Film on development and climate change, declined by museum, gets Triangle showings

jprice@newsobserver.comFebruary 3, 2014 

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    If you go:

    NCSU’s Collaborative for Science Communication and the Climate Change & Society Professional Science Master’s program will screen “Shored Up” during its inaugural program “Coastal Conversation: North Carolina’s Rising Sea Problem.” It begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Hunt Library on Centennial Campus. The event is free and open to the public.

    On Thursday, the film will be screened twice at The Full Frame Theater at The Power Plant, 320 Blackwell St., in Durham. The first showing is at 5 p.m., the second at 7 p.m. The panel discussion is at 8 p.m.

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    Full statement by N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences’ Director Emlyn Koster in November, explaining the decision not to show the film “Shored Up”:

    “The museum’s decision regarding the film ‘Shored Up,’ reached via both the views of our program committee and myself, was based on a straightforward criterion: Would this 60-minute film be the best way to present an important issue to our more than 1 million annual visitors? The answer, which we have reviewed with the Coastal Federation and explained to a news media inquiry, was a respectful no. This decision should not be confused with our respect for the important work of the Coastal Federation.

    The museum’s mission – which is uniquely propelled by core questions of what we know, how we know, and what’s happening now – obliges us to deploy the array of resources available to this pioneering museum to engage visitors at all ages and stages of learning. As you may know, our experiences include: seven floors of interactive exhibits (including a prominent theater about climate change), coastal dioramas on coastal and sea level science, research laboratories where the public can ask questions, investigate labs where visitors can perform experiments, a Naturalist Center with hundreds of specimens available for examination, more than 200 species of live animals that qualify us as an indoor zoo, and the multimedia Daily Planet Theater with daily live presentations from scientists from our staff and from around the world.

    When we wanted to present a program on space exploration, we didn’t just show a film. We secured a live downlink with an astronaut (a North Carolinian no less) aboard the International Space Station who answered questions from schoolchildren who were in our auditorium. To educate our visitors about snakes and other reptiles, we hold an annual Reptiles and Amphibians Day with speakers, interactive programs, and exhibitors from around the state. To recall the contributions of, and discuss the controversy that still surrounds, the late Rachel Carson, we partnered with the N.C. Humanities Council to feature an actress who specializes in portraying Ms. Carson followed by a lengthy question period: this unusual approach received a strongly positive audience evaluation. And in one other example, at 1 p.m. today we go live to Cape Canaveral for the launch of NASA’s next mission to Mars with an explanation by, and questions with, our two resident astrophysicists.

    For contemporary issues that connect science with societal innovations and environmental stewardship, the most constructive role for this museum is to be an engaging venue with multiple resources and views. It would be a disservice to the people of North Carolina who generously funded the construction of the museum, and who are joined by other visitors from all other U.S. states and numerous other countries, if we were to maintain that showing one organization’s film constituted a comprehensive approach to an issue as significant and complex as sea level science. Each educational venue of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources – whether this State Museum or a State Aquarium – has a public responsibility to bring mission-related topics to the fore in a way that best applies its particular toolkit. Applying my extensive museum-field experience of successfully illuminating controversial matters for diverse audiences elsewhere, the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences – which I joined earlier this year – is nurturing both the expectation and the effective means to similarly illuminate controversial matters that are relevant to the past, present and future of this region.”

— Triangle residents will get three chances this week to see a documentary film about coastal development and climate change that the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences declined to show last fall.

Environmentalists said that the museum’s decision not to screen “Shored Up” was political, since the museum is funded by the state and conservative lawmakers have been hostile to climate change science.

Museum officials responded that the documentary was simply not a full enough look at the issues and noted that the topic was hardly something they were squeamish about. The museum has exhibits examining climate change and sea-level science.

Now people can decide about the film for themselves. N.C. State University will screen it Wednesday night at the Hunt Library as part of a presentation on the North Carolina coast and climate change that will include a panel discussion.

Then, on Thursday night, there will be two screenings in Durham at the Full Frame Theater, sponsored by the environmental group The N.C. Coastal Federation. There also will be a panel discussion after the second showing that night.

Nathan Freeman, coordinator of NCSU’s master’s degree program on Society and Climate Change, proposed bringing the documentary to campus after viewing it online courtesy of its distributor.

Freeman said the film offers an array of viewpoints to illuminate issues about coastal development and climate change that are too complex to be viewed from just two sides. It goes well beyond the sort of simplistic approaches of some other films about climate change and was the kind of intelligent approach to the topic that he had been looking forward to for years, he said.

“The conversation about climate change has been inarticulate to abysmal,” he said. “This film, though, is like climate change 2.0. It brings in all these points of view and allows a basis for a real conversation.”

One thing it’s not, he said, is the sort of polemic popularized by liberal icon Michael Moore.

The director, Ben Kalina, will be on the panel at both events.

The documentary explores examples from post-Hurricane Sandy New Jersey and North Carolina. Kalina said in an interview that when he started filming that he had expected to contrast the two places, in part because New Jersey had long allowed construction of “terminal groins” – man-made structures that are supposed to protect coastal property – while North Carolina had historically barred them from the ocean side of its barrier islands.

Film explores N.C. issues

As he was filming, though, North Carolina lawmakers began considering allowing groins. They also proposed a law to restrict the use of scientific models for sea-level predictions in guiding state policy on development. Many climate change experts ridiculed that as bad science, and it was mocked on “The Colbert Report.” The film explores those issues.

Kalina said he hadn’t expected to be banned by a museum.

“I tried really hard to make a film that wasn’t about finding heroes and villains, just saying this is what’s going on in our environmental, how we’re seeing sea level rise and how we’re dealing with it,” he said.

On the other hand, Kalina said, it probably shouldn’t be surprising that issues surrounding the film became politicized because this state is where some of the most vigorous current debate over these issues is taking place.

Museum officials maintain that the decision was about how best to present a complex issue. Asked about the decision, a spokeswoman reissued a formal statement the museum’s director, Emlyn Koster, originally released in November.

In part, it said: “For contemporary issues that connect science with societal innovations and environmental stewardship, the most constructive role for this museum is to be an engaging venue with multiple resources and views. It would be a disservice to the people of North Carolina who generously funded the construction of the Museum, and who are joined by other visitors from all other U.S. states and numerous other countries, if we were to maintain that showing one organization’s film constituted a comprehensive approach to an issue as significant and complex as sea level science.”

Another entity of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the state aquarium at Fort Fisher, showed the film, as did UNC-Wilmington.

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