Climate Change & the ‘New Normal’

Daniel Glick, co-director and producer of Unacceptable Risk, examines the dangerous impact of human-caused climate change  on firefighters and the communities they are sworn to protect.

 

Daniel Glick worked for “Newsweek” for 13 years as a Washington correspondent and a roving Rocky Mountain correspondent. He has also written for “National Geographic,” “Smithsonian,” “Audubon,” “The New York Times Magazine,” the “Washington Post Magazine,” and more than a dozen other periodicals. He is the author of two non-fiction books, and contributed to two anthologies and a photo book on climate change and polar bears. He is a past contributor to National Public Radio and CalNet (formerly California Public Radio), and was an associate producer of a documentary about the murder of child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey. In 2014, he was one of the editors of the National Climate Assessment, and has written about climate change issues for more than 20 years.

 

Unacceptable Risk screened at Carnegie Institution for Science on Saturday, March 26th at 12:30 pm.

 

DCEFF: What drew you to this particular project?

DANIEL GLICK: I moved to Colorado from Washington, D.C. in 1994. That summer, the Storm King Fire claimed the lives of 14 wildland firefighters and sent my adoptive state into mourning. I was a new, roving Rocky Mountain special correspondent for Newsweek, and each summer after that, found myself choking on wildfire smoke covering far-flung fires around the West. By 2002, when the Heyman Fire claimed another five firefighters in Colorado, there were already people in the firefighting world using the word “unprecedented” to describe what they were seeing. Then came 2012. In that year and the next, everybody watched dumbfounded as fire records were being broken successively; a “new normal” had arrived. After a stint as an editor for the National Climate Assessment in 2014, I learned that human-caused climate change was part of this new normal: longer fire seasons, hotter temperatures, and changing vegetation were all contributing to produce dangerous conditions for firefighters and the communities they are sworn to protect. I wanted to find a way to personify this science, and could not find a better way to tell that story than through the eyes of these firefighters who were witnessing these scary changes first-hand.

DCEFF: What challenges did you face in the process of producing the project?

DG: Firefighters are an interesting breed. On the one hand, they pride themselves on toughness, on being part of a team, and have a certain paramilitary attitude towards being seen as heroes or talking to the press: they don’t like it. On they other hand, they are great storytellers, and have utterly amazing stories to tell. One firefighter we interviewed almost told us as an afterthought that his own house burned down while he was sending fire trucks around his neighborhood to help his neighbors, and there weren’t any left to protect his home. Another teared up as he described how it “scared the crap” out of him because his daughter had begun a career in firefighting and was entering a new era of volatile uncertainty. Once we got them talking, they were incredibly compelling.

DCEFF: Why do you think DCEFF is important? Why should people attend?

DG: I was a Washington correspondent for Newsweek from 1989-1994 before I moved to Colorado. It’s not hard to see the disconnect between environmental policy as seen in Congress and environmental policy as seen on the ground, especially in the Western United States. To have the opportunity to show people in the Nation’s Capital that the impacts of climate change are already affecting the lives and livelihoods of Americans across the political spectrum is incredibly important. It is astonishing to me that the party of Theodore Roosevelt has somehow decided that climate change is a hoax. I hope one of them might have an opportunity to see the film, or call up one of these firefighters to hear why it’s not.

DCEFF: How does your film relate to this year’s theme: “Parks: Protecting Wild?”

DG: Unacceptable Risk might as well be the title to encompass so many of the things we humans are doing to our planet, from our cities to our wildest places. It is not just protecting parks, because in my opinion earth is one, big, interconnected wild planet that millions of species depend upon. Of course it’s important to find preserves and reserves that can introduce people to wild places, and also allow wild things to flourish. But it’s doubly important to understand how interconnected we all are: Nature figured out the word “globalization” long before the IMF did.

DCEFF: What’s the one takeaway that you want potential viewers to walk away with?

DG: The impacts of humans on the planet’s climate, largely through the burning of fossil fuels, have incredible and uncertain ripple effects. People may not have thought to consider that if nighttime winter temperatures aren’t as cold, then beetles will end up killing more trees. They might not think about what happens to the moisture content of a forest when faced with successive years of drought and higher than normal temperatures or how the smoke from wildfires makes it hard for kids, older people and those with respiratory ailments to breathe. What I want people to realize from this film is that we already have a glimpse of where we’re going, and if we don’t change direction we’re going to get there.

Any journalist hopes their work will have an impact, and we certainly are no different. From the first fires we covered at the beginning of our careers until now, we’ve tried to communicate about the intricate relationship that humans have with the planet that sustains us. That relationship has become increasingly tenuous. We hope that with this film, we can add the voices of these firefighters – truly on the front lines of climate change – to the growing call to action for all of us to help alter the alarming course we’ve set.

 

Register for the Unacceptable Risk screening here.

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