Chicago Green Jobs

Climate Change at the Field Museum: The Good, the Bad and the Corporate.
July 2, 2010, 2:31 pm
Filed under: Event

I fail to resist the plastic injection model making machine.

I scored an invitation to the launch of the Field Museum’s brand new exhibit: Climate Change. A panel of CSR VPs, organic wine, a sneak peak of the exhibit AND a chance to see Sue? Sold!

After the VP panel (which was brilliantly moderated by Suzanne Malec-McKenna, Chicago’s Commissioner of the Environment), we were released into the main hall for drinks, dinner and a tour through the exhibit. Here’s my quick take on the Good, the Bad and the Corporate of the Climate Change exhibit.

The Good

I only pushed the button once, I swear.

“Take Action” Walls. My favorite part was the interactive walls listing different actions people can take to reduce their personal carbon footprint. Added bonus: visitors can push a button to add themselves to the running tally of people taking action. Scientific? Well no – anyone who’s seen kids in a museum knows that they’ll push any button they can find over and over and over until the teacher drags them away. But research shows that people are more likely to change their behavior when they get social cues showing them that other people are doing it too. My only quibble is that I would have put this at the end of the exhibit instead of the beginning.

Being the poster victim for climate change is not as rewarding as I had hoped.

Doing something interesting with the inevitable polar bear. Let’s face it: you can’t have a climate change exhibit without trotting out a polar bear to put a fuzzy and adorable face to the problem. Kudos to the Field Museum, which presents their polar bear striding across the trash heap which is his primary source of food now that his ice pack hunting grounds are dwindling.  It’s a good punch in the gut visual that nicely underscores the problem of habitat disruption.

The Bad.

Text! The polar bear stands out because it is one of the very few things to look at in the whole hall. I’d say about 80% of the exhibit consists of the written word, which is kind of a shame. How cool would it have been to have set up a game like WWF’s CEO2 to give visitors the opportunity to really engage with the kind of issues businesses face when it comes to reducing carbon? Museums offer one of the few spaces that allow people to engage with ideas instead of just reading about them, and I wish this exhibit had taken more advantage of that chance.

Carbon Capture will ride to our rescue on a unicorn.

The Corporate.

Wouldn’t it be nice? The exhibit closes with the traditional upbeat solutions round-up and this is where you start seeing the corporate speak take center stage. The segment on Carbon Capture and Storage is particularly grim: in all the cheerleading about how functional and practical CCS could be there is no mention that the technology doesn’t exist now and won’t until 2030 at the very, very earliest. And that’s assuming that $20 billion or so gets invested in companies like Exxon-Mobil between now and then. The whole CCS piece reads a lot like talking points from the coal industry group America’s Power site.  I have no idea why the Field Museum made this choice and I wish they hadn’t.

There is definitely some good stuff in this exhibit, but if you want to get excited about strong solutions for climate change I recommend marking your calendar for the August 10th screening of Carbon Nation at Millennium Park. This new documentary promises to be an interesting, a-political and hopeful survey of technologies that actually exist to combat climate change.