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Friday, November 15, 2013

N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences director puts kibosh on documentary about sea-level rise

Posted by on Fri, Nov 15, 2013 at 11:20 AM

click to enlarge Surfing on Long Beach Island - COURTESY OF SHORED UP
  • Courtesy of Shored Up
  • Surfing on Long Beach Island
Update with correction and clarification: A museum spokesman responded to this story on Wednesday, Nov. 20,  saying Koster did not overrule members of a programming committee, as originally reported.

The spokesman said it was solely Koster’s decision not to show the film.

As for the committee, according to member David Kroll, it recommended that the film should not be shown without a panel discussion and there was not time to assemble such a panel by late January, when the film is screening in Wilmington. It was also discussed that a grant for travel funds could be sought in order to bring the director in at a later date.

However, the INDY obtained this email from Koster to the programming committee, which says the film will not be shown at all. This was the reasoning behind the INDY's statement that Koster overruled the committee:

"Regarding the film question at hand, it is my conclusion that sea level science and other contemporary science + society + environment matters will be approached by MNS in an objective manner in the earliest possible time frame. I do not therefore anticipate that MNS will be showing the film that the Program Committee has been recently debating, but please relay my appreciation to those who have approached us with the offer to soon do so." 

Here is Koster's official statement. It was provided by the museum. 

“As an integral part of its 2020 vision, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is formulating a robust strategy to clarify and advance the role of science in contemporary societal and environmental discussions in a collaborative manner. Under consideration is the ‘triple bottom line’ approach that emphasizes the need for a balance of people, planet and profit considerations. As a scientist, geology professor and career museum executive whose presentations and publications have focused on the greater external relevancy of science museums, I want to ensure that this remarkable institution will be applying the most effective tools from the latest kit available in our field to ensure an objective science-centered approach. North Carolina is fortunate to have a unique communication medium in this progressive museum, and that warrants using all of its assets – scientific and technological – to present these topics. We want to engage the public, marshal the progress of our unique learning-rich setting and take advantage of our collaborative network, rather than focusing on an hour-long film in a theater.”

Shored Up, a film by director Ben Kalina, explores issues regarding coastal communities, specifically the New Jersey shore and the Outer Banks of North Carolina, in light of super storms and rising seas.

The nonprofit group N.C. Coastal Federation had hoped to bring the film to the museum’s Science Café, a weekly discussion of science and technology issues, in January. It is scheduled to show at UNC-Wilmington and the N.C. Aquarium in January.

According to emails provided by the museum, director Emlyn Koster wrote that “we want to engage the public, marshal the progress of our unique learning-rich setting and take advantage of our collaborative network, rather than focusing on an hour-long film in a theater.”

He added that the museum needs to “ensure an objective science-centered approach.”

Coastal Federation officials said they were told the film had to be reviewed by several levels of museum management, including the programming committee. The Coastal Federation told the INDY that because of the "politically sensitive subject matter," museum leadership wanted more control over the event. That could have included a post-screening panel discussion with people who could express differing viewpoints. In addition, museum officials reportedly told the federation that the Science Café space is too small to accommodate the potentially large crowd that would be interested in the film.

Update: A museum spokesman said there was no political pressure involved in the decision not to show the film.

In addition, coastal federation officials said they were led to believe that the film would show at a later date in a different space and with a panel discussion. However, Koster told the programming committee that the museum would not show the film at all.

Coastal federation officials told the INDY that the science is solid in the documentary, although it is clearly advocacy work that shows the policy failings regarding sea-level rise. It does not include rebuttals from people who think sea-level rise is either not happening or is not a threat. The film also contains footage from The Colbert Report in which Stephen Colbert ridicules North Carolina legislators who, in 2012, outlawed scientifically sound methods of measuring sea levels along the coast.

As the INDY reported in June 2012, the law restricts the ability of state agencies to accurately forecast and prepare for sea-level rise. As a result, developers could continue to profit from building in vulnerable, low-lying coastal areas free of additional regulations that would apply if the state accounted for higher seas.

The law was a victory for NC-20, a nonprofit governmental group stacked with coastal development and real estate interests, who successfully persuaded a science panel of the Coastal Resources Commission to significantly change its policy proposal. Those amendments included restricting state and local governments to using only select historical data to predict sea-level rise. Under those conditions, the forecast is not 3 feet, but 8 inches.

The museum is under the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Over the next two years, it is to receive $12 million annually from state funds, according to budget documents; the museum also receives research grants. More than 1 million people visit the museum each year.

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Members of museum's programming committee supported the screening, but were overruled

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