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In the Years of Living Dangerously, Part 2

Posted on 8 September 2014 by John Abraham

This episode brings us away from the world of hard science a bit and into a realm of personality and ideology. The episode provides an intimate view of family relationships that are repeated across the nation and the world. Dinner table conversations that are played out with different characters, in a different cities, but with similar results.

This is the setting for the next Years of Living Dangerously episode I am reviewing. In part of this episode, we travel with Ian Somerhalder to South Carolina where we meet a young, smart, and dedicated Anna Jane Joyner. She is the daughter of megachurch leader Rick Joyner who, shall we say, does not share her views on climate change.

We quickly see that Anna has indefatigable courage and persistence. Not only by her dedication but because her pathway has lead her into the heart of the unconvinced. It has led her on a path of conflict with her own father. It no doubt has shaken her entire life. Who else can say that?

Anna works for the growing and ever important creation-care movement. This movement just makes sense. It is an appeal to people of faith, often evangelicals, who are notably sceptical about human-caused climate change. Her appeal is based on a biblical message that we are to be stewards of the Earth.

Her creation-care effort faces an uphill battle. We hear (what we already know), that there is a general scepticism amongst evangelicals regarding science. Much of that stems from the reluctance to accept evolution. What we have learned from psychology is that when people have a deep-seated emotional resistance against an idea, bombing them with facts and data probably isn’t sufficient to change their minds. Anna clearly knows this, she approaches the problem from many complementary directions. She hopes that if she can convince her father, it will be a big step forward for the creation care movement.

She and Ian enlist the help of Bob Inglis, former conservative elected representative who champions solutions for climate change. Next, Anna brings her father on an airplane ride to the gulf coast where they meet people who live and work in the waters; we learn about climate change impacts on sea food harvests. We meet well-known climate scientist/evangelist Katharine Hayhoe who approaches the problem from a religious perspective. Finally, Anna, Ian, and Rick meet with Richard Muller. He is known as a former sceptic who was funded in part by the Koch brothers to remake temperature histories – only to find that yes, NASA, NOAA, and the Hadley Center had done their work correctly – the Earth is warming.

Each of these trips and meetings provided a different angle to approach the problem of climate change. Throughout the episode, it was clear that Rick was at times deeply contemplative, at other times, unreceptive. We also see Rick come forward with his own readings, his own questions – honest and thoughtful questions. What I saw was a father wanting to see the world through his daughter’s eyes but unable to. I saw a dedicated father who took time to travel with his daughter, to meet experts on this topic, but remained unconvinced.

I wish I could tell you in the end Rick was able to see the science for what it is, uncolored by politics, emotion, and religion. But I can’t. What I can tell you is watching their heartfelt conversations made the difficulty of this problem stand out. Watching this was painful.

In the end, Rick’s daughter gave a sermon at their church on the need to be caregivers of this planet. It was hard to know what the reception was but even though Rick is unconvinced, you can tell he was proud. I was extraordinarily impressed by Ian Somerhalder. He did his job by staying out of the light – by creating the space for the father-daughter conversations to unfold. He obviously understands the science of climate change but was enlightened enough to let others discover for themselves.

Finally, both Anna and Rick were courageous. Who would allow a film crew to capture our intimate family moments like this? We are left with a quote that is worth repeating. Anna tells her father and us, “You don’t want to be on the side that said I had a chance and I didn’t do anything.” I encourage people to read Anna’s open letter to her father published this spring at Huffington Post.

The second part of the show follows Lesley Stahl who travels with Marco Tedesco. Standing near huge ice shelves, they hear ice quakes as they watch the perimeter of Greenland collapse. Their observations are matched by real research which has quantified the amount of mass being lost by the world’s large ice sheets. Lesley then talks to Dr. Heidi Cullen who articulates the future decisions we have to make in terms of risk and personal values.

I expected more hard science but was pleasantly surprised when Lesley embarked on a journey to learn about Arctic exploitation. As ice melts in that region, more areas are available for fossil fuel extraction. The decision makers and the holders of territory in the north do not seem intent on incorporating climate change into their decisions in any meaningful way. The huge investments being promised and made are drowning out concern over the environment.

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