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The Threats of Sea Level Rise: An Eco-Geopolitical Visual Analysis

Jorge Nowell-Enriquez, Author

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     Assessment of the Project:
The problem of sea level rise is one of the many alterations produced by global warming and this video allows us to visualize this problem presenting causes and consequences.  The problem of sea level rise is a kind of silent catastrophe already affecting millions of the coast lands inhabitants. I think this video successfully presents the human drama, and it also presents how several communities are suffering in the face of this silent problem already.  This video was a technical challenge that demanded my time to learn the use of the video editor and to get skills to do its production.  Its value is something left to the viewers’ criteria.
 My idea was to produce something appealing.  However, it is my aim to evoke an emotional reaction to this almost unknown problem and I believe this aim is fulfilled.  This video probably does not present with enough depth each of the problems sea level rise produces, but it addresses important outlines of the problem.  The richness of using new media, digital and my own visuals expand the frontiers of doing scholarly research.
The great amount of information available on internet opens new fields to research.  This video wants to pioneer and promote the researching of images and other internet resources to do scholarship.  The great amount of visuals and scientific material gives an opportunity to do research from the screen of a computer and this video production attempts to exemplify this trend. 
This video successfully explains the destruction of productive infrastructure, housing, as well as natural habitats and ecosystems by sea level rise. It also explains the surge of mass migrations with social, political, and economic consequences at local, national and global level. These catastrophes will affect big cities around the world and will challenge local and national governments. Thus, this project is a professional eco-geo-political analysis presented visually.
In conclusion, this video reaches the scientific and artistic objectives of its conception. In addition, it presents the new field of research available thanks to the development of internet resources.  
         Setbacks and challenges, and how these were handled.
Because part of my studies are related to aesthetics, I wanted to add from my own artistic production.  I worked for several weeks producing animations of my watercolors, but at the time of the video edition I thought these animations were confusing so I discarded them.  Instead, I chose watercolors and photographs I had made as a way to weave together the flow of different sections and topics of the video.
Scientific uncertainty:
There is uncertainty about the forecasting of climate change effects.  Scholars do not agree to what extent the climate will change and which data will best forecast future changes and threats.  The scientific discussion is about whether the temperature will rise 1.5, or 2, or 3 degree Celsius.  The lack of accord produces the difficulty to have a benchmark and because the changes are not happening quickly.  An example of the uncertainty of the scientific projections is the recent discovery of a faster melting of Antarctic and Arctic.  This recent discovery allows for a new more alarming calculation of the speed with which sea levels will rise. 
Copyrights are an important legal issue because these protect the ownership of an inventor or intellectual producer.  Indeed, Graduate Center and CUNY place strong emphasis in its protection and the instructions of CUNY to those who do academic work highly recommend its accomplishment.  My first step in the research was to consult the US Government Copyrights Office website to understand how the law defines copyright and what kinds of works are protected.  The Act and regulations are written to avoid intellectual property plagiarism.   The law allows the use of protected works as Fair Use (section 107 of the U.S. Copyrights Act) to do academic research and production.  The remaining question to legally produce this video was to find the correct interpretation of the academic exemption.  Thus, the research to solve this question, and understand the extension of protection and legal allowances of fair use took time.  Indeed, it took several weeks and the next step after consulting a government office website was to consult with my academic advisor, and she referred me to consult a specialized librarian at the Graduate Center Library.  The librarian’s answer was that this was not a common question and I got an email explaining what copyrights are but not how to apply the academic exemption.   The following step was to do a query on internet and find legal information and experiences. 
  Several specialized websites describe the difficulty in defining the use of a protected work and several case studies did not define a specific position about fair use.  The cases that I consulted were related to the use of news or other kind of news material on commercial platforms. In most of cases, judges dismissed the lawsuit because the utilization did not produce economic damage to the owner, and the use was not specifically commercial.
The conclusion is that fair use allows the use of protected productions with academic purposes.  Therefore, because this video is intended to fulfill an academic requirement, the use of protected materials such as images, sound, and photos is allowed.  The second characteristic of this video production is that it will not produce profits, and this point is very important because once protected materials are used to make profits the owner has a right to get a share of the gains.  Indeed, licensing copyrights is an established business and specialized companies get owners’ rights to license the use of protected material, also some of them do their business on internet, establishing different categories of licenses according to the application and size of the divulgation.
The recommendation of the capstone academic advisor was to limit my use of all visual material to those that were open source, creative commons, or works produced with government funds, including works of international organizations that are free to use, and without any limitation to the extension of its utilization.  In addition, many nonprofit organizations or individuals produce intellectual material allowing its utilization without limits.  However, there is an important point to deal with and it is that open source or other authors that allow the use of their productions always ask for the accreditation of their productions, and this requirement is popular among the creative commons productions and open source photographs.  Also, few producers want to get a written request as procedure, even more, permits for the utilization of protected work is easy to get after the payment of a small fee.  Furthermore, many websites or video producers explain their copyrights’ policies clearly allowing academic application, but each producer has own policy and sometimes the academic use is not clearly explained.
In sum, the legal use of protected works in academia is clear, but the application on the new digital media is ambiguous and it can be difficult to comprehend.  The academic utilization is well defined by law, but because the application of protected works in academic video production is new, and the issue is not clearly defined, the decision and advice to do this academic non-commercial work was to use mainly open source and commons productions giving the respective credits and merits, and respecting the identifications of the producers on the material.
Academic challenges:
Scientists have to define a starting point from which begin to study the effects of global warming.  The difficulty to define the level of temperature change is complicated by the constant increase of temperature and its multiple manifestations including weather pattern changes and the continuous generation of natural disasters.   This discussion is important because every half degree of temperature change geometrically increases the problems and the reach of damages.  The deliberation on whether the change will be one or two degrees Celsius, or upward up to the  last worrisome proposal of a change of four degrees, can produce very different predictions of the effects on human habitats and ecosystems.  My solution to this discussion was to select the material for the video, and to do screen captures that deal with the broad range of change of temperature suppositions using the different projections and to allow viewers to learn about the different possibilities used as the starting point of scientific discussions. 
Technological challenges:
As previously discussed I faced many technological difficulties in producing the video, including finding adequate and efficient software to do screen captures and to edit the video.   Because of my commitment to work with open source resources I downloaded VSDC Video Editor, the free program of Flash Integro, which runs without problems.  The program is semiprofessional and it has great amount of useful tools.  This program is very friendly to the user and I did not have any difficulty learning to use it.  After learning to use the basics, I could learn besides while working on the production even at cost of some time.  This program is free and it is a recommendable tool.
To produce a soundtrack I downloaded the Audacity program.  It is a good open source program and it has appropriate capacity and tools, but some commands are difficult to use, especially how to choose the source of sound.  With this program I downloaded and edited music, effects, and podcasts as previously described.   
 Finally, I added my digital photographs from New York and photographs of my watercolors.  To take the photos of my watercolors I used the camera of my cell phone Samsung Galaxy 8.  And I chose from my personal digital album few pictures from New York’s places related to the sea level rise. I would like to remark that these photographs are not edited.
  Successes and failures of the project
 In the early days when I began to prepare the capstone abstract proposal I found essays, many of which dealt with the discussion of the temperature’s gradient change.  As I continued to search the literature I found a vast scholarship describing very well the chains of problems produced by sea level rise as a consequence of climate change and global warming.  I saw my greatest challenge was to produce a five-minute production, to reduce the complexities into a short but effective visual narrative.  I have been reading publications and watching videos for almost a year since I started to plan my capstone project, and to elaborate the proposal for the MALS Program.  Nevertheless, I was worried about the scientific deliberation of the future rate of the change of temperature as I decided to do this project.  This theoretical conundrum remains undecided among research institutes, universities, governments, and international organization researching different problems and publishing their discoveries with their particular prediction of level of change.  
Because of the variety and amplitude of the problems produced by global warming, I had the challenge of selecting and defining a specific issue to research and produce a video.  I have chosen and set limits with the advice of Professor Luttrell. After an exchange of emails and a meeting to define issues I decided on the following parameters for the project.  It should represent the interdisciplinary character of my career, reflect the application of my individualized track, honor my own interests in eco-geopolitical analysis, and take the form of a multi-media presentation to explore and evoke the consequences of sea level rise. 
Continuation of the project
             The studies of the individualized track career and my capstone project will allow me to work analyzing the effects produced by intertwined fields that influence geopolitical issues: political systems, habitats, geography, and the availability of natural resources. By doing this project I learned about the effects of climate change and the geopolitical effects of natural disasters as these are related to the weather changes that affect the life of the whole world, from the production and transport of food, to how weather changes lead to catastrophes and scarcity of essentials for everyday life, and how these produce a mass migration of climate change refugees.
              In short, understanding the changes produced by global warming and sea level rise, its political effects, possible natural catastrophes, and how these affect the ecosystems of both human and natural life will allow me to continue to investigate important global changes.  I believe the Liberal Studies Program of the Graduate Center was the perfect place to design a topic that fulfills my specific needs to acquire the appropriate skills and tools to conduct professional research.
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