Science teacher Greg Craven had one night before the last day of school to finish "The Most Terrifying Video You'll Ever See" in time to...
INDEPENDENCE, Ore. — Science teacher Greg Craven had one night before the last day of school to finish “The Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See” in time to let his high-school students know about it.
Downing cans of Red Bull, Craven holed up in a science lab at Central High here, editing all night. At 6 a.m., bleary-eyed, he posted his 9 ½-minute global-warming video on YouTube.
His students linked to it on their MySpace pages. By that night, 60 people had clicked on it. Soon after, 1,000. Craven was psyched. That kind of “viral” growth gets you noticed on YouTube, the Internet’s anarchic video smorgasbord. Within two more hours, his wife called: It’s up to 10,000, she said.
Now, six months later, Craven’s earnest and quirky appeal to act on climate change has collected more than 4 million views worldwide — roughly 500 times the population of Independence. That puts it near the top of YouTube’s all-time list for views in the news and politics category.
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The 38-year-old family man has sifted through some 7,000 comments and discussions, mostly critical. One said: “My toddler drools more cogent arguments.”
After posting the first video, Craven agonized about a hole in his theory, skipped his aunt’s wedding to fill it, took a monthlong break at his wife’s insistence, then spent six weeks producing a 44-part, six-hour sequel, “How It All Ends.”
He slept two or three hours a night. He spent $500 on energy drinks. He made his relatives very nervous.
“It became a little bit maniacal,” Craven admitted last week from behind his desk at Central High. “But if you think you see the emergency escape hatch when the Titanic’s going down, you’re going to do what you can to help people get to it.”
A recent activist
Craven grew up in Silverton, Ore., and graduated from the University of Puget Sound with majors in Asian studies and computer science. In his 20s, he wrote some code, knocked around Asia, worked in his dad’s nursery and took science classes at the University of Washington.
Global-warming presentations there and his chemistry classes got him wondering. He realized he had taken enough science to become a high-school science teacher. He used the climate-change debate to teach critical thinking.
His activism didn’t kick in until he and his wife, Jodi Coleman, 37, got high-speed Internet nine months ago. He concluded that a video was the perfect way to get his points across.
Wearing a T-shirt and glasses in “Most Terrifying,” he sketches a four-part chart to help frame his argument:
We don’t have to know for certain whether human-induced global warming is really occurring to act on it, he says, because “the risk of not acting far outweighs the risk of acting.”
Under a worst-case scenario, excessive regulation to reverse global warming could trigger a “global economic depression which makes the 1930s look like a cakewalk,” Craven tells viewers.
But at its worst, climate change could cause droughts, floods, dust bowls, famine, economic collapse and the displacement of millions of people.
“How lucky do you feel?” he asks.
Lots of views
The video got more than 500,000 hits on Craven’s site. Somehow, it also ended up on another YouTube page, where it got 2.8 million views, and on break.com, a video site for young men. There it got 1 million hits.
Craven’s fans liked his argument, his “inescapable logic.” They also liked his low-key and frank tone, his off-kilter sense of humor, his way of not speaking down to people.
Craven’s hundreds of critics said his argument was too simplistic. Who was he to talk? What if mankind’s response messed things up even more?
This one hit Craven hardest: His four-part chart laid out the worst-case scenario for global warming, critics said, but didn’t take into account the probability of that scenario actually happening.
In Craven’s view, the science suggests the probability of damage from global warming is high and the odds of excessive damage from our response are low. But his first video didn’t handicap the odds.
He filmed follow-up fixes, but they were hard to find on YouTube.
Craven took a month off to be with his wife and two young daughters. But then he jumped back in, taking just six weeks to produce his sequel, 44 segments under 10 minutes each, to meet YouTube’s time limits.
The sequel’s introduction has gotten more than 500,000 views, most on break.com.
The backup videos, still fun but wonkier, have far lower totals. That’s disappointing, Craven says. “But I can look my kids in the face years from now and feel OK, that I did everything I could — even if the carbon has hit the fan.”