Explaining Climate Change: Then and Now

Unchained Goddess (1958) Frank Capra (YouTube)
A Life on our Planet (2020) Richard Attenborough (Netflix)

Although it was produced more than 6 decades ago, “Unchained Goddess” is an easily understood introduction to the weather using animation and dialogue by an actor (Richard Carlson) and a professor (Dr. Frank Baxter). They discuss how different weather phenomena form and how information is gathered to predict the weather. The educational film also includes dramatic footage of some of nature’s most violent weather: hurricanes, thunderstorms and tornadoes.

However, the most important, and all too brief, segment in the movie is at the end when the professor discusses climate change. He says “man” [the term for humanity in those pre-feminist days – Ed.] may be unwittingly changing the world’s climate through the waste products of civilization: factories and automobiles spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and warming the planet. Baxter states that a few degrees of warming would melt the ice caps, raise sea level and flood low lying areas.

It is sad that global warming’s threat to life on the planet has been known for at least 62 years. Humans have had plenty of time to act but chose to ignore and to this day continue to not take this threat seriously enough.

Which brings us to “A Life on our Planet.” TV documentarian Richard Attenborough has spent decades traveling around the world and chronicling earth’s biodiversity. He has seen a disturbing decrease in biodiversity due to human exploitation and destruction of the natural world through overfishing, deforestation, pollution, etc. Attenborough believes that biodiversity is what makes it possible for the planet to thrive, and its loss threatens our very existence.

In 1937 there were 2.3 billion people on the planet, carbon dioxide levels were at 260 ppm and remaining wilderness was 66%. Contrast that to 2020 where the population is 7.8 billion, carbon dioxide levels are at 419 ppm (and climbing) and remaining wilderness is 35%.

Attenborough recommends rewilding the planet by reducing farmland by half, reducing our meat consumption drastically, creating no-fishing zones to allow for sustainable recovery, and moving completely away from fossils fuels.

He provides examples that show biodiversity can be restored. Costa Rica went from 75% rainforest to 25% due to deforestation then back to 50% through concerted restoration efforts. Thirty-five years after the nuclear disaster, Chernobyl’s vegetation and wildlife are thriving. There have been five major mass extinction events since earth’s beginning and increased carbon dioxide levels, along with other factors, played a large role. We are currently living during the sixth mass extinction.

The living world will endure, albeit possibly with far fewer species, but humans cannot assume the same. To save the planet as a habitat for large mammals, including ourselves, requires intelligence, but more importantly wisdom and the will to save ourselves.

Journalist Attenborough said we need to be in balance with nature. Dr. Baxter said that man must live hand-in-hand with nature. They both got it right.

About Mark Darienzo

Mark Darienzo, a natural hazards geologist, became active in the climate movement in 2013. He helped develop Climate Jobs PDX, a committee of Jobs with Justice, to reach out to labor unions about the climate crisis. Mark joined XRPDX in 2020.


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