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Museum hosts exhibit on climate, energy

A new exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History aims to explain what people have done to cause global warming, what impact it is having and what can be done to fix it.
Climate Exhibit
Students inspect a display Tuesday at the press preview of the American Museum of Natural History's climate change exhibit.Mary Altaffer / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The red line starts low to the ground, showing how much carbon was in the atmosphere before the Industrial Revolution. As the timeline moves forward and the world becomes more industrialized, the line goes up, up and up to modern times, when it's above visitors' heads.

Starting with that opening image, a new exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History is trying to help viewers understand what people have done to cause global warming, and what impact it is having on the planet and what people can do to fix it.

"Climate Change: The Threat to Life and a New Energy Future" opens Saturday at the museum and runs through August 16.

Museum President Ellen Futter said the exhibit was balanced between making people comprehend what a potentially dire, issue global climate change is and helping them figure out what they, their communities and their countries can do.

"We want them to understand how serious, and urgent really, this problem with climate change is but also that there are solutions to it," she said.

"What we have to do is convert the ingenuity that created the Industrial Revolution and accidentally caused global climate change and use that ingenuity and apply it to finding solutions."

The show starts with a section on fossil fuels, and then looks at how the Earth has become warmer as more greenhouse gases have ended up in the atmosphere. Another section lists the kinds of actions people can take on an individual level, from paying bills online to avoid the waste of paper statements to not drinking bottled water to using cold water instead of hot for laundry.

Other parts of the show look at how the atmosphere, polar ice, the oceans and land are all affected, using models and interactive components to make the point. In one section, a model of lower Manhattan is partly flooded to show what would happen if sea levels rise as polar ice melts. Another section has a model of dead coral, bleached white, that shows the risks of ocean warming.

The show ends with a display of some alternative energies, from solar power to nuclear to wind. Visitors are invited to write down their thoughts and reactions before leaving the exhibit.

Ed Mathez, who co-curated the exhibit along with Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University, said it was a complicated subject to make into an exhibition, but he hoped it would answer any confusion the public had over the issue.

Oppenheimer said the exhibit shows that the response has to come on different levels, from the individual to the government, and that people would be inspired to want their governments to act.

"I hope it would empower people to go out of here and demand leadership," he said.

Climate Exhibit
A display showing the water level around Lower Manhattan is photographed during the press preview of the \"Climate Change: The Threat to Life and a New Energy Future\" at the American Museum of Natural History, Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2008 in New York.Mary Altaffer / AP

The exhibit had a number of American and international collaborators: The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, The Field Museum in Chicago, the Saint Louis Science Center, the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage in the United Arab Emirates, Instituto Sangari in Brazil, Junta de Castilla y Leon in Spain, the Korea Green Foundation, the Natural History Museum of Denmark, and the Papalote Museo del Nino of Mexico.

The show will travel extensively once it leaves New York, including to many of these locations.

Futter said the international collaboration in putting it together reflects the understanding that climate change is a planetary issue. It "really speaks to the fact that this is a shared concern," she said. "Increasingly, we are beginning to understand that the driving issues of our time are ones that exceed geographical boundaries, that require increased coordination and cooperation."