This past Friday I had the privilege of giving the Climate Reality Project slideshow (an updated version of the slideshow that formed the basis of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”) to 100 6th graders at PS 171 up in East Harlem. The event was the brainchild of Pamela Ito at the Horticultural Society of NY. ” The Hort” provides a series of programs to NYC public schools that allows kids in underserved neighborhoods to get much-needed exposure to plants, horticulture and greenery.
Trained by Vice President Gore and his team in San Francisco last August, I’ve given the slide show to a wide variety of audiences, from church groups to ad agencies, from a law firms to library groups. All have been engaged and interested to one degree or another. But the 6th graders at PS 171 were special. On a stiflingly hot Friday (the AC was on the fritz), with summer beckoning, these kids were INTO IT. And sports played an integral role! Here’s how:
- HOCKEY STICK: We showed that CO2 in the atmosphere was at stable, safe-for-life levels for thousands of years until humans started to burn fossil fuels in ever-increasing amounts beginning with the Industrial Revolution. This led to atmospheric CO2 levels (and then temperature) shooting up roughly in the shape of a hockey stick. We then discussed the idea of “hockey sticks” in general–a pattern, a trend remains roughly the same until an outside force, an externality results in a dramatic change. “Where else in the world could we observe ‘hockey sticks’?”, I asked?
- STEROIDS AND THE MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL HOME RUN RECORD: One high profile example was the single season home run record in baseball. From 1927-1960, the single season record was 60. I asked who owned that record. Hands shot up throughout the auditorium and a young fellow yelled out “Babe Ruth!” Then, in 1961, the record inched up to 61 (no one knew that it was Roger Maris who broke The Babe’s record) but the season was 8 games longer than in 1927, so it essentially stayed flat. Then, in 1998, the record shot up (pun intended) to 70 (70!) when Mark McGwire blasted through the record. A few years later Barry Bonds broke that record by hitting 73 home runs. Another hockey stick! A discussion ensued about why the records were being broken and baseballs were flying out of ballparks (“Steroids!”) and why home run totals have dropped back down to pre-steroid era levels (“testing!”). And then it was a natural segue to the idea that we’re living in a “Climate on Steroids” but with no testing, no brakes on the system. The kids were leaning-forward attentive.
Of course sports analogies and metaphors (and even similes!) cannot be brought into every climate change discussion or presentation. But, I bet if we could’ve measured the cumulative interest and intensity of 6th graders of PS 171 last Friday during my talk, you would have seen a hockey stick when the subject turned to baseball.