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Earth: The Operators’ Manual

Airs Tuesday, April 9, 2013 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Spray high over Iguaçu Falls, on the border of Brazil and Paraguay, creates a...

Credit: Courtesy of Art Howard

Above: Spray high over Iguaçu Falls, on the border of Brazil and Paraguay, creates a rainbow. The Falls, one of the wonders of the natural world, symbolizes the power of falling water as a potential source of clean energy.

Things that are important to us, like cars and computers, come with manuals. So why not a manual for the most complex operating system of all—the Earth. Is the planet due for an oil change? What do we need to do to keep Earth operating at peak performance? These are some of the questions addressed in "Earth: The Operators' Manual," a one-hour special on climate change and sustainable energy.

Host Richard Alley takes viewers to locations around our planet to see the evidence for themselves. For proof of climate change, we explore massive glaciers in New Zealand whose advances and retreats during the Ice Ages are tied to changing levels of carbon dioxide.

We go to the National Ice Core Lab in Denver, Colorado, where records of past temperatures and atmospheric composition are unlocked from 400,000 year old ice.

To put numbers on sustainable energy options, locations include the sunniest place in the world, the dunes near Yuma, Ariz. where solar power could offer 80 percent of Earth's current use, and the hot springs and geysers of New Zealand, sacred to the native Maori but which now power geothermal generating stations.

Host Richard Alley once worked for an oil company, is a contributor to the UN panel on climate change (the IPCC), has testified to Congress about climate change and been a "tour guide" for Senators visiting the glaciers of Greenland.

Alley concludes the program, high on Hawaii's Mauna Kea, with this win-win-win suggestion: "If we approach Earth as if we have an Operators' Manual, we can avoid climate catastrophes, improve energy security, and make millions of good jobs."

Also appearing in this film are Rear Admiral David Titley, Oceanographer of the Navy, and a contributor to the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review which in 2010, for the first time, cited climate change as a "threat multiplier"; Annise Parker, Mayor of Houston, Texas, whose city is—perhaps surprisingly—the #1 municipal purchaser of renewable energy in the United States; rancher Steve Oatman, who may be uncertain about climate change but knows America needs clean energy, and Peggy Liu, chairperson of JUCCCE, the Joint US-China Collaboration on Clean Energy.

This program originally aired in 2011.

Trailer: Earth: The Operators' Manual

Watch the full episode. See more Shop.

In "Earth: The Operators' Manual," premiering on PBS during Earth Month 2011, join geologist Richard Alley as he travels the world, from New Zealand to China, Brazil, Spain and Morocco with stops in New Orleans, Texas and military bases in California.

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