FLUSHING, N.Y., June 19, 2013 —With Governor Andrew Cuomo’s post-Sandy admonition—“Anyone who thinks there is not a dramatic change in weather patterns is denying reality”—still reverberating in the news, Steve Pekar (Queens College’s department of Earth & Environmental Sciences) joined more than 100 scientists, policy experts, environmentalists, explorers, heads of NGOs, filmmakers, and business and political leaders participating in Al Gore’s marathon webcast devoted to climate change, 24 Hours of Reality: The Dirty Weather Report.
“Al Gore’s event was amazing,” says Pekar, “with terrific in-depth content, high-tech production, renowned experts in many fields, and over 16 million viewers.” In hour-long segments spotlighting climate-related issues in every part of the globe, this lavishly produced program began 8 pm, Wednesday, November 14, and concluded at 8 pm the following day.
Pekar, whose research takes him to Antarctica—where core samples from deep below the polar ice suggest carbon dioxide levels and a tropical climate millions of years earlier that may be akin to where the planet is currently headed—was selected to be on two panels: those for the Arctic and Antarctica. Gore, the former vice president, Nobel laureate, and chairman and founder of the Climate Reality Project, participated in those panels, frequently eliciting Pekar’s expertise to expand upon points he was determined to convey to his worldwide audience.
Also on the panels with Pekar were the president of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson; adventurer Doug Stoup; Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation; and director Jeff Orlowski, whose documentary film Chasing Ice is helping to direct the world’s attention to the extraordinary pace at which the world’s glaciers are melting.
In emphasizing this latter calamity, Pekar observed, “Antarctica is ground zero when it comes to past climate change. It has changed more than any other place on Earth. If all the ice in Antarctica melted, the sea level would rise by over 200 feet. But we don’t need it to all melt. We only need 5 percent of the ice to melt to cause catastrophe.” Originating from studios in New York City, which was still reeling from the unprecedented flooding likely made worse by increasing sea levels, the webcast inevitably returned time and again to what meteorologists have dubbed Superstorm Sandy.
“It’s one thing, Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans and affecting a couple of million people,” says Pekar. “But Sandy affected tens of millions of people.” Pekar sees the storm as a wakeup call to the nation’s political class who, when not denying the existence of climate change, are dragging their feet on cooperating with other nations to reverse the trend. And it’s certainly a wakeup call to local builders, he notes, recounting how prior to Sandy making landfall, he had visited the Rockaways with his wife to watch the enormous waves it was generating while still at sea.
“We were looking at mile after mile of new development all along the boardwalk and we were screaming with frustration because in all of these new buildings, the first floors were literally just two steps up from the street. We’re talking about maybe 18 inches. Those places all flooded and their owners are going to have a really difficult time trying to sell them.”
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