New Science Museum exhibit looks at humans' effect on Earth

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 20, 2012 - 7:53 PM

Hands-on activities are at the heart of a new Science Museum exhibit that looks at how humans are affecting climate change.

Humans move more rock and sediment than all glaciers and rivers combined, and thus have become the dominant architects and engineers of Earth's climate changes.

That's probably not too surprising considering there are 7 billion people on the planet and will be more than 9 billion in fewer than 40 years. What it means is that humans -- not natural processes -- will ultimately shape Earth's climate in the decades and millenniums to come, said Patrick Hamilton of the Science Museum of Minnesota.

In conjunction with Earth Day, the Science Museum is opening a new permanent exhibit Saturday called "Future Earth." The exhibit, produced in-house with a grant from the National Science Foundation, looks at how humans have affected the Earth over the years, while addressing innovations and solutions needed for future generations' survival.

"We are in the driver's seat," said Hamilton, the museum's director of Global Change Initiatives. "Humans are the biggest agents of global change. Some changes will unfold that are too late to avoid. We've added heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere, but how much additional gas will we add? If enough, climate change is coming. We can decide how much climate change we set in motion."

A number of environmental figures will take part in Saturday's opening festivities from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Among them are arctic explorer Will Steger; Shawn Otto, science advocate and author of the book "Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America"; and Maggie Koerth-Baker, a writer and science editor of boingboing.net. There also will be hands-on family activities with Creative Kidstuff and NASA's Earth Ambassadors program.

Throughout the exhibit's open-ended run, visitors can step into the Future Earth Theater and view Earth as if they were in outer space. Images of the planet showing change will be projected onto a globe 6 feet across. Guests can also use clickers to answer questions asked by presenters in real time.

At other stations in the 2,500-square-foot exhibit, visitors can mix carbon dioxide into sea water and watch the water's acidity rise, attempt to build a power grid to withstand an electrical strike, and use a pinball to learn how re-using energy expelled by buildings could cut consumption.

"We want people to gain an appreciation that collectively 7 billion of us are in charge of shaping the planet and its future," Hamilton said. "And to gain appreciation for our environment and awareness about our impact on it."

Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039 • Twitter: @timstrib

  • 'FUTURE EARTH' OPENING FESTIVITIES

    When: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday

    Who: Arctic explorer Will Steger, author Shawn Otto and science writer Maggie Koerth-Baker.

    Where: Science Museum of Minnesota, 120 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul.

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