Reflections on academic life

A UBC expert participates in Al Gore’s 24-hour climate reality project

This September, UBC climate change expert Simon Donner participated in former U.S. vice president Al Gore’s latest project, “24 Hours of Reality,” a worldwide online event that connected recent extreme weather events—floods, droughts and storms—with manmade pollution that is changing our climate. In this edition of Outtakes, Donner gives a behind-the-scenes account of his experience on the set in New York City.

Once the make-up was done and the microphones were attached, the segment producer led us out to the stage and assigned us seats on the couch. I was last. “Simon, take the end there, and Mr. Gore will sit beside you before we go live.”

Wonderful, I thought. Thanks for the warning.

When I was first asked to be panellist on Al Gore’s “24 Hours of Reality,” I was skeptical. I’ve seen many well-intentioned efforts to raise awareness about climate change turn into political spectacles that alienate much of the audience. But in talking it over with family and colleagues, I was reminded of that old Roosevelt quote: it’s not the critic that counts.

So I found myself sitting next to former U.S. Vice President—the maker of the Academy Award-winning documentary The Inconvenient Truth, thinking “remember to say the bit about methane” and “Forget Paul Simon, DO NOT CALL HIM AL.”

Mr. Gore—I got that right—was gracious and put us nervous scientists at ease.
I actually found his close-ups the only stressful part of the broadcast. In the video, you can probably tell the moment I noticed that my head was in all of his close-ups.
I tried to quietly shift sideways, but the only way out of the shot would have been to sit on someone else’s lap.

Though I do wonder whether Mr. Gore’s mix of science and solutions is the most effective method of outreach, I gained a real admiration for the energy and passion his team brings to addressing climate change.