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Transformational Media and the Mainstreaming of Climate Change
Emily Gertz, 8 Sep 07

Tonight at the Society of Environmental Journalists conference, we have just seen a special screening of "The 11th Hour." Now a panel is discussing the film, and climate change, in the context of reporting on the issue.

Moderator: Tim Wheeler

Heidi Cullen, Climate Expert, The Weather Channel
Leila Conners Petersen, Co-Director, Co-Writer, and Co-Producer, "The 11th Hour"
Reuben Aronin, Global Green
Stephan McGuire, Assistant Producer, "The 11th Hour"
Kat Snow, News Editor, KQED
Bud Ward, Freelance Writer and Journalism Educator

TW: Heidi, as someone who's steeped in science, how do you rate the science in this film?

HC: I thought that it was really nice to see scientists speaking very passionately, on very big themes. I also thought the movie was an interesting [follow-up] to "An Inconvenient Truth."

Friend at Science [who is a science reporter] says he doesn't write about climate any more -- the policy guy does. The issue has shifted.

The film does end there. But in the end it comes back to technology and science. The issue is going to have to go back and forth.

TW: The film states [about the news media] that "Ecological disasters are rarely covered; and when they are they are covered as isolated incidents." Fair comment?

KS: One thing I was thinking while coming here is that we're really good at covering individual events. On climate change, we haven't done a lot of covering values shift. The story of climate change and how to deal with it will be a story of values -- where we are, where America is...one of the challenges for journalists will be covering that story, the story of values.

When I was freelancing years ago, we got to interview theologians on political topics, and it was interesting to bring that aspect into the story. We don't always do that [due to deadline pressures] but that is going to be part of the story of climate change.

TW: Bud, as a message film, how do you rate this as compared to journalism? As journalists, we try to convey problems and report on solutions. This film packed it in in a very dramatic way...we were warned in the film that we were going to turn the planet into Venus, or Mars...is this what it takes to get public action? Should we be thinking on how to dramatize our stories more, or is our job something different?

BW: Early advice I got as a journalist: beware of true believers. So journalists should consider this film, and this issue, with the same rigor as any other story. I've found that this issue more than any in my experience has the power to convert. I think this issue probably can withstand the most aggressive independent journalism, the evidence is strong enough. But it's up to you all to apply that to it.

If it can't withstand that level of scrutiny, I want to hear it, and I want to hear it soon.

If you find yourself being a true believer on the science of this issue, I encourage you even more so to apply your highest standards of journalism to reporting this topic.

TW: What were the best parts of the film?

SMcG: I think the best part of the film was the optimism, that this is a great time to be alive because we are the ones who will solve these problems.

TW: Did anything not ring true? Were there any weaknesses? [Silence from panel.] Hm, maybe this is the time to go to the audience!

Seth Borenstein, Associated Press: Maybe it was just too subtle for me to get the message. I did start to lose count after a while of the things [that bothered me].

As a journalist who has never covered these ecological disasters or made these connections, where did you get your information from if you didn't get it from the media?

[Irony alert: Seth Borenstein has covered climate change extensively.]

Are you producers and Mr. DiCaprio so wedded to the life of no growth and limited capitalism that you're going to forego making over $100K, or not do advertising for your movies?

RA: First of all, let me say that I make a lot less than $100K.

It's not about giving up what we consume, but how we can do that better. How we build our buildings, how we can improve our quality of life. To your earlier question, one of the more hopeful parts of the film is showing what a better world can look like.

One reason [climate change is becoming a mainstream issue] is because of the reporting you've done. [But] I think in fairness, a lot of snapshot news of the day, because of time constraints as much as anything else, are not presenting a full picture, are not making the connections.

SB: We're out there talking to the Jim Hansens, we're out there covering the science, we're covering the real stuff.

Q: Very unequal ratio of male experts to female experts. Surprised me as two directors of the film were women. Here at Stanford [there are women leaders in ecology and environmental issues on faculty]. I'd like to encourage ppl, especially in Hollywood, to look at women as technical experts and to try and be more inclusive.

Mark Schleifstein from Times-Picayune: I have one comment that is nit-picking, but it's time to pick the nit. It would have been nice to hear you guys say in the movie that Katrina is the kind of event global warming can cause. But global warming did not cause Katrina -- and perpetuating that is hurting New Orleans and New Orleanians. It was a man-made failure of Army Corps of Engineers projects, not the weather.

I appreciate that you guys have tried to put a lot of related ideas into one film. But I think there needs to be more serious addressing of how to get the heck out of this situation, and I don't think you guys made it there.

TW: That raises a good question. When we report these things as journalists, we are very careful. The film showed Katrina, heatwaves, wildfires, and it said that [global warming] was the cause. It didn't say this could happen as a result of global warming; it [the cause and effect message] was pretty stark.

SMcG: There are typhoons and cyclones that are hitting other parts of the world; there are people being dispalced by climate change, there are island nations that are being submerged.

We did choose New Orleans because it was American-centric [and film has been made to get message to Americans]. That was an example. I understand the open-endedness of that, and we appreciate it as filmmakers. The point we want to make is that we are changing our climate; that is irrefutable.

KS: A lot of things in the film wouldn't have made it past our editor.

[But it's important to remember that...] This is a film; it's not journalism.

Part of the problem is that with climate change, we're talking about predictions, things that have not happened yet? How do we talk about that as journalists?

One of the guidelines we're going to try to use at KQED is looking at the [reports] from the IPCC. In there, there are some things that scientists agree on with a high level of predictability. [We're going to focus on the things that the scientists feel will will happen with a high degree of predictability.]

RA: I do want to let the audience know that Global Green has done a lot of work in New Orleans. In the film, we're looking at how to inspire some of these solutions to how we build a green city.

Q: I think it's the role of filmmakers making potentially popular films to take up the issue of science literacy. When I hear something in the film that's not quite right, it causes me to question everything in it. There were a lot of facts thrown out without a lot of substantiation for them. I started to blur out; what would the public do?

...also, there was some mismatching of imaging with what was being said.

Theo Schmitz, CEO Vewin -- Association of Dutch Water Companies: In the Netherlands, most of the country is underwater [below sea level]. So we don't call this the 11th hour; we would call it the 12th hour.

We do like to see Leonardo DiCaprio, not just because he's Leonardo DiCaprio, but because he has some experience with icebergs from the Titanic. [Laughter]

You need to use guys like this to bring this message over, so keep on doing it.

You here in California are starting to get worried about water, drinking water in rivers, the ice, the snow in the mountains and rain. In Europe we've been doing that for four or five years, and it's getting worse. So keep on going with this movie; bring this movie to Europe. But keep it short.

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Comments

Thanks Em. Very useful.

Z.


Posted by: Zaid on 11 Sep 07

When is somebody going to make a film about the solutions rather than the problem? It was interesting to see the film, especially since I know so many people who were up on the screen, but they didn't really get to talk about the ways forward. Maybe one fifth of the film approached solutions, a vision of a workable, ecological future that people could take home with them.

Let me say it again: we need a film about the solutions not the problems. We need a film that shows people how to change, one step at a time, the moment they return from the theater.

Harvey Wasserman has a book called _Solartopia_ maybe that has some answers. Certainly, since Ernest Callenbach's _Ecotopia_ and _Ecotopia Rising_ we haven't had a clear vision of an ecological future in the literature.

Here's my crack at it, something that I've published and distributed for years now with little or no interest. Maybe it will get somebody more talented and forceful than myself started on doing what I obviously haven't been able to do.

Your Southernmost Window

A series of half hour programs for TV, videotape, DVD and other digital media

What you can do with one south-facing window, or how to live within a solar budget, including designs viewers can replicate at home to provide heat, light, ventilation, and/or stimulate ecological growth.

Program 1. What You can See from a Window - one square foot of sunlight, orientation to the sun, design principles, window types, glazing, heat loss, infiltration, insulation, heating ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC), air purification, breathing

Program 2. Every Window in the House - window types take 2, radiation and convection, caulking and weatherstripping, drafts and infiltration, how to chart your airflows, how to use them, window insulation, whole house HVAC

Program 3. The Electric Window - solar electricity/photovoltaic/PV, small battery charger, solar/dynamo flashlight radio, one window systems, permanent emergency capacity, battery switching and your car

Program 4. Hot and Cold Windows - windowbox heaters, passive and active ventilators, advanced airflow usage, active and passive water heating, your northernmost window, a nod towards refrigerators and low heat differential heat pumps

Program 5. The Greenhouse Window - windowsill gardens, bubbling out/bubbling in, heat storage, aquaculture, vermiculture, and ecological housekeeping, the neighborhood

Program 6. Most Windows in Town -what if everybody did it?, the economics of sunlight, systems thinking from community to region to country to world, globalization of solar physics


Posted by: gmoke on 11 Sep 07

George, there is hope: last month The Science Channel ran a great series -- five episodes over five days, each one focused on a different problem and potential solutions. It was really well done, entertaining and also very informative without being either condescending, or too geeky-wonky.

The Sundance 'the green' series also brought a ton of good material to the screen.


Posted by: Emily Gertz on 13 Sep 07

Yeah and "This Old House" did a solar retrofit to the highest LEED standards in Austin TX this year. Their second solar house in the close to two plus decades of broadcasting. (All the solar installed on the first, a mansion in Brookline, has been junked by successive owners, or so I was told.)

I have my own small scale solar videos up on youtube too but I fear it's too little too late and none of it fits into a comprehensive view of a positive, possible, practical future.

I'm glad all this stuff is out there but we need so much more. When every house on "This Old House" includes solar, when "Extreme Make-Over: Home Edition" is including solar and deep energy conservation in every project, when Oprah's Favorite Things are all green, then I'll stop kicking.


Posted by: gmoke on 13 Sep 07

Yeah and "This Old House" did a solar retrofit to the highest LEED standards in Austin TX this year. Their second solar house in the close to two plus decades of broadcasting. (All the solar installed on the first, a mansion in Brookline, has been junked by successive owners, or so I was told.)

I have my own small scale solar videos up on youtube too but I fear it's too little too late and none of it fits into a comprehensive view of a positive, possible, practical future.

I'm glad all this stuff is out there but we need so much more. When every house on "This Old House" includes solar, when "Extreme Make-Over: Home Edition" is including solar and deep energy conservation in every project, when Oprah's Favorite Things are all green, then I'll stop kicking.


Posted by: gmoke on 13 Sep 07



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