Scientists deliver sobering news in 'The 11th Hour'

In a world full of exhaust fumes, marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols is like a breath of fresh air. But some of his words might make you choke.

“This is it,” Nichols speaks candidly of global warming. “No kidding — this is our 11th hour. We have to rise to the occasion.”

The local research associate for San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences is turning heads with a slew of other like-minded scientists in “The 11th Hour,” Leonardo DiCaprio’s much-ballyhooed eco doc, which opened Friday. The film grabs the Save-the-Planet baton from Al Gore (“An Inconvenient Truth”) and hands it off to the masses with the hope of sparking change in a world compromised after 200 years of industrial revolution.

More than 50 scientists and dignitaries — from Stephen Hawking to Mikhail Gorbachev — are spotlighted in a project that DiCaprio produced and narrates, and sisters/filmmakers Nadia Conners and Leila Conners Petersen directed.

Collectively these eco patriots issue a warning: The planet can’t be healed with a verbal bandage.

But Nichols, who lives in Davenport and has been with CAS for more than seven years, says that when it comes to global warming, “we are essentially talking about an ocean issue.

“Oceans make up 75 percent of the planet,” he adds. “If the planet is warming, the ocean is warming. If the ocean warms, even a little bit, we are in trouble. As go the oceans, so goes life on planet Earth.”

In addition to researching sea turtles large and small at CAS, Nichols is a senior scientist for the Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit which addresses critical issues facing the oceans.

Another dilemma the film addresses is over-consumption, something that ignites co-director Leila Conners Petersen.

“People are more consumers than citizens these days,” she says. “We all need to rediscover what it means to participate in life with other people. It’s not just about what we do to ourselves and with our families, we all live in community. That’s what this film, this whole movement is about.”

In the meantime, between all the acid rain, drought, famine, flooding, hurricanes, record rainfall and having the highest average global temperatures in recorded history, Nichols and others find hope.

“I’m not fond of saying, ‘change your light bulbs, carpool and ride your bike,’ as if that’s the answer,” he says. “That’s part of it. I’m much more interested in helping people express themselves and take it to another level. It’s speaking out, especially young people — young activists who are pretty fearless and can shake things up.”

Locally, CAS seems to be doing just that. In its final phase of a multi-million renovation in Golden Gate Park, one of the oldest and largest natural history museums in the country will be all “green” by the time it’s unveiled in 2008.

“It’s truly amazing, responsible and thoughtful,” Nichols says of the revamp. “CAS is doing things that have never been done. Maybe we’ll see more solar, more living roofs and more energy conservation in San Francisco as a result.”

That’s fuel for thought, especially for a city whosepolitical foot recently slammed down hard on the eco gas pedal. Soon to be roadkill: plastic bags.

Learn more about CAS at www.calacademy.org.  

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