PBS has announced that Earth Emergency, an urgent new documentary about how the phenomena known as “environmental feedback loops” are enhancing both the rate and the effects of global warming, will make its simultaneous broadcast and streaming debut on Wednesday, December 29.
Narrated by Richard Gere and including interviews with Greta Thunberg, the Dalai Lama and 12 prominent climate scientists, the doc is directed by Susan Gray, co-written by Gray and senior producer Bonnie Waltch, and produced by Barry Hershey.
The doc’s December premiere comes after a series of special presentations earlier in the year. In March, Earth Emergency screened at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, where it was followed by a panel discussion among five leading climate-change researchers. On November 4, the film was shown by Prince Charles at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum as part of the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), and it has also been screened for Members of the UK House of Parliament and astronauts on the International Space Station.
Although most people have a general understanding of how human activity has been steadily raising the earth’s temperature, the feedback loops that this triggers have rarely, if ever, factored into public discourse and discussion about global warming. But these loops compound human-caused environmental degradation by making the earth itself into an active agent of its own destruction.
Following an introductory section that provides a general survey of the problem, Earth Emergency focuses on four examples of feedback loops. The first section details how forests are being steadily transformed into emitters of carbon as they get progressively drier and fire risk increases dramatically.
Part two examines how the melting of the Arctic permafrost is releasing long-frozen carbon and methane gases contained in plant and animal remains, which, when they rise into the atmosphere, trap heat and further accelerate permafrost erosion. The atmosphere itself is the focus of the next segment, which reveals how its rising temperature causes it to absorb more water vapor, which pushes the mercury up even further in addition to disrupting weather patterns worldwide.
The film concludes with a look at how the albedo effect – a key natural global cooling function provided by the reflectivity of Arctic snow and ice – has been severely diminished by the progressive melting of said snow and ice. This contributes to an even more rapid and widespread dwindling of Arctic ice volume, with scientists in the film projecting that ice coverage could vanish entirely in the summer months by the end of the century if these trends continue.
“Most people I know or encounter haven’t even heard of feedback loops, but they are so crucial to understanding how the world works,” Greta Thunberg said in a news release. “But we cannot solve the climate emergency without taking these feedback loops into account and without really understanding them. So that is a crucial step.”
Earth Emergency premieres on December 29 on all local PBS stations, and will be available for streaming beginning at the same time on PBS.org, the PBS video app and all station-branded PBS platforms.