An Attempt to Clarify Climate Change: The PBS Series ‘Earth: The Operator’s Manual’

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Screenshot from Earth: An Operator's Manual showing Alley in Greenland's glaciers

Science-based documentaries have seen popularity and success in recent years. Programs such as “Planet Earth” and “Life” proved that millions of people can still be fascinated by films about the natural world. PBS’s special “Earth: The Operators’ Manual” offers another accessible, visual approach to an earth science topic.
“Earth: The Operators’ Manual” (ETOM) is a three-part series that strives to inform viewers about climate change in a way that is well-researched, lucid, engaging, and optimistic. The phrase “operators’ manual” is intended to create an empowered way of thinking about the Earth’s problems. If a machine breaks, you can use a manual to help you fix the problem effectively. The creators of ETOM hope that their program can be used as a mental guideline for those who wish to address problems created by climate change. ETOM visits locations across the globe to help illustrate its points.
The series is hosted by Richard Alley, a geologist, author, and climate change expert. Alley believes, “If we approach Earth as if we have an Operators’ Manual, we can avoid climate catastrophes, improve energy security, and make millions of good jobs.” In keeping with Alley’s attitude toward the matter, ETOM focuses on encouraging its viewers as well as informing them. Many of the sites on the show are visited with the purpose of explaining why many scientists believe that human-induced climate change is real and a threat. Other parts of the program, however, highlight the ways in which climate change can be addressed, such as successful stories of shifts toward renewable energy.
The first part of the series was released and broadcast in April 2011. The next two parts of the series are expected to be released later this year and in 2012. The first part of the series can be watched in full on the ETOM website. It is approximately 50 minutes long. Those who prefer to watch at home have the option of purchasing a DVD, and teachers are invited to download the program for classroom use for the next year after the initial release.

View the “Earth: The Operators’ Manual” script here.