Knowledge Network: The Tipping Points with Bernice Notenboom

Bernice Notenboom is a climate journalist and adventurer. She does things like ski to the North and South Poles, climb Mount Everest, and a host of other challenging physical and mental feats that involve intensive geographical challenges. Her adventures allow her to meet up with climate scientists in remote locations and find out what is happening. Her recent film The Tipping Points combines her adventure travels with climate science investigations.
Trailer: The Tipping Points

Knowledge Network often sponsors documentaries, in cooperation with other organizations. It then does an advance screening in a theatre prior to the documentary being aired. I have been fortunate enough to see both Liberia 77 (a couple years ago), and recently the Greenland segment of The Tipping Points. Knowledge Network recently brought Bernice Notenboom to Vancouver to introduce her work on The Tipping Points and to do a Q&A after the screening. Notenboom has the rare gift of being able to explain complicated concepts skillfully in a way that makes them easy to understand. For example, an audience member asked about whether the Amazon was a carbon sink or a carbon source, and she explained how the Amazon alternates between these two roles, depending whether the Amazon has suffered a drought or not (drought brings decaying trees, which releases methane, a greenhouse gas).

The Tipping Points refers to six geographical areas of prime importance to the earth’s climate. If the Greenland ice sheet melts, for example, the pervasive impact is frightening to envision. See:

The concept of the “tipping point” is that when a particular phenomenon reaches a certain point, it simply cannot be stopped. The Greenland ice melt is likely to accelerate more and more quickly, and is it really possible to stop that, even if all human-caused carbon emissions ceased immediately? The scientist James Lovelock (whom I don’t recall being quoted in this film, but who is very well-known) has been making alarmist, and unfortunately accurate, predictions for almost 50 years, and says we have perhaps 20 years left, and that there is little point trying to do anything about it. Just enjoy life now.

(My observations follow.) Climate science is by nature imprecise, and the number of variables in the equation is hard to comprehend. Computers assist greatly with modeling, but it remains a difficult task and it is also one where you cannot really rely on intuition to determine if your results are accurate. In journalism, the emphasis has been on surface temperature, which is not actually a reliable measure of global climate change, perhaps because most people understand what a thermometer measures. But huge changes have been occurring in Greenland ice, for example, even as surface temperature has been relatively stable for the past 15 or so years. Ocean temperatures have been rising, with frightening implications.

The Greenland documentary is beautifully shot, and captures the beauty and remoteness of the area, while keeping a strong focus on scientific observations. I have every reason to suspect that the other five segments of The Tipping Points will be similarly engrossing.

Bernice Notenboom seems to maintain an optimism that is possibly hard to justify. She is involved with various organizations, one of which involves children planting millions of trees to fight climate change. She is soon to embark on another expedition to the North Pole to publicize the effects of climate change on Arctic ice.

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