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Case Number 23875: Small Claims Court

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The Polar Explorer

PBS // 2012 // 52 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // May 26th, 2012

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge James A. Stewart is waiting until Antarctic temperatures reach the eighties to take a dip.

The Charge

"The greatest threat to mankind with respect to climate change is the collapse of these freshwater glaciers and the dangerous contribution to accelerating a rise in global sea levels."—Mark Terry

The Case

Mark Terry is willing to jump right into things—and, by things, I mean the waters in Antarctica—to make a point. True, water temperature in the forties isn't bad for Antarctica, but it's still cold. Brrrr!

His point, of course, is that he can just jump in without hitting his head on ice, thanks to global warming. In The Polar Explorer, Terry travels through the Arctic in the icebreaker Amundsen, not running into ice, to gather footage to show at a 2010 conference in Cancun. The purpose is to lobby for flood protection, which could be handy if a NASA scenario of an eighteen-foot rise in sea level comes to pass.

Terry's making a reasonable, logical case, showing the ice that's breaking off glaciers and telling viewers about changes in the ice levels. His argument isn't delivered in an alarmist way. He's also asking for the first thing you'd think of—or at least the first thing I'd think of—when dealing with the prospect of rising sea levels.

I was intrigued as I watched researchers celebrating as they found "an entire tray of creatures that the scientists have not seen here before," as Terry put it. The boost to phytoplankton and other sea creatures was juxtaposed with the decline in phytoplankton and krill that's starving penguins and whales in Antarctica. Terry didn't say whether there's anyone out there trying to figure out how to get the phytoplankton at the South Pole breeding again. I'd think there would be, but if we've only recently gotten around to calling for dealing with floods, that's not a certainty.

I will note that a PDF teacher's guide suggests launching a debate in the classroom on global warming. There's lots of material provided for students arguing for the existence of global warming and urgent need for action, while the other side gets an Ann Coulter quote for its arguments. That's really stacking the deck. It's also missing the mark, because agreeing that there's global warming shouldn't mean failing to look at proposed solutions with a critical eye. There's also a making-of and a trailer.

The Polar Explorer does a good job of documenting the effects of polar warming, including the benefits to Arctic sea creatures. For me, at least, the verdict's still out on whether the world will act and whether that action will save lives, human or penguin, while I suspect most viewers have already decided one way or another.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: PBS
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
• English (SDH)
• Spanish (SDH)
Running Time: 52 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Science and Nature
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Featurette
• Teachers' Guide


• IMDb

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