Climate Change: The Threat to Life and A New Energy Future

By Becky Garrison 10-20-2008

Through videos, dioramas, and interactive stations, the American Museum of Natural History's (AMNH) exhibit Climate Change: The Threat to Life and A New Energy Future, explores the different ways we have altered the natural world through our own efforts. What struck me about this exhibit is that it acknowledges that climate change can be attributed to a number of factors. Also, the exhibit makes it crystal clear that there isn't only one solution to this global crisis.

Upon entering the gallery, I encountered a 60-foot-long collage with a red LED (light-emitting diode) line. This panoramic illustration shows how between the years 1600 and 2007, the earth's population grew to 6.07 billion people and fossil fuel use became widespread, increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) from an estimated 274 parts per million to 385. According to the scientific data, the earth's average temperature has risen about 1.8° F over the past 100 years. This temperature will continue to rise much more as long as CO2 emissions continue to increase at current rates.

Next, a series of interactive stations calculates specific, small changes we can make can to reduce our carbon footprint, such as taking mass transit, using energy-efficient appliances, and paying our bills online. I already use a carbon footprint calculator to determine the most carbon-friendly method of travel and found these interactive tools to be very informative.

A stunning visual display documents how climate change and other environmental threats impact the atmosphere, ice poles, ocean, and land. In addition, they illustrate the effects this ongoing devastation will have on the earth. I've seen other earth alert displays that struck me as more sensational than scientific. Yes, the diorama of a polar bear rummaging through a city dumpster looked a bit over the top. But overall, the science undergirding this particular project really hit home.

The final section, "Cleaning Up Our Energy Means a Safer Climate," explores a realm of alternative energy sources while noting the solution to this problem requires a combination of approaches -- taking into account such factors as geographical differences, cost, scale of impact, and the pace of development. Future energy choices depicted include solar power, wind power, nuclear power, and the use of carbon capture and storage (also known as carbon sequestration).

As the exhibit notes, even if the emissions were to stabilize today, the ocean and atmospheric conditions would continue to rise for several decades due to a delayed response to the climate system. Despite this depressing news, I left the exhibit singing a hopeful tune. As Michael Novacek, senior vice president and provost for science at the AMNH, stated in a press release:

"Climate Change presents the compelling scientific evidence for global warming as a result of human activity. At the same time it acknowledges the areas where the understanding of the problem, its impacts, and its solutions are less certain. Yet the basic message is that the problem is real and, given the right decisions and strategies, we have the means to deal with it."

Climate Change: The Threat to Life and A New Energy Future is on display from Oct. 18, 2008, through August 16, 2009. For further information, including exhibition hours and ticket prices, log on to the AMNH's Web site.

For those who cannot make it to New York City to see the exhibit in person, check out their Climate Change Web site for additional facts about climate change, links to educational resources, and other items of interest. Also check out Sojourners' educational guide, Christians and the Environment.

Becky GarrisonBecky Garrison is one of the many voices featured in The Ordinary Radicals documentary.

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