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Panel lays out the facts of climate change in a difficult political environment



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Lee Hamilton, former congressman and current IU professor of practice, answers a question at a panel discussion Wednesday evening in the Whittenberger Auditorium. The panel was an open dialogue about the changing climate in today's divisive political landscape and consisted of NOVA producers Paula Apsell and Doug Hamilton, as well as IU faculty members Ella Ketterson and Lee Hamilton.  Sam Oates Buy Photos

Former congressman and IU distinguished scholar Lee Hamilton said the most efficient way to draw attention to climate change is to let your representatives know you care. 

“If I do five town hall meetings, and none of my constituents bring up climate change, it makes me think that my constituents don’t care,” Lee Hamilton said.

Lee Hamilton spoke at a panel Wednesday evening with two Nova producers and an IU professor of biology. The panel focused on climate change in the context of the politically charged environment. 

According to Nova’s website, it is the most watched prime-time science series on American television. 

“My approach has been to go out there and talk to the smartest people I can find and get to the point where I understand,” Nova producer Doug Hamilton said. 

Nova’s first show that predominantly focused on climate change was the show “What’s with the Weather?” which aired in 2000. 

The new program “Living with the Weather Machine” is set to air April 2018. It will lay out all the facts regarding climate change, Nova executive producer Paula Apsell said. 

Aspell said they aren’t actively trying to persuade viewers one way or the other on climate change, but simply to get the message out.

“We can’t make a film to persuade,” Aspell said. “If we do, then we are doomed. The science has to work as itself as a story.” 

Lee Hamilton said the reason the United States is struggling to be a leader against climate change is in part due to the partisan divide. He said, in general, Democrats largely support all efforts to decrease pollutants, while Republicans generally downplay the importance of such efforts.

However, not all Republicans are a problem, and there are several intelligent Republican voices speaking up against climate change, Lee Hamilton said.

“What impresses me most is that we don’t have a clear coherent strategy for climate change at a national level,” Lee Hamilton said. 

Lee Hamilton said that that his generation and the next will be judged harshly on how they deal with the climate change problem. 

“I hope you are able to convey urgency in your program,” Lee Hamilton told the Nova producers on the panel. 

Ellen Ketterson is part of a team at IU tasked with addressing the climate change problem. She said she found it hard to believe that people struggled to understand climate change.

“I don’t think it’s that hard to explain if we would just talk to each other,” Ketterson said. 

Society’s disregard of of facts is leading toward a rebellion against science that could lead to another dark age, Aspell said. 

“This is what drives me to despair,” Aspell said. “You can’t convince people by facts. What kind of animals are we?”

Doug Hamilton said he has traveled to Greenland, Australia, Florida and Hawaii to talk with experts in climate change. He helps the scientists come up with metaphors and simpler ways to report their findings to bridge the gap between scientists and the average person. 

“We’re trying not to lecture people,” Doug Hamilton said. “We explain questions that were asked by scientist at the beginning of the climate change and walk viewers through how they got their answers. We just lay out the science.”

Lee Hamilton said that pressure needs to be applied by the public.

“When you leave tonight, think what is my responsibility to get this story out and deal with the problem,” Lee Hamilton said. 

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