Thanks to Mike Sharp, one of the members of our Sunday School class this year (“Curiosity and Questions: Jesus and Science”), I learned about the new NOVA PBS Special, “Polar Extremes.” Here’s a 3 minute preview of the full episode I watched tonight, which runs just under 2 hours long. I watched it on AppleTV using the PBS app. This is an incredible documentary for many reasons, and I highly recommend you check it out and share it with others.

Unless you’re living under a rock, you’re likely aware of the contentious debates which continue in the United States today over climate change and whether or not:

  1. Climate change is happening
  2. Climate change has been accelerated by human activity

Unfortunately, one of many issues our current President is confused about and continues to confuse others about (including elected leaders in our Congress, primarily in the Republican Party) is climate change. The VAST majority of scientists today agree that climate change is not only happening, but it has been directly caused by human activity, and the key to understanding this is looking at carbon dioxide levels in the atmosophere.

The NOVA PBS Special, “Polar Extremes,” does a masterful job not only unwrapping the incredible majesty of our planet’s geological and biological history, but also powerfully visualizing the alternating eras of hot and cold climate change which have characterized our planet for at least the past 500 million years. One of the statistics which stood out for me from the episode was that for less than 25% of our earth history in the past 500 million years, we’ve had our “status quo” of polar ice but large areas of continental zones free of glaciers. This is changing, and changing fast.

One of the most powerful statements of the entire documentary came at about 1 hour and 34 minutes:

Our ice sheets are out of equilibrium with the atmosphere right now, at over 400 parts per million carbon dioxide.

This documentary paints a clear picture to me that no matter what we do now as human beings, because of our release of massive amounts of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, we will continue to move into an era of a hotter planet. This means higher sea levels and warmer temperatures globally. The documentary does not address the volatility of the weather and weather extremes, but from other research, reading, and both documentary viewing and podcast listening I understand that’s also a piece of our future together.

About 33 minutes into the documentary, I loved the exploration which highlighted the temperature variability of our planet over the past 500 years.

At about 1 hour and 4 minutes, I loved the sequence and story of an incredible earth core sample taken from the middle of a Russian lake in the middle of the winter, and all that it revealed and confirmed about our planet’s climate history.

At about 1 hour and 25 minutes, the sequence of showing how carbon dioxide levels are measured from air trapped in the ice from millions of years ago thanks to ice cores taken from the middle of the Greenland ice sheet is amazing.

The documentary states that the last time our earth had this much carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, was 3 million years ago. That same level of carbon dioxide was also present 56 million years ago. We can visualize and predict the future “equilibrium” we are moving to with global sea levels as we look at the historic coastlines from those eras. However, we do not know at this point when we will (or if we will) reduce our levels of carbon dioxide emissions and atmospheric release.

Another issue which is clearly dramatized in this documentary involves permafrost in our arctic and Antarctic regions. Large quantities of carbon in the form of frozen organic materials are trapped in permafrost, but much of that is melting now. As that trapped carbon is released, it will likely accelerate the global heating which is already underway.

Here’s another layer of this discussion about climate change which I find deeply troubling. In 2008, our son and I traveled to Washington D.C. and were able to tour both the White House and the Senate chamber of the U.S. Capitol thanks to arrangements made by the office of one of our Senators from Oklahoma, Jim Inhofe. He was really friendly and visited with our group of Oklahomans for about 30 minutes in his office. It was the only direct contact I’ve ever had with Senator Inhofe before or since.

Here’s the troubling thing: Senator Inhofe is the author of the 2012 book, “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future,” and according to The Center for Responsive Politics, accepts LOTS of campaign donations from fossil fuel companies. When I was teaching STEM in Yukon Public Schools in 2013-15, I clearly remember a discussion / debate / argument I got into with one of our building custodians, who was absolutely convinced that global warming and climate change was a big conspiracy and lie fabricated by liberals in our country. I am positive her views were strongly influenced by our longtime United States Senator, Jim Inhofe.

We have a moral obligation as stewards of our planet to care for it and make decisions both individually and collectively which provide for a common future in which we can THRIVE and not merely survive. Our federal system of governance at the federal level is broken. Because of the Citizens United decision, a host of other factors involving campaign finance laws, and the incredibly polarized political climate in which we live, our elected officials are currently unable to muster the political will necessary to curtail our reckless global climate experiment powered by runaway carbon dioxide emissions.

Our nation unquestionably needs to move toward the goals of The Green New Deal, but doing so will require fundamental changes in the vision, worldview, and priorities of our elected leaders. As parents, educators, and citizens, we need to not only advocate for a more educated and informed electorate, but also a less polarized, vitriolic and dogmatic one.

We need to figure out how to move into the “Star Trek Plus” society. As Yuval Noah Harari exhorts readers in his 2018 book, “21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” we need to reimagine and reinvent governance for our modern age of weaponized social media, mass surveillance, surveillance capitalism, and corporate-purchased laws.

Idealists, dreamers, visionaries and pragmatists, we need you all. The scientific consensus on our global climate trajectory is clear for anyone to understand who has ears to hear and eyes to see. We have so much work to do together, and it begins with learning, education, and empowering ourselves and each other to share our voices and share our perspectives boldly into a world filled with shouting voices and clouds of darkness.

I haven’t been into earth orbit yet and likely will never be able to in this life, but I have “an orbital perspective” none-the-less. We all need that view, and the corresponding political will to act in our shared best interests to care for our planet as best we can. As far as we know today, it’s the only habitable world option we have for our posterity.

Watch the NOVA documentary, “Polar Extremes,” and chalk it up to your personal educational mission to become a better informed steward of planet earth.

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