The American Museum of Natural History Tackles Climate Change

climate change american museum natural history photo

Photographs by Agaton Strom

The American Museum of Natural History is unveiling its much anticipated Climate Change exhibit today, giving the public an opportunity to take an in-depth, engaging look at the most notorious and ill-understood environmental issue of our time. It’s something of a landmark event—the AMNH is one of the first major museums to feature a comprehensive exhibit on global warming.

TreeHugger was invited to a behind the scenes preview last Tuesday, where the exhibit was opened to the press. We were given an opportunity to wander through the vivid, urgent, and often apocalyptic exhibit—here’s a fully photographed guide to AMNH's Climate Change.
The Climate Change Exhibit
The tone for ‘Climate Change’ is set immediately upon entering the first darkened room—a burning red line runs along the walls over an ashen, newspapery backdrop.

climate change burning fossil fuel photo

It’s a timeline documenting the rise of greenhouse gas emissions, and it starts in the 1600’s at knee level and over the course of two walls, skyrockets well above anyone’s head in the present day. Sort of the reverse of a plummeting stock graph, it registers the alarming scope of the problem with emphatic urgency.

climate change coal rock photo

The next room highlights the role of coal burning in global warming, and offers an imposing real-life example: a 2-ton rock of coal that visitors are free to touch. The lights are down in here too, as they will be for the entirety of the exhibit, and they can foster a pretty severe mood.

climate change what can we do photo

There’s a quick deviation in tone for the next room, titled What We Can Do, which is a more lighthearted section that offers solutions and interactive programs, like one where you can pledge to lessen your carbon footprint.

climate change polar bear photo

The exhibit proceeds from there on out to engage visitors via graphs, dioramas, intricate models, and interactive stations on a wealth of climate change related problems and potential future concerns.

climate change manhattan underwater photo

One particular display, which renders a scenario where Manhattan is flooded, is particularly disconcerting—and also evidently relatively factually unsupported. The caption under the model is strangely vague, and says this may not take place for hundreds of years.

climate change new-energy photo

The exhibit ends on a positive note, showcasing the myriad renewable energy technologies that are currently at work or under development.

climate change kids pictures photo

The final room allows visitors (it's mostly for the youngsters, but hey, if you want to take a stab at it . . .) to draw their proposed solutions for climate change and leave their picture as part of the display.

I didn’t have time to carefully inspect the factual content of each of the displays, nor did I get to participate in many of the hands-on stations. But my general impression was that the exhibit was well-conceived, involving, and informational—if a little grim and heavy-handed. There’s plenty there to keep the kids’ interests piqued, and there’s a plethora of information on the history, study, and impact of climate change. I just wish they’d turned up the lights.

If you’re going to be in the New York area (or any of the cities the exhibit is touring) it’s well worth stopping by.

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