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On Oscar day, science meets climate change at the movies


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Hari Sreenivasan: What's a subject scientists can analyze when they watch the Oscars tonight? If You guessed climate change you'll want to hear from our guest Kate Marvel an associate research scientist at Columbia University and a co-host of a very unique podcast that combines cinema with climate science.

Kate Marvel: We've realized that people like science but what people really love is bad movies. And if we can combine science and bad movies then that's really productive.

Hari Sreenivasan: What is Hollywood getting so wrong, especially in science related films?

Kate Marvel: So I'm a climate scientist and so far we've watched I would say three climate science related films -- 'The Day After Tomorrow,' 'Sharknado' and 'Geostorm' -- and all of these are really kind of disaster movies right? There are so many disasters and they're all happening at the same time. But in the real world, climate change is happening, it's happening right now, it's here and it's us but it's not the only thing that people care about. San Francisco, for a little bit, had the worst air quality of any city on the planet. And I think it's starting to hit home that climate change has the ability to reshape our lives in ways that maybe we hadn't really thought about before.

Hari Sreenivasan: So in the background of a movie, the air quality could just be one of the characters that kind of influences it versus a disaster all in one day of an breathable air?

Kate Marvel: Exactly. And you know I don't want to say that climate change isn't causing disasters like we know a scientist that extreme events like heat waves and floods and droughts are projected to get more intense in the future. But climate change isn't the only story, right? People care about whether they're going to be able to put food on the table, people care about economic justice, racial justice, people care about education. People care about how our society is organized. And all of these things are going to be affected by the fact that the planet that we live on is fundamentally changing.

Hari Sreenivasan: And your concern is that Hollywood has a tremendous amount of power in how they frame this narrative that we take away from when we go from oh, it's a fun movie but really in the back from some little sliver sticks?

Kate Marvel: I think so. And I think there's a danger in setting a standard where you don't have to care about something unless it's going to literally doom all life on the planet. Because I feel like I have higher standards than that. You know? I don't wake up in the morning and say well I didn't go extinct today, must have been a good day. You know, I think we can really sort of aspire to something better than that.

Hari Sreenivasan: Are there any good Hollywood movies or examples of anybody getting it right?

Kate Marvel: So I love Mad Max Fury Road.

Hari Sreenivasan: That is really dark!

Kate Marvel: I think it's just a great entertaining movie but I think what it does is it shows the sort of insane bananas society that's taking place in the future and nobody is ever like well, climate change caused these desert conditions but it's always there in the background. But it's really a story about I mean, it's a story about things blowing up. But it's this story about this weird society of the future.

Hari Sreenivasan: Is there something that trickles down into classrooms and how young people's thinking about climate science changes over time if they're exposed to different kinds of narratives?

Kate Marvel: I think so and I actually think young people are in a sense ahead of us you know, young people understand that this is their world that they're growing up on and they have a very vested interest in a stable climate. So I think young people are already sort of starting to get the message. And I think it's it's us who really need to start thinking about this in new ways.

Hari Sreenivasan: All right, Kate Marvel, the podcast is 'Anthropocinema;' and scientist at Columbia University. Thanks so much.

Kate Marvel: Thank you very much.

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