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Communicating Climate Change

Annotated resources for teaching climate change from interdisciplinary perspectives. Contributions are welcomed by the sponsor, NSF EPSCoR, and initial contributors Dr. Y. Houy, UNLV Honors College, and Dr. P. Starkweather, UNLV School of Life Science.

Learning from Entertainment

Popular and entertaining genres are a key component of reaching audiences who do not seek out information on climate change, but rather wait for information on climate and science to come to them. While the term “infotainment” can have a negative connotation for some, it is important to note that informational entertainment has become important for public discourse about a wide range of issues, including discussions of climate science and climate change risks.

Infotainment texts can be used to analyze the pros and cons of informing about climate science and climate change risks using such genres.

Infotainment shows such as The Daily Show and the Colbert Report, which comment on the daily news, can reach audiences who do not follow traditional news sources, and can encourage them to find out more about the issues presented. Comedies such as South Park and The Simpsons comment on many issues, including climate change.

Movie Science Fiction blockbusters such as Avatar or Children of Men do not explicitly tackle climate change, but their plot background is steeped in the assumption that a future earth will deal with the effects of climate change.

Documentaries about climate science and climate change politics, such as An inconvenient truth, The Age of Stupid, and The Island President, and Chasing Ice tend to be watched by those already aware of the issues, but when introduced to a wide range of audience can get awareness and discussions started.

Infotainment can of course also misinform, such as the depiction of climate science in the action movie The Day After Tomorrow, but can still be used as a tool for getting discussions started.

Documentaries

--Chasing Ice

Climate change photographer James Balog documents the effects of a warming planet visually, by creating timelapse photography of diminishing ice packs. This visually arresting and thought-provoking documentary also shows the extreme conditions some kinds of climate change photography and scientific inquiry.

Aronson, J. (Producer), & Orlowski, J. (Director). (2012). Chasing Ice [Motion picture]. USA: Submarine Delux.

--An Inconvenient Truth

Albert Gore, who made making the world aware of impending climate change his mission after being Vice President from 1992 to 2000, received the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, along with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for disseminating information about anthropogenic climate change, and laying the foundation for mitigating measures. As an overview of climate change science and a discussions of possible effects on the earth, it is a good example of how to frame climate change risks using climate science. Such framing will only work with audience members who are not skeptical about science.

Bender, L. (Producer), Burns, S. (Producer), & Guggenheim, D. (Director). (2006). An inconvenient Truth [Motion picture]. USA: Paramount Vantage.

--The Age of Stupid

This documentary-style Sci-Fi narrative interplices original documentary footage of the causes of climate change and of environmental activists today, with a fictional vision of a not-so-distant future in which the earth has been destroyed by climate change.

Gillett, L. (Producer), & Armstrong, F. (Director). (2009). The Age of Stupid [Motion picture]. UK: Spanner Films/Passion Pictures.

--The Island President

The Maldives Island Nation is likely to be wiped out by climate change: Most of its 1200 islands lie only several meters above sea level; a sea level rise of 3 meter would inundate the island nation. This documentary about the efforts of the first democratically elected President of the Maldives after 30 years of despotism (now deposed in a coup d’etat) gives a candid look at the political horse-trading of global climate change policy at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit.   

Cohen, B. (Producer), Berge, R. (Producer), & Shenk, J. (Director). (2011). The Island President [Motion picture]. USA: Samuel Goldwyn Films. http://theislandpresident.com

Popular Movies

--Children of Men

The “making-of” video of Children of Men, available on the DVD, features scientists talking about climate change and its likely effects on human populations, such as mass migrations because of climate-change–induced hardships, and show that these issues provide the background of this SciFi vision of earth’s future.

Abraham, M. (Producer), & Cuaron, A. (Director). (2006). Children of Men [Motion picture]. USA: Universal Pictures.

--Avatar

The SciFi fantasy Avatar has only a few moments picturing a polluted, and crime-ridden, earth in the 22nd century. The background book for the film, James Cameron’s Avatar: An Activist Survival Guide, describes how the earth became a place humans want to leave, and suggests an alternative relationship to mother earth by describing the ecologically sound living habits of the fictional inhabitants of this fictional world.

Cameron, J. (Producer, Director). (2009). Avatar [Motion picture]. USA: Twentieth Century Fox. Wilhelm, M. & Mathison, D. (2009). James Cameron’s Avatar: An Activist Survival Guide. New York: Harper Collins.

Wilhelm, M. & Mathison, D. (2009). James Cameron’s Avatar: An Activist Survival Guide. New York: Harper Collins.

--The Day After Tomorrow

This movie depicts climate scientists trying to make sense of scientific data, and postulates a fictional and highly unlikely scenario in which the increase in greenhouse gases has the effect of producing the sudden onslaught of a new ice age.

Gordon, M. (Producer). Emmerich, R. (Producer, Director). (2004). The Day After Tomorrow. USA: Twentieth Century Fox.

References to Climate Change in Popular Shows

--The Simpsons on global warming: http://vimeo.com/8194671

--Southpark on climate change: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmY29grfvA0

--Colbert Report: http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/397948/september-26-2011/global-warming

--The Tragedy of the Commons: In the following animated you.tube video, the concept of tragedy of the commons and its implication for the environment is briefly, and entertainingly explained: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZFkUeleHPY

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