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Communications Specialist

Laura Faye Tenenbaum is a science communicator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and teaches oceanography at Glendale Community College.

The zombie apocalypse is nigh
April 2, 2014
10:31 PDT
The zombie apocalypse is nigh

A scene from HBO’s "Vice: Greenland Is Melting."

Gavin Schmidt, a colleague of mine at NASA, was interviewed about the severity of climate change on an episode of HBO’s "Vice" that also covered the topic of Greenland’s melting ice sheet.

“If we don’t cut carbon emissions by 80 percent,” Schmidt said, “we’re talking about a scenario where sea level rise is accelerating.” He went on to point out that, “our emissions are going up, not down.”

HBO’s "Vice" is honest and raw, which is the exception, not the norm. Hard-hitting, accurate information about the actual severity of the climate problem is practically non-existent in the media.

The program scared me, and part of me wishes that the rest of society would finally get alarmed about climate change, too, if only it would help move us towards action. Yet I wonder how many people even managed to view this show.

Like many climate scientists and climate science communicators must feel, I’m sick with frustration. I want to shout, “Hey, people of Earth, pay attention! We have collectively changed the planet; it’s a done deal!"

But I also wonder if having another fear over which to get freaked out is what our society needs. We’re so copiously plastered with gun violence and war that the term “prepper” was recently coined to refer to people preparing for Doomsday. (No wonder zombie apocalypse is the new black.) So climate change gets thrown on the heap with pandemics and nuclear annihilations, and we all scoff, “whatever.”

On top of all that, people I know are freaking out over bankruptcy, foreclosure and barely making their rent. How dare I tell them that their personal economic crisis is less dire, less real than the global crisis of climate change?

Last week I presented and organized ClimatePalooza 2014, a collaboration between NASA’s JPL and USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism that hopes to foster conversation about climate change. We purposely tried to make the event sound less frightening and more inviting. We had music and comedy sketches lined up alongside science talks, booths and discussions about taking action. Yet I question this more light-hearted approach as much as I question a fear-based one.

Climate change is upon us, and it's happening now. The time for debates and fun times has passed.

When creating a message, it’s exhausting trying to find a balance and getting viewers to pay attention without scaring them away.  It’s exhausting trying to make a difference. I already have a fuel-efficient vehicle and solar panels, I already write for a climate change website. I walk more, buy local, compost. What more can a person do by themselves? I know we all individually and collectively could be doing more. What do you think?

As always, I look forward to reading your comments.

Laura



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