Major New York exhibition shows urgency of climate change action

Posted: 9 December 2008

The American Museum of Natural History in New York has launched a major exhibition showing how global warming is wreaking havoc with natural phenomena.

Manhattan flooded
Manhattan flooded
An interactive model of Manhattan in the exhibition shows the effect of rising sea levels. Credit: Denis Finnin/AMNH
A model at the beginning of the exhibition shows the southern end of Manhattan Island under 3 and 5 metres (about 10 and 16 feet) of sea-level rise. The higher amount would occur if a significant part of the ice sheets in Greenland or Antarctica melted - a scenario experts consider unlikely to happen anytime soon.

"Is this how Manhattan would really look, centuries to thousands of years in the future, as sea levels got higher?" the organisers ask. "Probably not, because we would, at enormous expense, build sea walls and pumps to protect the city's complex infrastructure."

For visitors confused by global warming or unconvinced of its causes, the exhibition gives a solid introduction to the science of climate change and its effects.

The exhibition explains that climate has changed throughout Earth's long history, but this time is different. "For the first time, complex human societies are facing the consequences of climate change worldwide. Plant and animal species already threatened by fragmented habitats are feeling the impact. And for the first time, humans are causing it."

Greenhouse effect diagram
Greenhouse effect diagram
How the greenhouse effect works, explained in a graphic from the exhibition. Click the image to see a larger version.AMNH
Wall charts showing the marked rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide over the past 400 years mention how new inventions, from the steam engine and Thomas Edison's light bulb, to automobiles and today's high-tech computers, are responsible for the increases in greenhouse gas emissions. The use of fossil fuels has a cost we hadn't understood - until now.

Other exhibits discuss our addiction to fossil fuels, one of the largest generators of carbon dioxide. A one-ton lump of coal occupies a central space on the exhibition floor, serving as an effective display of untapped energy.

To meet the world's growing appetite for energy while also reducing CO2 emissions, the exhibition explains what alternative sources are or could be available.

Can we avoid disastrous climate change by altering the way we live? The exhibition concludes that there is still time. "But it will take a worldwide effort, lasting generations. And it needs to start now."

The exhibition continues in New York until August 2009, and then travels to St. Louis, Cleveland and Chicago, as well as Denmark, the United Arab Emirates, Spain, South Korea and Mexico.