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UAA Film Screening a Call to Action on Climate Science

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Several environmental groups held a free screening of the film “Disruption” at the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) student union on Wednesday evening.

“Disruption,” which is available online, is a short film about climate change and the build up to the United Nations Climate Summit held last month in New York.

Wednesday’s event was co-hosted by UAA’s Sustainability Club, Alaska Pacific University’s (APU) Students Against Violating the Earth (S.A.V.E.) Club, and the Anchorage Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

“Disruption” briefly catalogues the history of climate science, beginning with Joseph Fourier’s discovery of the greenhouse effect in 1824, continuing with John Tyndall’s 1849 discovery that carbon dioxide (CO2) specifically is a “natural thermostat” and Charles Keeling’s measurements of CO2 on Mauna Loa, begun in 1958. Keeling proved that one of every four CO2 molecules in the atmosphere is present due to human activity.

The film also documents the recent history of failed climate policy following James Hansen’s 1988 testimony before Congress. This includes ineffectual meetings in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and Copenhagen in 2009. The film warns that citizens must apply pressure before the upcoming round of climate talks in Paris next year.

Interspersed with these and other historical examples of social change are scenes of preparation for the September 21 People’s Climate March, which drew 300,000 participants in New York alone.

Photo by South Bend Voice, Creative Commons Licensing.

“All the big social movements in history have had people in the streets,” says Keya Chatterjee in the film. “[E]ven more recently, on climate issues, our big successes have happened when people left their homes and went out into the streets.” Chatterjee is Director of Renewable Energy for World Wildlife Fund.

Co-director of Mothers Out Front, Vanessa Rule, states the point similarly, saying, “Change doesn’t happen because people decide to stay home and click ‘Like’ on Facebook; change happens because people like you and I [sic] decide to get involved.”

Historical examples cited in the film are the first Earth Day in 1970, which the film suggests spurred Nixon to action on things like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. The film credits similar mobilization for disruption of the Keystone XL pipeline. Keystone XL would move tar sands oil — oil that requires tremendous input of energy to extract — from Canada over the Ogallala Aquifer in the central U.S.

Keystone XL is being built by TransCanada, the same company with which the state of Alaska has partnered to build a gas line.

“Disruption” discusses the difficulties of eliciting an emotional response and its accompanying call to action using rational science. The film itself addresses the dilemma by using typical alarmist tactics, like running the opening credits over Hurricane Sandy footage and playing ticking clock noises in the background at one point.

These documentary affectations will do little to convert naysayers. Though Ricken Patel, President of Avaaz, talks about the very real threats of melting ice caps, Arctic methane, and ocean acidification, he comes across as unconvincing against a background of threat music and ticking clocks.

Because the film is so short, there simply isn’t time to properly address the science. Hence, Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, seems more credible when he makes the argument that climate change is more a social justice issue than an environmental one.

As does Heidi Cullen, Chief Scientist at Climate Central, when she explains human inertia on climate change is a result of a “finite pool of worry.” People naturally seek to deal with the most immediate problem. For people in suburbs, insulated from the natural world as McKibben says, climate change does not make it to the top of the triage list.

 

Panelists Point to Victories

Perhaps “Disruption” does not seek to convince the unconvinced, but rather to spur those who accept climate science to action. The co-hosts of the screening certainly were taking that approach. There were letter to the editor forms for the roughly 30 attendees to fill out and examples for them to reference when doing so. There was also a petition to sign for delivery to the UAA vice chancellor to encourage a recommitment to the university’s environmental goals.

After the screening, members of a panel discussed recent climate victories large and small. Monica Marshall, President of APU’s

Photo by the UAA Sustainability Club.

S.A.V.E. Club, said that APU nearly outsourced its food prep last year to a supplier that would have relied heavily on packaging. Pushback from S.A.V.E. and the student body kept food at APU predominantly fresh and its preparation in the hands of dining staff.

Several audience members mentioned the Home Energy Rebate program funded by the Alaska legislature as an effective local tool for reducing environmental impact.

George Donart of Citizens’ Climate Lobby said that one of the goals of his organization is to put a price on carbon in order to reduce what the film calls “negative environmental externalities.” These are costs not borne by energy extractors, but by the public that must clean up oil spills or pay for increased health care costs related to polluted air and water. Donart said because the price of carbon is too low, it is being overproduced.

In addition to being a leader in reducing car emissions and pollution around ports, California has a cap and trade policy in effect, said Donart. Taxing carbon, like California does, would make solar and wind more competitive. Coal, Donart said, would be dead in seven years. Fears of an economic impact were overblown, he said, because coal only employed about 700,000 people nationwide, roughly the same number already employed by the wind and solar industries that would grow to compensate.

Laura Comer of the Sierra Club agreed states have taken the lead on climate change and cited the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to reduce power plant emissions by 30 percent as an opportunity for them. She said the public comment deadline for that plan has been extended.

Comer tied the European Union’s recent announcement to reduce emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels to the strength of the People’s Climate March.

All the panelists saw discussion over an Alaska gas line as a step backward. Donart said it would yield the most expensive natural gas in the world. Any economic boom from the project would be solely in the pipeline’s construction. Comer felt that Republican Gov. Sean Parnell and his independent opponent Bill Walker sound “one and the same” and wondered, “Where can my vote go?”

Participants agreed there was lots of good news on the renewable energy front. Donart said a benefit of renewable energy is that, unlike carbon fuels, the price is fixed. For example, the Bradley Lake hydropower project produced some of the most expensive energy when it was first constructed, but now is some of the cheapest, said Donart. Meanwhile, gas costs continue to rise.

15 percent penetration of the market was the tipping point for renewables, Donart said, and solar doubles every two years.

In response to a question about how to get more involved to influence climate change, A’Lena Sorenson of UAA’s Sustainability Club encouraged people to sign the petition to the vice chancellor.

Donart said Citizens’ Climate Change would have their next meeting Saturday, November 1, in UAA’s Rasmuson Hall room 220 at 8:30am. These meetings usually involve an international conference call with an environmental expert.

Craig Tuten moved from Florida to Alaska with his wife Rachael in 2006. He studied history at Florida State University while everybody else was having a good time. It is hard to list a low-wage job he hasn't briefly held.

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