EARTH: The Operators’ Manual (ETOM)

January 1st, 2012

EARTH: The Operators’ Manual (ETOM), is a new approach to climate change education, deploying broadcast television, web resources and on-site outreach at science centers and other venues nationwide. ETOM, supported by funding from the National Science Foundation (DRL-0917564),presents an objective, accessible assessment of the Earth’s climate challenges and explores the possibilities for renewable energy; it is designed to leave viewers and project participants informed, energized and optimistic. National outreach partners for the project currently include the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, the Science Museum of Minnesota and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. ETOM public outreach events kicked off in the spring of 2010, with presentations at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center during the San Diego Science Festival, and at the Planet Earth Celebration of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences with The Military Goes Green, a program focused on the U.S. Armed Services’ efforts to cut back on fossil fuels. Targeted outreach presentations started in fall 2010, with a keynote speech to 3,000 participants at the SACNAS (the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science) annual conference, and with a Sustainable Fort Worth Roundtable held at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. ETOM premiered a one-hour PBS special in April, 2011. Throughout the program (the first of three planned broadcasts), Penn State geologist Richard Alley—contributor to the United Nations panel on climate change and former oil company staffer—leads the audience on a high-definition film trip around the globe. The program gives viewers a thorough grounding in Earth’s climate history and an overview of current dilemmas, but its main message is an upbeat assessment of viable options for sustainable energy. In Denver, Colorado, viewers peer over Alley’s shoulder at the National Ice Core Lab to see how evidence of temperature and atmospheric composition trapped inside chunks of ancient ice conclusively demonstrate that today’s levels of atmospheric CO2 are higher than at any time in the past 400,000 years, a condition largely a result of decades of fossil fuel combustion. Then it’s on to other locations around the world, where developments in sustainable energy are already proving that it is possible to do things differently. The program travels to Brazil, a land of cars running on flex fuels using sugarcane ethanol, and on to the gas-guzzling city of Houston, which is working to support e-vehicles. At the Army’s Fort Irwin and the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton, viewers learn why the U.S. military has made it a priority to significantly reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. The ETOM website debuted in March, 2011, and will continue to be developed through 2012. Project evaluation, carried out by Rockman Et Al, has used online and in-person focus groups to provide feedback on rough cuts from the program; they will also assess website usage and the museum outreach components of the project. A companion trade book Earth: The Operators’ Manual authored by Alley is published by W.W. Norton & Co.

Project links

EARTH – The Operator’s Manual

Information about the national outreach activities 

For educators  

Additional resources