Ten Years On – Thin Ice – The inside story of climate science

New Zealand Science

Ten Years On

By Peter Barrett

Thin Ice – The inside story of climate science was launched world-wide ten years and a fortnight or so ago – Earth Day, 22 April 2013. Over 200 screenings covered all seven continents.

The idea came out of NZ’s first international conference on Climate Change – a 3 day event in Wellington in 2006 with many overseas speakers. The most memorable was Ex-Board chair of Shell Oil, Lord Oxburgh with the message “What keeps me awake at night is the URGENCY of this issue.” Having given numerous talks on the issue for the previous 25 years I could only agree.

There were many great speakers, so when on the 3rd day Simon Lamb, a geologist-film maker friend, then Oxford-based, said over coffee “Someone should make a film where the scientists do the talking”, I suggested we do it together as a VUW-Oxford co-production. But what convinced me this might work was when he introduced me to a friend of his, David Sington, a film producer that he’d worked with on BBC’s “Earth Story” series (1998). Both Oxford Earth Sciences and the VUW Vice-Chancellor for Research supported the plan and committed to a $300,000 budget, with a Memorandum of Understanding managed through VUW’s commercial arm Victoria Link Ltd (VLL).

We spent the next four years planning, and organizing. In Simon’s case this also involved interviewing and filming around 30 scientists working in the field in the Antarctic and on the Southern Ocean, and in venues from Wellington, Oxford, Cambridge, Norwich and Potsdam. It took another three years of on and off editing, and the creation of a website with 39 short video clips on various aspects of the film, along with a Teacher’s Guide and subtitles in 5 languages (with a further seven added since). By December 2012 we knew we had a film to launch.

The response was overwhelmingly positive with a consensus that, at last, the public was able to see the human face of climate science. The aim from the outset was to give people from all walks of the life the chance to see the huge range of human activity and scientific endeavor going in to understanding Earth’s changing climate and to provide confidence in our knowledge of the underlying causes.

Ray Pierrehumbert, planetary physicist from the University of Chicago, and one of the scientists in the film, observed on the Real Climate blog : “One of the many things I like about this film is that it puts a human face on climate science. It’s harder to demonize people when you feel you know them, and realize that in the end they’re not that different from you and your neighbors (except maybe they know more about CO2 and climate than some others you might meet).”

Follow-up screenings included the XII Baikal Film Festival in October 2013, where the film was screed with Russian subtitles and Simon was there to receive the “Best Popular Science Documentary “award, and a screening and panel discussion at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall meeting in December 2013, where an audience member confessed “Thin Ice brought tears to my eyes… It’s so clear [the scientists] are driven. That goes a long way to counter those saying [climate change] is a hoax. How could anyone possibly believe that when they see a film like this?”. Next year at AGU Simon was to receive the Simon Lamb received the 2014 Athelstan Spilhaus Award “for his enhancement of the public engagement in the Earth and space science”.

Soon after the global screening we were discovered by Suzanne Harle, head of Green Planet Films, a California environmental films distributor, who connected us with Stan Marvin, station manager for KRCB North Bay, one of 300 TV stations in the American Public TV network. Stan gave us the chance to screen Thin Ice across the United States in 2015, but only if we raised $US30,000 for editing it down to 56 minutes and cover marketing fees.

Not long prior to this Simon and I realized we needed local help, and VLL, representing the project, arranged for support for Suze Keith as marketing assistant, and Gary Ward as financial advisor. This led to the four of us running a successful 30 day Kickstarter campaign passing the goal only in the last two days, and two of us pressuring an elusive David Sington to deliver the edited version with APT TV by the July deadline. That resulted in 400 broadcasts across the US around the time of the Pope’s visit and his encyclical “Laudate si – on the care of our common home”. I sent him a grateful note for his efforts and two copies of the DVD, by now with subtitles in ten languages, four of which he spoke. I received an appreciative reply.

The Thin Ice Wellington team – Suze Keith, Simon Lamb, Peter Barrett and Gary Ward

Back in New Zealand we followed this up in August 2016 with a launch of the Broadcast version at Auckland’s Academy Cinema in Auckland for schools with Lucy Lawless introducing, and MP Jacinda Arden in the audience. Organised by Auckland entrepreneur Simon Kemp-Roberts this was followed by Simon and I taking part in a week of presentations with Q&As at seven diverse Auckland secondary schools, reaching around 2000 students.

In preparation for this we had developed a For Teachers page of the www.thiniceclimate.org website with a Teachers’ Guide linking the film and 39 short video clips to the secondary school syllabus, and links to learning activities developed by the Science Learning Hub at Waikato University. The film and resources are still freely available from the website with the current 56 minute version introduced by the Wellington SchoolStrike4Climate team.

As Oxford physicist Myles Allen says in the film “our children won’t thank us for the headache we’re going to give them if we don’t deal with this now. Because if we don’t get out of this they will have to, , and every decade we postpone doing anything about global warming is another 100 billion tonnes or so of carbon in the atmosphere”. Myles was saying this in 2010, when CO2 was increasing at 1.9 ppm/year; In the decade to 2020 CO2 increased at a rate of 2.4 ppm/year!!

To purchase a copy of the Thin Ice – The inside story of Climate Science

click here

All proceeds from the sale of this DVD will go towards the New Zealand Antarctic Society’s Archive Fund. The Archive Committee is raising funds to digitize Council records from 1980 to 2000 before lodging with the National Library.

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