By Katie Alvord*
HOUGHTON -- A crowd of about 80 people filled Hesterberg Hall at Michigan Tech University on Thursday, Feb. 17, to watch Weather Report, an hour-long documentary about changes already occurring around the world due to global climate warming.
Joan Chadde (standing, right), Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative co-director, introduces Sarah Green (far left), Michigan Tech University Department of Chemistry chair, at the Green Film Festival showing of the documentary Weather Report on Feb. 17 in Michigan Tech's Hesterberg Hall. Green presented the film and facilitated a discussion afterwards. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)
The film was part of the Green Film Festival co-sponsored by the Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative (LSSI), the Michigan Tech University Center for Water and Society, the Keweenaw Land Trust, and the Keweenaw Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. LSSI Co-director Joan Chadde introduced the event, along with Professor Sarah Green, Michigan Tech University Department of Chemistry chair, who facilitated discussion.
Highlighting floods in India, droughts in Montana, spreading deserts in China and melting ice in the Arctic, Weather Report included dramatic footage of landscapes that are changing as global average temperatures increase.
The film began with views of melting ice floes in Nunavut, Canada, and interviews with Inuit residents of the area.
"We the Inuit of the Arctic are witnessing first-hand the melting of this planet, because we are a people of the ice," said one Inuit elder.
"Since the 1970s, we have had warmer weather," said another Inuit resident interviewed in the film. "The permafrost has been melting."
Much Inuit hunting territory on ice floes has thawed into the sea, the film explained.
According to one of the Inuit people interviewed, "These things are unfolding a lot faster than we expected."
Weather Report also included footage from Africa explaining how food crises in parts of that continent have tripled due to drought. The film interviewed three heavily-armed men in the south of Sudan who spoke of conflicts over water because rains don’t come now when they should.
"It’s climate change," said one.
The film concluded with a call for people to reduce carbon emissions.
About half of those who viewed the movie stayed on after the show for refreshments and a discussion led by Professor Sarah Green.
In the Atrium of Michigan Tech's Hesterberg Hall, Sarah Green (standing on stairway) leads a discussion following the Feb. 17 showing of the film Weather Report, a documentary on climate changes around the world.
Green distributed a list of discussion questions, along with a chart of "Stabilization Wedges -- 15 Ways to Cut Carbon," compiled by Princeton University and accessible at www.princeton.edu/wedges.
She noted that the carbon-cutting techniques on the chart were not new technologies, but were measures -- such as increasing energy efficiency in cars and buildings -- that might be used to cut greenhouse gas emissions right away.
"Whether the political will can get us there is really the question," she said. "It’s a political issue -- it’s not a technological issue."
Green remarked that because human-caused climate change is already in motion, two types of solutions will be important in addressing it: mitigation -- reducing greenhouse gas emissions to keep predicted climate shifts from getting even worse -- and adaptation -- rebuilding communities so they can handle changes that can no longer be mitigated.
"The Dutch are busy shoring up their dikes," she said. "Most experts say we should plan for a three-foot rise in sea level this century, but actually we should consider the possibility of even a six-foot sea level rise."
Discussion participants expressed agreement that global climate change is a growing problem. Their suggestions for solutions ranged from population control to providing
incentives for emissions cuts to reducing energy use with lifestyle changes. Some, though, expressed uncertainty about whether such solutions could be enacted.
Barry Pegg, Michigan Tech professor emeritus in Humanities, raised the question of population control, mentioning China’s one-child policy but questioning whether it would really stabilize their population in less than 100 years.
Green acknowledged the importance of the issue.
"Deciding how many children you’re going to have is probably the most profound impact we have [on a personal level] on the climate," she said.
One woman expressed her belief that people will be unwilling to address climate change until they start hurting in some fashion.
"Americans are not uncomfortable," she said, contrasting Americans with people in the Middle East who are now calling for sweeping changes in their governments.
Ellis Adams from Ghana, a Michigan Tech graduate student in environmental policy, said he believed governments should create incentives for people to care more about the environment because, without receiving benefits, very few people are motivated to do something to solve environmental problems.
"But if I get a benefit -- if there is an incentive for me to move away from buying gasoline to [buying], let’s say, a hydrogen car -- how do I benefit? And that is solely a government issue," Adams noted. "Create incentives, let people benefit from [positive action] and that will push people to act a particular way and help solve the problem."
A teacher who took part in the discussion said he had trouble getting students to learn climate change science, let alone engaging them in solutions to the problem.
"You have this discussion and only ten percent of the class will nod their heads and think that this idea of climate change is even real," he said. "How do you talk to them about a lifestyle change … if they don’t think it’s real?"
Some suggested telling local stories to demonstrate climate change realities. Chassell resident Connie Julien shared a story about a neighbor of hers who, following a longtime family tradition, had fished three miles out on the Lake Superior ice for several weeks every winter until recent years.
"He wasn’t able to do it the last 10 years of his life because it just didn’t freeze that far out," Julien said. "About five years ago [the length of time he could ice fish] went down to about two weeks, and after that it went down to about ten days, and then it went down to a week, and last year he wasn’t able to go out on the lake at all."
Houghton resident Candy Peterson suggested using the Internet to strengthen the political will to address climate problems.
"The democratic nature of the Internet can pull us together to do good things," she said.
The Rev. Sydney Morris, Keweenaw Unitarian Universalist Fellowship pastor, had this comment on the Green Film event: "It is important to come together to look at the extent of the problems we face, and also to remind ourselves of the positive effective efforts being made all around the world. Perhaps we are not at a tipping point in terms of solutions, but there is an amazing amount of creativity and hard work going on. Some days it's difficult, but we really must keep our spirits up!"
Film series organizer Joan Chadde closed the evening by summing up audience comments.
"From what I heard here, I think it’s all really great that we do take personal action and make changes in our lives, but I think we know that is not enough, that we need to go further, become more involved," Chadde said. "We all will have to decide how we want to do that, but we don’t think that just changing our own personal lives is going to be enough."
The next event in the Green Film Festival will be a showing of Build Green on Thursday, March 17, again at 7 p.m. in Hesterberg Hall. Long-time local builder Dave Bach will serve as discussion facilitator for that film.
* Keweenaw Now guest writer Katie Alvord is the author of three prize-winning articles on climate change in the Lake Superior Basin. Click here to read about her journalism award and links to these articles, which were published on Keweenaw Now in 2007.