“A Friend Acting Strangely” — Smithsonian Exhibit on Arctic Changes Avoids Global Warming

Someday we will look back on this Bush administration era of global warming denialism in Washington and shake our heads and ask: What were we thinking? How could we let that happen?

Except that some writers don’t have to look back. Some noticed when it was happening.

This week a former Smithsonian museum offical, Robert Sullivan, said the natural history museum in an exhibit last year on climate changes in the Arctic self-censored the exhibit. This came as no surprise to super-popular reporter and blogger Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post, who reviewed the exhibit with his usual sharp humor, pointing out how badly it was named ("Arctic: A Friend Acting Strangely") and how mindlessly the facts were presented.

For example, here’s the opening from the overview, which is still available on line:

The Arctic’s climate has been changing. Spring thaws are earlier. Fall freeze-ups are later. Sea ice is shrinking. Unfamiliar species of plants and animals are appearing. Intense storms are more frequent.

Notice anything missing? Perhaps some context? A reason why we’re seeing these changes?

To exhibit the changes in the Arctic today without talking about global warming is a little like showing the changes in San Francisco in l906 without talking about the earthquake.

But that was the plan. According to an AP story:

William Fitzhugh, a museum anthropologist and co-curator of the project, said the exhibit achieved what was intended — to show the impact of climate change on Arctic cultures. It did not, however, discuss the link between the heat-trapping gas carbon dioxide and global warming.

Or, as Achenbach put it:

Is there any controversy about climate change? Not at the Smithsonian! The National Museum of Natural History has found a way to open two new climate change exhibits, starting Friday, without a single smithereen of contentiousness. We get just the facts: Planet’s getting warmer, arctic ice is melting, Inuit are out of sorts, Siberia is thawing. The future? "Models predict different outcomes," a sign says.

Right. No connection between atmospheric change and Arctic changes. No reason to worry. Or think.

The Internet version of the exhibition reveals other efforts to soft-pedal climate change. For instance, for a discussion of how global warming will affect the Northeast, the first line of the exhibit reads:

Warm weather sports, like hiking, increase; cold weather sports, like skiing, decrease.

So why worry, right? Hiking can be just as much fun as skiing.

Or, try out this new metaphor for global warming…ride the climate rollercoaster! Woo-hoo! Must be THIS TALL to ride! Have fun now!


Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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