October 15, 2008

Popular NY Museum Tackles Climate Change Controversy

The American Museum of Natural History in New York is going into politics again this week with a new exhibition on climate change that curators say is an effort to separate fact from fear.

Just three years after it's controversial evolution exhibition on Charles Darwin, the popular American museum is mounting a show called "Climate Change: The Threat to Life and A New Energy Future."

Comprising hundreds of scientists and policymakers, a U.N. climate panel found last year with 90 percent certainty that climate change is spurred by human activities, specifically the burning of fossil fuels that release climate-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Still, many remain skeptical that human activity is responsible, including Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who cast doubt on the cause of global warming during a debate this month.

"When I proposed the exhibition a few years ago, I was frustrated that public awareness did not match the alarm felt by scientists," said Curator Edmond Mathez.

He spoke at a preview of the exhibition that opens on Saturday and runs in New York through August 2009.

"The news media was presenting climate change as a controversial issue, which is complete nonsense, it's not (controversial)," Mathez said.

He said he was sure there are some people that will condemn it out of hand. "What's important to me as a scientist is my colleagues will walk through here and say we did it correctly, that we present the issue objectively."

Scientists are inclined to be skeptical, so it is remarkable that so many agree on the causes of climate change, Mathez said.

"There's always a group of people that are simply not going to believe it, and it's not clear to me that many of those actually know very much about the science."

He believes Palin's comments about questioning the cause of climate change "border on irresponsible."

The museum has a history of tackling issues at the nexus of science and society, according to Museum President Ellen Futter.

"Although scientists ... still can't predict with precision exactly which impacts will take place where, how frequently and to what degree, there is now overwhelming scientific consensus, 90 percent of scientists agree, that there is an urgent need to address the problem," Futter said.

The exhibit explores the causes and effects of climate change as well as possible ways to slow it down, such as boosting the use of nuclear, wind and solar power.

Included are interactive displays for visitors to pledge to make changes in their behavior, such as buying low-energy light bulbs, recycling waste or bicycling to work.

The exhibition will soon travel to Spain, Denmark, Mexico and Abu Dhabi.


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