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A rural teacher with global reach

Greg Craven of Monmouth, Ore., shot a low-tech video on climate change that is attracting a major online audience.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 20, 2007



Monmouth, Ore.

Greg Craven is flat out. The fifth-period physics class he teaches is about to start, and there's still lesson planning to do. But at his cluttered desk over by the window, he's e-mailing last-minute changes to his guest column scheduled to run tomorrow in The Oregonian newspaper. And a producer from National Public Radio in New York has called about setting up an interview.

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You could say this all illustrates chaos theory, he observes – searching for underlying order in things that seem random. Which relates to global climate change, as Earth heats up from a multitude of causes. Which relates to why this young high school science teacher in rural Oregon is juggling so many things on a wintery gray afternoon at Central High School here in Monmouth.

It all started last spring. Mr. Craven posted a nine-minute, 33-second clip on YouTube, the video-sharing website featuring everything from "stupid pet tricks" to presidential candidates pandering to voters.

Called "The Most Terrifying Video You'll Ever See," it attempted to explain the reality and risk of what he says is "likely to be the greatest threat that humanity has ever faced."

The video is low-tech – just a guy in a purple T-shirt standing at a whiteboard drawing a simple diagram to illustrate his point: The best available science shows us headed toward a global-warming disaster unless we take urgent steps to prevent it.

Craven also produced a follow-up YouTube clip, which takes into account criticisms he received, called "How It All Ends." Together the videos have "gone viral." They've rocketed around the Internet, spawning postings elsewhere and the creation of special websites by those impressed with his work. So far, the videos have attracted more than 4 million views, a query from a book agent, and a call this week from ABC's "Good Morning America" TV show.

The work also has received kudos from experts who've seen it.

"It's amusing, and transmits the idea of risk management very effectively," says Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences at Princeton University in New Jersey and a lead author of this year's reports by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). "About two-thirds of the way through, he takes off his neutral cap and decides to advocate for the 'let's act' side," Dr. Oppenheimer says. "After that, the pitch is a little more traditional, but no less effective."

Bud Ward, editor of The Yale Forum on Climate Change & The Media, says Craven's work "sets an exceptional example of effective communications on a complex subject."

The Oregon Science Teach­­ers Association, which recently named Craven its "Outstanding Teacher of the Year," calls his main video "a very well thought out discussion of climate change."

After Craven made "How It All Ends," he spent six weeks fueled by pizza and energy drinks producing an "expanded package" of 44 YouTube videos delving into climate issues in more detail – such things as "the mechanics of global climate change," "scare tactics," and "why there is still debate." He had to break it up, because YouTube videos can't exceed 10 minutes in length. The project finally totaled out at six-plus hours of videos and 108 pages of script, amounting to nearly 70,000 words.

It was all a little rough on the family.

More from Greg Craven

In introducing his 44 YouTube videos on climate change, now available with scripts on several websites, Greg Craven says, in part:

"Please take this script as the starting point in a folk process. That means that you are welcome and encouraged to improve upon it – whether that means correcting typos, bringing it into line with the actual video (so that it is an actual transcript), condensing it and refilming your own version, adding to it with your own original material, whatever – go for it!... I am explicitly putting this all into the public domain, so that you do not need my permission for anything. Do whatever you want with it – just get the ideas to spread as widely and quickly as possible! I'd suggest that you put a note at the top of any new version you create, specifying the nature of the changes you made, so that posterity can sort it all out when the history is written of how we all saved the world – I mean, our own hides – through the nonlinear system of Internet communications."

Here are some links:

The original "How It All Ends" video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=mF_anaVcCXg

Craven's website: www.wonderingmind42.com

Craven's MySpace page: www.myspace.com/gcraven

An article by Craven on teaching climate change: www.pbs.org/kcet/wiredscience/education/2007/10/featured-teacher-greg-craven.html

Skeptic Warren Meyer responds: www.climate-skeptic.com/2007/12/reponse-to-greg.html

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