Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Scout Trip: Canada (Day 1)

Thierry Chopin and Shawn Robinson head down the dock on their way to check on their kelp and mussel rafts that adjoin some of the salmon pens on a fish farm in the Bay of Fundy.
A rope of kelp almost ready for harvest. Completely ready for snacking, and not bad either.
Net pens like these can hold thousands of fish. Unlike most of the fish farm pens in this part of the Bay of Fundy, these pens are filled with cod.

At Yale's Institute for Biospheric Studies

Mark Shelley (Executive Director) checking in today from New Haven, Connecticut, where I will be on a panel with other environmental media producers at the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies. The panel is going to discuss the problems we face in bringing good environmental science in the mass media-- and why there isn't more/better coverage of environmental science.

I'm going to show a short segment from Strange Days that worked well with audiences and shows one way we've tackled the challenge. But it also helps question of why we don't see more/better environmental science coverage: the simple answer is because it's hard to do well. This sequence I'll show was one of the most difficult for us to produce. It involved atmospheric modeling that is trying to simulate and predict the effects of CO2 on major global weather patterns. Mathematical modeling has been a taboo for most television broadcasting as being to nerdy, boring, esoteric. It seems that modeling represents all that is horrible in people's minds about bad science classes (it is both science AND math-- ouch). So we boldly took it on for a couple of reasons: they are critical in our ability to evaluate our role in affecting climate (and other systems), they can provide scientific veracity to the naysayers of climate change, they can help to predict how we need to react and prepare for the future scenarios, and they can be incredibly cool and visually interesting. Here is the sequence:

The sequence ended up working well with audiences, and helped literally tens of millions of people worldwide understand why climate change has the potential to create all kinds of problems for us we might never have imagined. But making that sequence work wasn't easy.

In trying to communicate any environmental science issue, we know from research that it's important to help audiences put complex information into a bigger context. Our role is to turn science into story-- to convey the information in ways that help people connect the dots, to make sense of the details, to help see why the science matters. And doing that right requires navigating a minefield between concepts and what comes out the tv screen. And it involves working with a huge number of players-- funders, production partners, advisory board members, audience research, producers, the scientists, writers, editors, and finally the broadcasters themselves. In every step, we are trying to protect the original concept and take the elements from each that will enhance that concept. As much as I don't like sports analogies, it is much like carrying the football from your one yard line. In this game, however, the defenders want to change the ball, add stuff to it, and in some cases, even take it away. By the time you get over the goal, you hope that what you were carrying is in some way reflective of the ball that you had way back when you started.

That process for Strange Days took three years and an awful lot of money. But when it was delivered, we had the opportunity to present four hours of good environmental science to those millions of people. And we even got away with one very complex atmospheric model.

Scout Trip: Mexico (Day 2)

CANCUN is an invented city that was designed 37 years ago. The Mexican Caribbean is today a tourist destination that attracts 7 million people every year. And the number is growing… Tourists come for the white beaches, the sun, the fun…

In Cancun, every morning shortly after sunrise, workers rake and cart away sea grass that has washed up on the shore to make sure that the beaches are clean for the tourists. (The grasses are actually very beautiful.) Aesthetics of cleanliness are very important -- notice the man's white suit. Ironically, while the beaches are clean, scientists have real questions about water quality in both the marine and fresh water systems. (One day while swimming, David and Ana found themselves in some untreated sewage and quickly made their way to the beach.)

MEET GABRIEL, BORN IN THE YUCATAN AND HAS WORKED IN CANCUN FOR 17 YEARS. GABRIEL'S COLONY...NO WATER, NO ELECTRICITY, AND NO ADDRESSThis is the other face of Cancun: no water, no electricity, no basic services… not even addresses thirteen minutes from the beaches of Cancun.


After a hard workday, the workers leave the ‘Zona hotelera” to go back home. A 6 pesos-bus ride connects both realities.

Dr. Roberto Iglesias-Prieto is concerned with water quality of both the freshwater and marine systems. He's working with colleagues to better understand the underground rivers system of the Yucatan, which is home to the largest underground river in the world. It's suspected that much of the river system is being harmed by pollutants which seep through the soil, enter the rivers, and pollute drinking water before arriving in the sea. To learn more, visit: Dr. Iglesias-Prieto has dedicated much of his life investigating the cryptic lives of corals. And his work is showing how another pollutant, CO2, may be compromising the future of coral reefs the world over by playing a factor in rising ocean temperatures. According to Dr. Iglesias-Prieto, rising ocean temperatures can inhibit coral's ability to build their hard skeletons, and it can lead to a chain of events that eventually leads to starving the coral to death.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Scout trip: Mexico (Day 1)

Ana, Brook and our fixer Claudia plan another day as we have breakfast. Ana gets to work scouting and doing some "on the street" interviews. (Her Spanish is really good and she helps us incredibly, like . . . on the first day when we got pulled over by the police because she didn't have a seat belt on!)
On the first day, after scouting a helicopter and meeting with the pilot, the crew takes a cab ride to meet cave diver and explorer Sam Meacham at his house.

MEET SAM MEACHAM, CAVE DIVER Sam is really cool! His work exploring underwater caves is amazing, and he gives us a bunch of footage and offers to work with us in any way he can. (We like Sam. And Sam likes us.)


David swims . . .
Cozumel, far from the tourist crowds . . .