Climate Emergency: Feedback Loops

Updated: Apr 8

Everyone has heard about global warming, but few understand how environmental feedback loops amplify the warming even further. With captivating illustrations and interviews with leading climate scientists, Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania is proud to present this 5 part science documentary and panel discussion series which explores how human activity is setting off earth’s own warming loops that are pushing the climate to a point of no return—from the melting ice and snow in the Arctic to the atmospheric jet stream to the thawing of permafrost—and what we can do to stop them.


Join us for five intriguing panel discussions over the next six months as we delve into the Climate Emergency: Feedback Loops. The first will be May 19th at 6 PM. More information coming soon.


“Listen to the scientists.” That’s been the refrain of climate activist Greta Thunberg in her public appearances and speeches at conferences worldwide. The five short films that make up Climate Emergency: Feedback Loops take this message to heart. In the series, twelve leading climate scientists explain how warming caused by human activity has set in motion Earth’s own natural warming mechanisms, releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and further warming the planet. The programs convey the urgent necessity to stop these cycles and let natural systems do their job of removing carbon, preserving the delicate balance necessary to maintain Earth’s temperature.

Out of dozens of environmental feedback loops, the films focus on four major areas, demonstrating how warming in forests, permafrost, the atmosphere, and the poles work together to create further warming in dangerous, amplifying cycles. For example, forests absorb and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Cutting down forests releases the stored carbon, leaving fewer trees to remove it and raising temperatures. Higher temperatures lead to increased hazards of drought, fire and disease, which kills yet more trees, accelerating warming in a vicious cycle. Thawing permafrost in the warming northern hemisphere is causing microbes to wake up and digest the previously frozen stored carbon deep within the soil, releasing carbon dioxide and methane as byproducts. These greenhouse gases, in turn, warm the climate further, causing the thawing of even more permafrost in a warming cycle. Despite these feedback loops pushing the climate to a point of no return, they are not generally understood by the public or many policymakers. Some are not even included in climate models.

Narrated by Richard Gere and launched by the Dalai Lama and Greta Thunberg in a virtual conversation with climate scientists in January 2021, the films use captivating illustrations, stunning footage, and clear and fact-based explanations by scientists to examine this missing piece of the climate puzzle.

The film was directed and co-written by Susan Gray, senior produced and written by Bonnie Waltch, and produced by Barry Hershey. Gray and Waltch spent much of 2019 researching feedback loops and interviewing climate scientists at M.I.T., Dartmouth, the University of Cambridge, Oregon State University, the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Woodwell Climate Research Center. They filmed between October 2020 and January 2021 and began editing just before Covid hit.

Once completed, the short films were crafted into a one-hour broadcast version called Earth Emergency. That film had its national PBS broadcast in December 2021 and is being sold to broadcasters worldwide. Prior to COP26, the filmmakers were invited by the U.K. Parliament to participate in a webinar for members of the House of Commons heading to the conference. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales invited the filmmakers to screen Earth Emergency for members of his Terra Carta Strategic Markets Initiative at COP26.

For all the dire implications of feedback loops, there’s still hope that we can slow or even reverse these warming cycles by cutting emissions, stopping deforestation and regreening the Earth. In the films, scientists encourage viewers to educate themselves about climate change, to vote, and to hold their policymakers accountable. Available on a website, free of charge, with accompanying discussion guides and a science curriculum for grades K-6, the Climate Emergency: Feedback Loops series is a valuable resource for furthering education and conversation about a topic we can no longer ignore.


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