Frustration & Despair might be a more apt title than Ice & Brimstone, for episode four of Years of Living Dangerously.
Frustration because convincing some people that climate change is both real, and caused by humans, takes the kind of time we don’t have. Despair because, as we saw in episode two, the chain of cause and effect related to climate change is a self-perpetuating, vicious cycle that will continue to amass speed and power the longer it goes unchecked.
This week, actor and “Years” correspondent Ian Somerhalder takes viewers into the world of Evangelist and climate change activist, Anna Jane Joyner. Her father, Rick Joyner, is a megachurch preacher who doesn’t believe in climate change. Anna Jane sees no conflict between her evangelical beliefs and climate change science. Her father, however, went so far as to cut off her tuition when she chose environmental communications as her college major.
He told Somerhalder, “I was having a moral struggle. I was investing in having my daughter’s mind corrupted. I can’t pay to have this done to my daughter.”
It took Katherine Hayhoe, an evangelical climate change expert from episode one; two former climate-change skeptics, Dr. Richard A. Muller and former Republican Congressman Bob Inglis (who spoke to Michael Grimm in episode three); plus a visit with a Gulf Coast oysterman whose livelihood has been devastated by climate change, before Rick Joyner finally concedes that there might be some truth in what these experts are telling him. He comes around just enough to allow his daughter to address his congregation about its moral duty to preserve the planet.
The despair comes in when we travel to Greenland with journalist and “Years” correspondent Lesley Stahl. With the roar of falling ice or “ice quakes” in the background, we learn that Greenland is melting five times faster than it was just 20 years ago. Stahl tells us,
“And in just one year, 2012, the ice that melted in Greenland and flowed into the ocean was equivalent to the amount of water flowing over Niagara Falls for five straight years.”
The ice melt is yet one more example of climate change’s destructive cycle. When glaciers melt, they change from a bright white that reflects the sun, into a much darker, deep blue lake that absorbs it. Marco Tedesco, a Program Director at the National Science Foundation tells Stahl, “… it’s like wearing a black shirt versus a white shirt. It warms up faster.” And so more ice melts, increasing the dark surfaces, and the atmosphere gets even hotter.
In fact, Stahl notes,
“Over the last 30 years all these new dark surfaces have caused more warming than the carbon dioxide emissions of all the cars on the entire planet.”
Furthermore, she learns from scientist Dr. Heidi Cullen, that if we don’t leave 30 percent of our oil and gas reserves untapped, large parts of our planet will become unlivable.
And if that isn’t depressing enough, as the ice melts in the Arctic, new deposits of oil and gas that previously had been trapped below it are now accessible to voracious energy companies.
Cullen tells Stahl,
“It’s the ultimate irony. As we burn the fossil fuels we warm the planet. The warming melts the ice and that just makes all of these natural resources more accessible for fossil fuel companies to extract, which then further warms the planet. So we’re really locked in this vicious cycle.”
Scenes of glaciers falling apart, learning that their disappearance makes fossil fuels more accessible to greedy energy companies, and watching an environmental activist work overtime to convince her closed-minded father that climate change is real, is a lot of negative information to absorb in one sitting.
Episode four lays on a thick layer of horror without offering solutions, and this viewer questions why so many resources were devoted to someone with such a strong aversion to science. I trudged to bed with a heavy heart.
And yet, I woke the next morning with the kind of renewed resolve that we all must summon when tackling such a monumental challenge. Yes, this is where we are: The ice cap is melting, there always will be people and organizations that value money more than human health, and scientific doubters will always exist.
But just as Anna Jane Joyner refuses to give up on her father and others like him, so must we work harder than ever to do everything in our power to preserve our planet for our children.
We can’t let despair paralyze us. There is much we can do to halt climate change. For starters, please sign this: