National Geographic: Six Degrees Could Change the World
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In a special broadcast event, National Geographic explores the startling theory that Earths average temperature could rise six degrees Celsius by the year 2100. In this amazing and insightful documentary, National Geographic illustrates, one poignant degree at a time, the consequences of rising temperatures on Earth. Also, learn how existing technologies and remedies can help in the battle to dial back the global thermometer.
In the 2004 eco-thriller The Day After Tomorrow, director Roland Emmerich dramatized the potential consequences of accelerated global warming. By combining stock footage with computer-generated imagery, the National Geographic special Six Degrees Could Change the World serves as a sort of nonfiction counterpoint. As NASA climate scientist James Hansen cautions, even two degrees Celsius represents a tipping point (from which there is no return). Based on Mark Lynas's Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet and narrated by Alec Baldwin, the program roams from the bushfire-ravaged suburbs of Southern Australia to the drought-stricken farmlands of Nebraska to the rapidly melting glaciers of Greenland. In the process, aerospace engineers, marine biologists, and ordinary citizens share their experiences and predictions. In the end, it's the actual events--rather than the speculative scenarios--that prove most alarming, like the 30,000 deaths that resulted from 2003's European heat wave. While a skeptic might dismiss that tragedy as a statistical anomaly, every continent bears the scars of climate change, like the deforestation of the Amazon and the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. In order to inject some levity, Six Degrees detours to look at a British grape grower who has actually benefited from his country's drier environment and the carbon footprint involved in the creation of that all-American favorite, the cheeseburger (suffice to say, it's considerable). While some of the special effects are hokey--Hansen sitting at a floating desk, for example--the preponderance of compelling data helps to compensate for such lapses. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
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Stills from Six Degrees Could Change the World (click for larger image)
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Since some politicians in the U.S. are still wringing their hands over the localized flooding in New Orleans and New York, and have only taken baby steps or half-measures to deal with a higher sea level, the prognosis for larger political response is in doubt. In contrast, some proven solutions have been described by Harvard Prof. David Keith in his recent book about climate: a combination of nuclear energy to replace coal power stations on a one for one basis, and jets releasing high atmosphere sulfur dioxide (SO2) - an artificial and perennial Mount Pinatubo of sorts.
And of course the film is simplistic. 90 minutes isn't enough for a PhD dissertation or academic paper. The film dramatizes the conclusions of a variety of climate scientists. The book it's based on (Six Degrees by Mark Lynas, who shows up quite a lot in the film) notes over and over that many of these conclusions, particularly the more extreme ones, are highly speculative; no one knows exactly what will happen in extreme conditions. (The film says this too, now and then). Of course. These are possibilities, only. Some scientists think they are serious dangers. It's worth listening to them.
The scariest things in the film for me, though, weren't the dramatic scenes of wildfires and super-storms and massive destruction of the Amazon. One of the scariest was a nice segment showing vinyards in England growing champagne grapes. English champagne! You have to have lived in England forty years ago to know just how wrong that sounds. No one had been able to make wine in England for centuries. Now it's a paying proposition.
The biggest problem in environmentalist films is the pathetic nature of the solutions offered. We are exhorted to drive smaller cars, turn off appliances, etc. How hollow and silly this kind of thing is is shown in the film itself. One scientist has spent years researching the carbon footprint of cheeseburgers in the US. Turns out it is bigger than the carbon footprint of all the SUVs in the US. Clearly we have a problem too big for individuals here, if junking every SUV would have less impact than eliminating one particular kind of meal.
The bottom line for climate change is that it really isn't about religion, ideology, or politics. You can argue about those topics forever, and there will never be proof to convince the true believers on the other side. With climate change, however, it is either happening or it isn't. If it isn't, environmentalists' arguments won't mean anything. But if it is, all the claims of the skeptics, all their advocacy, all the money paid by energy companies and others to support them, will not turn down the Earth's thermostat by a tenth of a degree. Climate change will simply be an accomplished fact. Of course, by then, it will be too late to do anything about it.
Some people will give one star to anything that conveys what climate scientists are saying about global warming. If you have already made up your mind despite the overwhelming evidence, don't bother watching this DVD or reading the book. They make no attempt to prove anything, they simply lay out what scientists are predicting. But if you can at least tentatively accept that what the vast majority of experts are saying might indeed be true, then you will want to know what they are predicting for our future.
Of course you can't expect everything scientists are predicting to be 100% accurate. But I have been following the science for several years, and I can tell you without a doubt that in the vast majority of cases where the scientists were off, they were too optimistic, often by a large amount. Global warming deniers criticize the computer climate model predictions, but in the wrong way. As a whole, they are much more optimistic than they should be, and the reason is that they don't know how to include the various positive feedbacks in their equations. The simplest proof of this is that when they run the models for years in the past for which we have paleoclimatology data, they consistently predict the changes will be slower and less drastic than what actually happened. If they do this for past changes, they will probably do so for future changes too. This DVD has predictions based on these models and on the paleoclimatic data. The scariest predictions come from paleoclimatology, and unfortunately those are probably more accurate. So keep that in mind as you watch it.
The data that has come out since the DVD was made already indicate that some things will be happening sooner than was thought then. For example, arctic sea ice is melting much faster than predicted, and coral reefs are dying off faster than anyone thought possible. Here is another thing to keep in mind. Because of thermal inertia, the albedo feedback that is already in full force, and because of global dimming effects, temperatures are already guaranteed to rise at least one more degree. The Amazon was carbon neutral over the past 10 years, and when it turns into a carbon source, that will cause the temperature to rise another degree. Two to three derees more warming are when other feedbacks are predicted to take over, pushing global temperature even higher. So please realize that we have very little time left to prevent the worst things shown in this DVD. Do whatever you can to convince Congress and the President to treat this threat as more serious and urgent than a world war. If we don't make at least the same quality of effort as we did when fighting past world wars, we will not win this battle, and the consequences will be far worse than if we had lost those wars. We all have a patriotic and moral obligation to do our part, and the most effective thing you can do now is make our leaders do their duty to protect our future.
P.S. Note to the person who thought the DVD showed a nuclear plant's cooling tower: coal power plants also use cooling towers. It would have been better to show a chimney, where the CO2 is released, but the footage probably was from a coal power plant.