Penn State

Penn State climatologists screen ‘Before the Flood,’ talk climate change

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Leonardo Dicaprio, Piers Sellers and Fisher Stevens, from left, attend the premiere of National Geographic Channel’s “Before The Flood,” at the United Nations on Oct. 20. A panel of Penn State climatologists screened the film and discussed climate change Wednesday at Penn State.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Leonardo Dicaprio, Piers Sellers and Fisher Stevens, from left, attend the premiere of National Geographic Channel’s “Before The Flood,” at the United Nations on Oct. 20. A panel of Penn State climatologists screened the film and discussed climate change Wednesday at Penn State. Brad Barket/Invision/AP, file

A panel of Penn State climate scientists gathered at Penn State Wednesday night to screen and discuss the climate change film “Before the Flood.”

The film, produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and Fisher Stevens, is a feature-length documentary released in October, which takes DiCaprio on a global tour of the front lines of climate change.

Twenty-five minutes into the film, Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science at Penn State, was on the screen with DiCaprio discussing the dark reality of the effects of climate change.

At the panel, Mann said that DiCaprio, like many Americans, exists in a depression because of the catastrophic global damage projections the science points to.

One of the main segments of the film highlighted ways in which the scientific community is dealing with climate change. The film, and Mann, pointed out that more than 97 percent of the scientific community has reached a consensus that climate change is real, man-made and an immediate threat to the health of the planet. But along with a dose of negative scientific projections, came a cautious optimism from the entire panel.

In the film, billionaire and renewable energy investment pioneer Elon Musk and DiCaprio walked through the Gigafactory outside of Sparks, Nev. The factory harnesses solar power to charge lithium ion batteries that, according to Musk’s comments in the film, can eventually transfer the entire world to a sustainable energy source.

“I’m a big fan of Elon Musk,” Mann said. “I thought that it was nice that there was that segment that does look at the reasons for optimism, that we can tackle this problem. And so, It’s not all doom and gloom.”

While there was a positive tone to much of the conversation and the panel did praise the film, there were a few climate change culprits the scientists had hoped to see discussed.

Erica Smithwick, director of the center for landscape dynamics at Penn State, said one of the key components of climate change is the increase in wildfires. According to Smithwick, in 2015 the U.S. government spent $2 billion on wildfire suppression because the fires are releasing large amounts of carbon that have been stored in the permafrost for thousands of years.

After taking the time to explain in detail the emerging issues surrounding climate change, the panel ended the discussion with a suggestion for citizens who want to become involved in fighting climate change.

“Indeed we are less than a week from an election, it’s not coincidental that the film was shown shortly before this next presidential election,” Mann said. “It is something that people should think about when they go to the voting booth.”

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