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Museum of Natural History in New York Sounds Alarm to Perils of Global Warming

A major new exhibit on climate change at the Museum of Natural History in New York is today's classroom for Christi Lagos and her seventh-grade science students from Park Slope Middle School 88 in Brooklyn, New York.

"Climate Change: The Threat to Life and a New Energy Future" opens with a wall-sized photomural that illustrates technological advances - steam engines, electric power lines, trains, cars and planes - that have been reshaping the world since the Industrial Revolution.

Lagos points to the neon red line that runs diagonally across the collage tracking the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

"We have more people, all these cars, all these roads, all these people," she says. "So if these are the things that are causing the increase in CO2, what can we do about it?"

The students spend the rest of the day trying to figure that out. Eyes are drawn from the mural to a model of a one-ton block of coal, a reminder that every two months an average American home emits 2.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide. The story of how climate works is told on luminated rotating globes that project moving images of clouds and ocean currents.

The exhibit also displays ominous scenes of a warmer world: the death of a coral reef, a polar bear foraging for food in a garbage dump, and New York underwater after a dramatic rise in sea level. Responding to worried faces, Lagos tells her students the future doesn't have to turn out this way. They have the power to change it.

"If we start making changes now, we can stop this from happening. That's why you are here today, because you are the next generation who is going to be making decisions."

The exhibit reinforces that idea at interactive work stations and in videos about clean energy alternatives. Curator Edmond Mathez hopes visitors leave empowered to take steps to mitigate climate change.

"The solutions involve things that we can do individually, but also things that we have to do collectively as not just communities, but as a nation and as a global community," he says.

Lagos and her students take these lessons seriously.

"I am going to make sure that those connections are made, that this exhibit isn't just something that they look at, but it is something that they apply to their own lives," she says.

Students share their teacher's enthusiasm.

"I'll turn off the water when I'm brushing my teeth," says one child. Another promises she won't waste paper and will turn off the lights at home. She adds that she also will walk or take her bike instead of riding in a car so much.

"It's important to stop global warming so that people can live better in the future," she says.

"Climate Change: The Threat to Life and A New Energy Future" remains on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York through August. Then it will go on the road with stops in Europe, Mexico and the Middle East.