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Tipping Tiberi on Climate Change heats up as 'Chasing Ice' crew melts away

Campaigning on familiar issues that include reforming government and education and paying attention to older Americans, Ohio Republican Congressman Pat Tiberi has little fear his constituents will not rehire him this year for another two-year term as they've done seven consecutive times before.

Republican Congressman Pat Tiberi represents Ohio's 12th Congressional District. Climate Change advocates are asking him to embrace the science depicted in "Chasing Ice."
Congressman Pat Tiberi
Constituents of Ohio Congressman Pat Tiberi wrote him messages of encouragement, asking him to be brave and bold, to be their hero, to be a leader by acknowledging the science behind Climate Change.

Tiberi, who early in his political career worked as a staff assistant to nine-term 12th District Congressman John Kasich, who was elected Ohio governor in 2010 and seeks a final four-year term this year, has enjoyed winning margins of not less than 53 percent and as high as 64 percent.

Before filmmaker Jeff Orlowski arrived in Ohio's 12th District, which includes communities north and east of Columbus including Zanesville, Mansfield and Dublin, Congressman Tiberi probably wasn't losing sleep over the issue of Climate Change. But a funny thing happened on his way to reelection this year, something not seen in real life by Buckeyes dwelling at about 40-degrees north latitude—the melting of ancient glacial sheets that has been documented in stunning pictures and video by Mr. Orlowski, whose visual brief to the world court argues that Climate Change is real, undeniable and accelerating faster than once thought—is as close as the nose on their face.

Orlowski's assignment from National Geographic to document the melting of Earth's ancient ice sheets turned into a mission to change the tide of history by gathering undeniable evidence of a changing planet. He and his team just ended a social experiment with political consequences whose design is to tip the Congressman to acknowledge the science behind Climate Change.

"Chasing Ice," his 2012 Sundance Film Festival winner, is the educational tool he's using to sway a loyal Republican like Tiberi to come out of the Climate Change closet into a sunny world populated by a diverse constituency in his district that wants elected officials to take action now, so future generations can point to this era as the time when policy solutions were enacted to avoid the dire circumstances that will surely follow if no action is taken.

In 2012, power plants and major industrial facilities in Ohio emitted more than 130 million metric tons of carbon pollution—an amount equal to the yearly pollution from more than 28 million cars, according to published information. The rate of warming in the Midwest has markedly accelerated over the past few decades, sources note. Between 1900 and 2010, the average Midwest air temperature increased by more than 1.5°F. Since 1991, the amount of rain falling in very heavy precipitation events has been significantly above average.

Many efforts are already underway to mitigate and respond to the impacts of climate change in the Buckeye State and calculating the response now includes changing the mind of Congressman Tiberi.

In early April, a spokesperson for Congressman Tiberi told CGE, "Congressman Tiberi knows about Chasing Ice and has spoken with director/producer Jeff Orlowski when Jeff was visiting Central Ohio, and our policy staff has had an extensive meeting with him. Congressman Tiberi certainly appreciates informed constituents advocating for causes they care about and Congressman Tiberi anticipates the conversation continuing."

To benchmark how little attention Mr. Tiberi has previously given to environmental issues in general and clean water in particular, the gold standard of environmental advocacy groups, the Sierra Club, awards perfect spheres to him and six other Ohio GOP congressmen. By contrast, The Club for Growth, which promotes high growth through economic freedom and limited government, rates the 51-year old Tiber 64-percent on lifetime issues.

Now that Orlowski and his "Chasing Ice" crew have wrapped up their approximately two-month stay in the heart of the 12th District, Climate Change, which probably wasn't on Tiber's policy radar this year, has now been confirmed by a spokesman as an official blip. After screening the film about 65 times to an audience of about 8,000 and distribution of 4,000-plus DVDs, what's on the minds of constituents today may well be on Tiberi's mind tomorrow.

Constituents are telling him it's alright to change his position. At film screenings held around the district, old and young, men and women, singles and couples, were asked to write their message to Congressman Tiberi on why he should watch the film and stop denying or delaying what scientists across the board now know is fact.

One of Tiber's constituents, Bob Place, wrote, "I am in your district, I taught chemistry at Otterbein for 40 years. global warming is real, undeniable and frightening. please help lead us to make common sense decisions for our children's future."

Another, Beth Grace wrote, "Everyday is earth day. Use your power for good." Still others called on his to "dare to inspire change, be part of the solution" while one coached "we have the power to speak, you have the power to act." Tim Dunning wrote, "The time has come to align policy with science. Please continue to learn about climate science."

Robert McCollister, an Adjunct Professor of Government at Shawnee State University who also works as a football and track coach at Rock Hill High School in Lawrence County, told CGE via email that Climate Change is not a far-off, potential problem, but a reality whose consequences are already evident. McCollister said he had seen both Chasing Ice and the PBS NOVA on the Extreme Ice Survey.

"I was instantly enthusiastic about their outreach to Rep. Tiberi, and volunteered to help," McCollister said. "I see this campaign as very important, because if we are able to win over Rep. Tiberi without being confrontational, this could become a model that can be taken to other members of Congress, and thus perhaps lead to action on climate change." McCollister also makes presentations mostly in Ohio's southern counties based on Al Gore's controversial "Inconvenient Truth." Reactions to his presentations, he says, have been very enthusiastic as people decide to volunteer in the fight against Climate Change. The greatest difficulty to McCollister is taking the message to a larger audience. "Given the failure of the traditional media to seriously address the issue," he said, "I see Jeff’s and the Chasing Ice Team’s efforts as potentially a way to break through and reach the larger public."

To some of that larger public, Tiberi becomes a hero if he acknowledge and acts. Not only do they want Mr. Tiberi to watch the film, something his office has previously declined to confirm to CGE, they want him to act on the message of the film. Orlowski believes sharing the imagery and sharing the evidence of his film with Tiberi's constituents enables them to convince the congressman to move forward to at least acknowledge the undeniable common sense science says is real and ongoing.

Orlowski and the Chasing Ice crew believe the only way to make progress with Climate Change is to urge political leaders to understand the science. "Unlike other campaigns, this tour focuses on supporting one Congressman at a time, providing them with both the visual evidence and the support they need from their constituents," the Ohio Chasing Ice Tour webpage advertises.

Some faith-based constitutes asked Tiberi to "listen with your heart" in order to "act for our kids and grandkids." Some were not merely entreating him to do the right thing, but want action now. Denial and delay are not options, one exclaimed before calling for a "carbon tax now." One person put it all in context: "I live in your district but we all live on this planet. Please protect the world we share."

Breann Gonzales, Congressman Tiberi's spokesman, told CGE that Tiberi staff have met with Mr. Orlowski on a number of occasions. "He has continued to say that he believes climate change is a global problem that requires a global solution and that the United States can’t go it alone," she said. "The office has received a handful of communications from people that have seen the film and are interested in knowing Congressman Tiberi’s position."

Orlowski followed film screenings with interactive Q&A discussions he hopes connects "the dots between changes we are seeing worldwide and the impact that these changes are having on central Ohio."

President Obama appears ready to take on Climate Change this year, so Tiberi and other GOP officials who do what Orlowski and others want them to do, acknowledge the science behind melting glaciers, may have to walk a fine line between coming around to the science while not appearing to be on the same side of the issue as the White House. In a Rolling Stone article on the subject, Mr. Obama's "glory days of hope and change" are said to be fading fast as his approval rating has flat-lined below 50 percent and as candidates jockey for 2016.

For Obama, author Jeff Goodell writes, "the game ain't over yet ... In the next few months, he [Obama] will take one of the biggest gambles of his presidency by testing the radical proposition that even SUV-loving Americans believe that global warming is real and are ready to do something about it."

The president could be right or he could be wrong. Orlowski and company believe the time is ripe to push the message of the science. If Obama is wrong, Democrats could lose control of the Senate this fall, and as Goodell puts it, "blow the last opportunity we have to save ourselves from life on a superheated planet."

If this experiment in Tiberi's district can generate momentum beyond the direct outreach a collaborative of like-minded groups and individuals can bring when on point for two months, then Orlowski and crew can show that not only can they film science at work, they can cut through the noise from Climate Change naysayers by giving politicians like Congressman Tiberi a solid patch of scientific ground to stand on, so they can stride forward with confidence to a position they once thought unimaginable.

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