of why and how an “unsinkable” ship sank.  It was a fascinating special to watch.
This is how James Cameron connected the Titanic sinking to the current threat of climate change:
Part of the Titanic parable is of arrogance, of hubris, of the sense that we’re too big to fail. Well, where have we heard that one before?
There was this big machine, this human system, that was pushing forward with so much momentum that it couldn’t turn, it couldn’t stop in time to avert a disaster. And that’s what we have right now.
Within that human system on board that ship, if you want to make it a microcosm of the world, you have different classes, you’ve got first class, second class, third class. In our world right now you’ve got developed nations, undeveloped nations.
You’ve got the starving millions who are going to be the ones most affected by the next iceberg that we hit, which is going to be climate change. We can see that iceberg ahead of us right now, but we can’t turn.
We can’t turn because of the momentum of the system, the political momentum, the business momentum. There too many people making money out of the system, the way the system works right now and those people frankly have their hands on the levers of power and aren’t ready to let ‘em go.
Until they do we will not be able to turn to miss that iceberg and we’re going to hit it, and when we hit it, the rich are still going to be able to get their access to food, to arable land, to water and so on. It’s going to be poor, it’s going to be the steerage that are going to be impacted. It’s the same with Titanic.
I think that’s why this story will always fascinate people. Because it’s a perfect little encapsulation of the world, and all social spectra, but until our lives are really put at risk, the moment of truth, we don’t know what we would do. And that’s my final word.
Just as many contributing factors caused the sinking of the Titanic, three factors in 1998 colliding to inspire me to be a climate change communicator: connecting with the Everglades as a naturalist, reading Stephen Schneider for the first time, and seeing James Cameron’s Titanic.  As we reflect on the 100th anniversary of the sinking, may the Titanic also speak to you to reduce the threat of climate change.

The Debate is Over

Below is the text from my eight minute speech for St. Louis South County Toastmasters for the the April 11, 2012 meeting.  Because of this speech, I was voted by the other Toastmasters as the Best Speaker for this meeting.


Free Beer!  Who here is interested in free beer?  Or, if you cannot drink, how about free chocolate?  Well, unfortunately, I do not have beer or chocolate for you tonight.   As a Washington University scientist recently informed me, whenever scientists get together there is always lots of debate and arguing.  About the only thing they can agree upon is FREE BEER.

Besides, FREE BEER, there are lots of subjects were scientists are in agreement were THE DEBATE IS OVER, such as scientific observations that the Earth is round, the Earth revolves around the sun, the law of gravity, dinosaurs once existed, the Cubs will never win the World Series (Oops, sorry that is the agreement among St. Louis scientists), smoking causes cancer, and Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969.   Finally, the debate about climate change is over among scientists since about 1979.  Unfortunately, many people are stuck on the idea that scientists disagree whether humans are causing climate change.  How many folks here tonight think this?

You are not alone.   In May 2011, a joint study was published by the Yale Project on Climate Change and the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, called Climate Change and the American Mind.  The results of the research showed only 39% of Americans think that most scientists think climate change is real.  However, 40% of Americans think there is still a lot of disagreement among scientists whether climate change is real.  Another 4% think that most scientists do not think climate change is real, and 18% just do not know.

Just like the old TV show Dragnet, I am here tonight to report “just the facts, ma’am.”  That fact is that there is a widespread agreement among scientists that climate change is real and caused by humans.

How do I know this?

First of all, there have been numerous scientific studies over the past 10 years proving this.  Most recently, June 21, 2010, an article was published in the scientific journal of United State National Academy of Science called, Expert credibility in climate change.  The lead author was William R.L. Anderegg, a doctoral candidate at Stanford University.   He focused on over 900 scientists who had published at least 20 papers on climate, as a way to concentrate on those most active in the field and whose work was subjected to close scrutiny. The authors then asked those scientists whether they were convinced or unconvinced by the evidence for human-induced climate change.  The results are very clear that 97 out of 100 working climate scientists accept the evidence for human-induced climate change.

Second, that study matched a 2009 scientific study published in the Journal of the American Geophysical Union by Dr. Peter t. Doran and Maggie Kendall Zimmerman, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago, called Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate ChangeThey surveyed over 3,000 earth scientists.  They also concluded that over 96% of climate scientists are convinced that climate change is real and caused by humans.

But wait a second Brian!  There are still around 3% of scientists who disagree with climate change, shouldn’t we hear them out?  My answer is NO.  I like how former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger responded “If 98 doctors say my son is ill and needs medication and two say, ‘No, he doesn’t, he is fine,’ I will go with the ninety-eight. It’s common sense – the same with global warming. We go with the majority, the large majority.” (Hot, Flat and Crowded by Thomas Friedman 2008, page 138)

Speaking of large majorities, how many folks here think that Toastmasters is the best support group you that can empower you to be a great public speaker?   Imagine you are preparing for a speech, maybe even a Toastmasters competition, where you really want to win.  Would you seek out the advice of someone who was skeptical of Toastmasters, or someone who rarely attends meeting, or someone who attends meeting but rarely gives speeches, or someone who attends Toastmasters regularly but is constantly critical of everything happening at the meeting.  No, if you want to wow the club with a speech and win a competition, you would seek advice with the best speakers of the club.

This is no different with scientists.  This is what the scientific peer review process is.  Scientists submit their scientific writings and presentations to their peers to be scrutinized.  After all the scientific debate and intense scrutiny, a vast overwhelming percent of scientists now say that climate change is real and caused by humans.  The debate is over among scientists whether climate change is happening.  As I heard Penn State climate scientist Dr. Richard Alley during his talk  at Climate One meeting at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco last December, “Scientists are no longer debating (whether humans are causing) climate change because that is no longer a useful discussion.”

Again, who here is interested in FREE CHOCOLATE or FREE BEER, one of the few things that scientists can agree on.  We then talked about various scientific studies showing how scientists have nearly a 97% agreement that climate change is real and caused by humans.  I now encourage you to move beyond the assumption that scientists disagree about climate change.

However, as I conclude my speech, I also realize the debate is not over among many of you about climate change.  Therefore, I will now spend about five minutes to open it up to your questions…

False Witnesses whose Testimonials Did Not Agree

It is Passover and Easter this weekend.  Many people are in the middle of reflecting on stories central to their spiritual traditions right now.  Growing up as a Christian, I was struck by the story about Jesus’s trail before the chief priests, the elders and the scribes.  The religious leaders wanted desperately to find damaging testimonials against Jesus so they would have enough evidence to convict him in a trial and obtain a death sentence against him.  The problem was, accord to Mark 14:56, “For many bore false witness against Jesus, but their testimonies did not agree.”

Amazingly, the chief priests had to keep road testing different testimonies against Jesus.  Finally, they stumbled across witnesses Jesus saying, “I will destroy this temple that is made with my hands, and in another day I will build another made without my hands.”  Right then, the chief priests thought they had a statement of blasphemy on which they could condemn Jesus to death.  Even then, Mark 14:59 points out that “But not even then did their testimony agree.”


This story reminds me of people who reject the science of climate change.  Amazingly, just like the witnesses at Jesus’ trail, the contrarians of climate change science cannot get their testimonies together either.  Naomi Klein wrote about this in the November 9, 2011 issue of The Nation in an article, Capitalism vs. the Climate.  The previous June, she attended the Heartland Institute’s Sixth International Conference on Climate Change, the annual largest gathering of those rejecting the science of climate change.  After hearing numerous speakers, Naomi noted that “no attempt is made to explain why each speaker seems to contradict the next. (Is there no warming, or there warming but it’s no problem? And if there is no warming, then what’s all this talk about sunspots causing temperatures to rise?)

Even more, I thought Dr. Michael Mann, climatologist at Penn State University also crystallized beautifully this idea of the ‘False Witnesses whose Testimonials Did Not Agree.’  On page 23 of his most recent 2012 book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, Dr. Mann talks about his “six stages of denial”:

1. CO2 is not actually increasing.
2. Even if it is, the increase has no impact on the climate since there is no convincing evidence of warming.
3. Even if there is warming, it is due to natural causes.
4. Even if the warming cannot be explained by natural causes, the human impact is small, and the impact of continued greenhouse gas emissions will be minor.
5. Even if the current and projected future human effects on Earth’s climate are not negligible, the changes are generally going to be good for us.
6. Whether or not the changes are going to be good for us, humans are very adept at adapting to changes; besides, it’s too late to do anything about it, and/or a technological fix is bound to come along when we really need it.

On that same page, Dr. Mann also points out that “Contrarians have tended to retreat (to a higher number) on ‘the ladder of denial’ as the scientific evidence has become more compelling.”  In other words, those rejecting human caused climate change look to be all over the map with their closed-minded skepticism.  It is hard to pin them down why the science human caused climate change should be totally dismissed.  When they get together at a Heartland conference, someone should challenge them to coalesce under one certain point or theory on why climate change should be rejected.  Until then, the contrarians just sound like a cacophony of confusion.  Again it is like the false witnesses at Jesus’s trail who contradicted each other.  It did not matter that their testimonials did not agree they just have to find a way to condemn to death an innocent man teaching different religious ideas.

As I have grown concerned and alarmed about climate change, I had a few people tell me that “I should look at both sides of the issue.”  However, climate scientists such as Michael E. Mann, Stephen Schneider, James Hansen, Richard Alley, Wallace Broeker, Katharine Hayhoe, Richard Somerville, Gavin Schmidt, and many others have convinced me with their evidence and observations with their consistent message.   That message is climate change is real, caused by humans, over 95% of climate scientists agree upon this, climate change is harmful to people, and people can limit it if we choose.

The bottom line is that I have not heard any compelling evidence presented by contrarians of climate change.  Even more, I do not have time to listen to any contrarians when they provide false science that disagrees with each other.  Just as the contradicting witnesses at Jesus’s trial have not gone down well in history, the contrarians will not go well in history either as evidence for human caused climate change grows stronger by the day.

According to NASA, there is multiple lines of evidence pointing to the existence of human caused climate change, such as sea leve rise, global temperature rise, warming oceans, declining sea ice, glacial retreat, increase in extreme weather events, and ocean acidification.  The Good News of Easter is that Christians believe that Jesus overcame his corrupt trial and execution to rise from the dead   The good news of climate change is we can also lessen the nastiest consequences of climate change if we act fast on the solutions collectively as a society and as individuals also.

Happy Easter!

Listen to the Man (Scott Mandia)

Recently, I met, Bob, a 5th grade teacher from a local St. Louis Catholic School who is doubtful about climate change.  Bob pressed me with how do scientists know climate change is real.  He then requested that I send him information about the science of climate change.

I e-mailed a friend of mine, Scott Mandia, to assist me.  Scott is a professor of meteorology at Suffolk County Community College in New York.  He is also the founder of The Climate Science Rapid Response Team and The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund.  He is a leading national voice in engaging the public, media and his students about the serious threat of climate change.

Below is what Scott e-mailed to me:

“I think it is very important to show the pattern of warming shows heat-trapping.  Here is my standard reply:

1. Climate change science is probably the most scrutinized field of science today.

2. It is quite clear that the planet is warming:
 The oceans are gaining heat
 The land is warming
 The air is warming
 Ice is rapidly melting
 Animal and plant species are moving northward and upward
 Cold seasons are getting shorter while warm seasons are getting longer
 Maximum temperature records are increasing much faster than minimum temperature records etc.

3.  This warming can only result from:
 1) More incoming heat from space (sun)
 2) Less outgoing heat to space (earth emission)
     We have carefully measured the incoming solar radiation and it is NOT increasing. 
      In fact, we are at historic lows lately!

4.  Scientists have known that adding heat-trapping CO2 will cause less heat to be
          released to space. The pattern of warming matches “heat trapping”:
 1) Nights are warming faster than days (how could the sun cause this?)
 2) Winters are warming faster than summers 
    (sun is weakest in winter and strongest in summer so the sun is not to blame)
 3) The lowest layer of the atmosphere is warming while the upper layers are cooling 
   (again, cannot be the sun)
 4) Satellite and ground-based devices have MEASURED the decreasing heat in the CO2 band to space with a corresponding increased heat back to the surface in the CO2 band.

5. There are many lines of evidence for CO2 warming. 
 In fact, the increases in temperature over the past three decades is nearly 100% due to increased CO2. 
 The only reason we have not gotten even warmer is that pollutants suspended in the air called aerosols are reflecting some of the sunlight and are offsetting the CO2 warming.

6.  It is because of this overwhelming evidence that virtually every climate science expert and every international science academy agrees that humans are warming the climate.”

Scott then goes on to share his vision for America:

“Landing on the moon was certainly a big challenge and we did that!
Fixing the ozone hole was a big problem and we did that!
Solving acid rain was a big problem and we did that!

America is great because when we are faced with a challenge and especially with a threat, we collectively take action and we usually do quite well. The energy revolution is akin to the Internet revolution. I want America to take the lead. If we do, we create jobs, we sell products to China instead of buying them, we have cleaner air and water, greater national security, and energy savings put money directly into our pockets.

Imagine it is the Olympics and the event is the Clean Energy Race. The US track team has always won the big events before and appears to be in the best shape to win again. (Mention the three “we did that’s” above.) However, after the starting gun has fired, the American runner is just jogging while China, India, and others are sprinting. Don’t you want the American to win? There is still time for her to step it up but the window of opportunity is getting shorter every year because she is falling farther and farther behind.”

I thought this was an outstanding tool for climate change communicators, like me.  I asked Scott for his approval to share his message with others.  His generous response: “Feel free to share with all.”

As you read this, I hope you use Scott’s message when you communicating climate change to friends and family members who are undecided or doubtful about global warming.

Thank you, Scott, for this tool.  I promise to use it wisely and effectively with Bob, the 5th grade school teacher, and others when I discuss climate change.