Group's Video Equates Flying And Polar Bears

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A British environmental group has produced a video that shows falling polar bears slamming into the sides of buildings, onto the sidewalk or into the top of a parked car. The group, Plane Stupid, equates the weight of each bear, 400 kilograms, to the amount of greenhouse gases produced by an average European flight for each passenger it carries. Andrew Revkin, a New York Times reporter who covers the environment, looks at the facts.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The ongoing debate over climate change continues online in a latest Internet video Gone Viral.

(Soundbite of Internet video)

NORRIS: Just a picture of skyline and tell you see objects falling from the sky. As the shot gets closer, you see that those objects are actually polar bears. And you hear the steady roar of a jet engine growing louder and louder.

(Soundbite of jet engine)

NORRIS: As the video continues you also hear the sound of those falling polar bears slamming into the sides of building, falling flat on the sidewalk, crashing into the top of a parked car.

NORRIS: Gruesome stuff. The screen then goes black and a message appears. It reads: An average European flight produces over 400 kilogram of greenhouse gasses for every passenger. That's the wait of an adult polar bear. That video is produced by the British environmental group Plane Stupid, that's plane as an airplane. It's clearly meant to shock people but the claims accurate?

Well, for more we turn to Andrew Revkin. He covers the environment and climate issues for the New York Times. Welcome to the program.

Mr. ANDREW REVKIN (Reporter, New York Times): Good to be with you.

NORRIS: This ad is clearly shocking, but I'd like to do a little bit of fact checking on the specific claims that are made. They claim that the average European flight produces more then 400 kilogram of greenhouse gasses for every passenger, that claim true or false?

Mr. REVKIN: It's consistent with what I see in for assessment and how much the burning of fuel per person per mile adds up to. If you look at the United States, it's over a ton of emissions to go from the East to the West coast, couple of tons obviously to do round trip. So, again, it's in the ballpark of what I understand.

NORRIS: And that adds up to the weight of an average polar bear?

Mr. REVKIN: Well, there are polar bears that are well over the half ton range, having been in the Arctic a few times and avoiding seeing them which is what you want to do when you're in the field. But learning a lot about them from scientists, yeah, that's right.

NORRIS: Plane Stupid, the group that produced the video, claims that aviation is the fastest rising cause of climate change. Is that correct?

Mr. REVKIN: Well, in a way, it could be a red herring. It is a fast rising source of emissions. The world is becoming netted by aviation in ways that are just unbelievable and wealthier people are flying more and more even in developing countries. But it's still a very small portion of the overall pie of emissions, globally. It's under a couple of percent I'm quite sure.

NORRIS: Why do you think they chose polar bears falling from the sky?

Mr. REVKIN: Well, I think there's this ongoing effort in the environmental community to get people to make linkages that are tough. It's, you know, when you're flying or driving or running your household and turning up the heat and doing all the things we do that produce emissions, most people aren't thinking about the future of the Arctic or sea level. And there's this eagerness to somehow concretize that connection for people.

And, I think, that's pretty clear what they're trying to do here. Although they've a tough go because the Arctic is not exactly the wake up call that some would hope. In other words, it's a faraway place, most people will never be there. It's a place in the mind. So, can you actually get people to change their energy habits or voting habits based on the fate of polar bears, to begin with, is unresolved.

NORRIS: Andrew Revkin, thanks so much.

Mr. REVKIN: My pleasure.

NORRIS: Andrew Revkin writes for The New York Times. And he covers environment and climate issues.

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