Author Archives: blueplanetmh

In memory of Marilee Scaff

(1915-2019), board member of Blue Planet United and star of BPU’s award-winning film, SPIRIT OF PLACE (2010)*.  A longtime community activist, teacher, and naturalist, Dr. Scaff was a passionate advocate for social and environmental causes and an important donor to Blue Planet United.  Until her death in March 2019, Marilee was the nation’s oldest living girl scout and an accomplished author who wrote her best known book, Strength for the Journey, at age 102. A survivor of a POW/internment camp in the Philippines during World War II, Scaff went on to have a distinguished career as an educator in public schools and universities.

Marilee Scaff in Spirit of Place

In order to celebrate and to promote her legacy, Blue Planet United is re-releasing SPIRIT OF PLACE, making it freely available on this and other web sites.  The 29-minute film addresses the importance of wildness in a technologically transformed and urbanizing world. Featuring Marilee Scaff’s observations about a life lived close to nature, the film celebrates the powerful sense of wonder that springs from human encounters with wildlife and spectacular scenery. The purpose of the film is to remind nature lovers everywhere of the inspiring places that add meaning to their lives. It aims to encourage young people, especially, to discover the true wealth hidden in wild landscapes and seascapes. The film builds slowly to an emotional climax that explores human spirituality and mortality at its most profound level, inviting both secular and religious interpretations of our changing relationship with Nature.

Spirit of Place

Written, directed and produced by Monty Hempel

     *Winner of the John Muir Award,  Yosemite International Film Festival, 2011

Click on play button below to view film





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Exploring the Anthropocene

Blue Planet United announces plans for a new on-line video masterclass series, Exploring the Anthropocene, which began production in early 2018 and is scheduled for completion in 2019-2020. The series will be hosted by BPU President, Dr. Monty Hempel, who is writing, directing, and producing the ten-part series.

The Anthropocene is the name proposed by scientists to describe the current geological epoch of planet earth, in which human activities have become a major driving force in altering and often disrupting climate and other global environmental systems. The film series will examine the resulting changes in life and interdependence on a human-dominated planet.

Although presented in the format of a video masterclass, the series will draw heavily on dramatic storytelling, spectacular visuals of nature and wildlife, and a strong blend of science-based learning and poignant appeals for emotional intelligence.  The entire series will be provided free on-line for students in high school, college, and life-long learners, everywhere.


Dr. Monty Hempel, environmental scientist, filmmaker and president of Blue Planet United

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Eye to Eye with Whales

Blue Planet United’s co-founder, Monty Hempel, offers a personal account of an underwater close encounter with whales that profoundly altered his worldview twenty years ago. In an article and accompanying short film (see the film trailer below), Hempel recounts two hours of close engagement with seven dwarf minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) in an area known as the Ribbon Reefs, south of Australia’s Lizard Island National Park.

As a result of the encounter, Hempel began to investigate the ways in which the human brain and the cetacean brain process knowledge about their worlds and about each other. Meeting eye-to-eye, 60 feet below the ocean surface, their worlds come together in a riveting experience of natural wonder and intense curiosity. What humans can learn from this fleeting experience may rival a lifetime of learning from classrooms and books!

Link to the article: Eye to Eye with Whales: Environmental Thought in a Divided Brain: Eye-to-Eye with Whales (Hempel Article)

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Alternate Science

A satirical look at climate science under the Trump administration. This 3-minute film examines the fictitious Trump Coal Coalition and the associated theories of Dr. Theodore Droop, the alternate scientist who discovered thermal erectile dysfunction (TED).  Rated best U.S. short film and runner-up internationally in the 2017 Climate Comedy Video Competition:  “Inside the Greenhouse” (University of Colorado, Boulder).

Like other sustainability organizations that have been disrupted by the election of Donald Trump, Blue Planet United is departing from its usually serious (and hopeful) treatment of the human condition in order to enjoy a little levity.  We remain fully committed to science and reason, while acknowledging the legitimate concerns of some Trump supporters. We wish only that President Trump would focus on those legitimate concerns and spend more time uniting, rather than dividing, the people of this fragile blue planet.

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Prochlorococcus Day

Blue Planet United is calling for a day of special observance of one tiny cyanobacterium’s  contribution to human welfare.  Prochlorococcus, which lives in the ocean, produces approximately 20% of the global oxygen that humans and other lifeforms need to live.  A form of what scientists call photosynthetic picoplankton, it is among the smallest photosynthesizing organisms on Earth, yet one of the most productive.  In fact, Prochlorococcus is considered to be the most abundant primary producer alive, when measured by species.  It alone provides for about one of every five breaths we take.  With that in mind, Blue Planet United is proposing that humanity recognize this microbe’s vital ecological service to our planet.  Since it provides about one-fifth of our yearly oxygen requirement, we suggest that it’s contribution be recognized annually on the date of March 14th (the 73rd day or first fifth of the year).

If you breathe, if you love the ocean, if you feel thankful for all the free services Nature provides, or if you feel that it is high time we recognize the invisible things that keep us alive, please join us in celebrating our interdependence with marine cyanobacteria.



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BLOOD & CORAL Now Available on DVD

Blood & Coral Poster (SMALL)This feature documentary examines the health of the ocean, focusing on coral reefs and their vulnerability to climate disruption, overfishing, pollution, and ocean acidification. Using the spectacular reefs and islands of Palau, the film celebrates the stunning beauty and diversity of wild coral, while calling attention to its growing fragility and rapid decline.

Palau’s battle of Peleliu island, one of World War II’s most savage conflicts, provides the film with a striking analogy for the environmental battle now taking place on the reefs offshore, where bombs have been replaced by greenhouse gases, fishing fleets perform the role of naval artillery, and super typhoons succeed armies as invading forces.

Blood & Coral tells the story of an island paradise that was utterly destroyed by war and slowly restored by Nature in one of Earth’s most incredible feats of redemption. In that powerful regenerative process lies the hope that people and Nature will act in concert to restore and sustain coral reefs, everywhere.

From the director: “Blood & Coral is an environmental elegy that weaves together awe-inspiring scenes of nature’s beauty and fury with searing images of war and human conquest. Unlike an elegy, however, it has the upbeat look of a tropical travel film, complete with scenic landscapes, underwater adventure, and amazing wildlife. By emphasizing both the beauty and fragility of coral ecosystems, the film is intended to engage viewers intellectually and emotionally in the urgent struggle to save wild coral. Preserving coral reefs is ultimately about preserving our humanity.”

Go to our store – “Films” (click on the menu at the top of this page) – to order your copy.  You can also download and stream the video on


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“EROSION OF LIFE” – A new film coming in 2017 from Blue Planet United

We humans like to define ourselves by what we build, invent or create, but our signature trait is manifest most clearly by what we destroy.  Nothing reveals this unflattering trait better than our devastating impact on the animals and plants with which we share this planet.

Only one species, ours, seems poised to dominate everything:  every ecosystem, every watershed, every major food system, every climate zone, every geographic region, every type of habitat, every market, zipcode, biological community, and individual animal — from the Arctic polar bear to the Antarctic penguin and the millions of species in between.

Today’s humans are architects of the most advanced civilization yet achieved and at the same time we are the leading executioners of nonhuman life, presiding over the first mass extinction since the death of the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago. While the current era marks humanity’s first global assault on biodiversity, it is the planet’s sixth major extinction event in the 3.7 billion-year history of life. Scientists warn that in the 21st century alone, the world may lose half of all living species, largely as a result of poorly planned human development and rapid growth in population and per capita consumption. At the individual level, nearly half of global wildlife have been lost in just the past 40 years. This film examines the causes of this “erosion of life” and the steps humanity can take to slow and reverse this race to extinction.

Filmed, directed, and produced by Monty Hempel, the film will present a hopeful but unflinching view of the biodiversity challenge we face in the twenty-first century.  See the official trailer, below, for a preview of the film’s fascinating images, subjects, and themes.

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The Eighth Billion

Enjoy a new short film about population growth and the future of wilderness created by Blue Planet United.  The film combines the efforts of writer, producer and director, Monty Hempel, and population expert and film consultant, Marilyn Hempel.  Marilyn is Blue Planet United’s executive director; Monty is the organization’s president.


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BLOOD & CORAL – A New Film about the Fate of Coral Reefs

Written, directed, and produced by Monty Hempel, president of Blue Planet United, this feature documentary (running time: 71 minutes) examines the impacts of climate change, ocean acidification, and overfishing on coral reef ecosystems.  Using for comparison one of World War II’s most savage conflicts, the battle of Peleliu Island, the film reveals the global battle taking place today on the reefs offshore,  where bombs have been replaced by greenhouse gases and fishing fleets perform the role of naval artillery.  Blood & Coral tells the story of an island paradise that was destroyed by war and then restored by Nature in one of Earth’s incredible acts of redemption.  Exploring the lessons of that redemption, the film finds long-term hope in the regenerative power of people acting in concert with natural systems to protect and restore coral reefs, everywhere.

The film premiered in New York City June 12, 2014, and will soon be available in the Blue Planet United video store and through  See the film trailer, below, for additional information.


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When Good People Deny Human Responsibility for Climate Disruption

by Monty Hempel

As a college professor, I am painfully aware that my students often use education more to justify pre-existing opinions and worldviews than to enlighten themselves with new knowledge and ways of knowing.  This knowledge-for-justification tendency can be found in each of us and varies only by degree of application. But it can be dangerous when it leads people to deny mounting evidence that change is urgently needed, as witnessed in the current debate over climate disruption, or in historic debates about the health hazards of smoking, or the economic hazards of deregulating Wall Street.

The selective use of knowledge to rationalize human wants and behaviors has been heavily studied by social scientists.  They refer to this phenomenon by many different names, including motivated reasoning, confirmation bias, and cultural cognition. Combined with long-studied phenomena of “groupthink” and cognitive dissonance theory, researchers have woven together a persuasive but unflattering account of human reason and its self-serving uses.

The importance of these research findings for people concerned about climate change is in understanding how to communicate better and to present scientific findings in practical tradeoff terms when they somehow threaten the dominant values and institutions of the status quo.  Most people in denial are neither evil nor stupid.  Denial may be an effective way to reduce stress and cognitive dissonance. But it may also deeply undermine their own self-interest, in the long term.

 A major barrier to public mobilization on climate and other global environmental issues is the psychological distance involved in moving from abstract environmental data (e.g., global mean temperature) to more immediate concerns about local impacts, such as disruption of drought cycles in a particular area, and how they may affect one’s personal prosperity or family security.

But there is an even more important kind of distancing that helps to explain the failure to promote eco-literacy when and where it is most needed. This kind of distancing results from the receding boundaries of the natural world in the face of rapid human development. People disconnected from nature have less motivation to learn more about it. The consequences are especially important for children, as suggested by recent book titles, such as Last Child in the Woods and Free-Range Kids. The psychological distance separating the urbanized places where most humans reside from shrinking remnants of natural landscape has never been greater. As a consequence, the opportunity to connect emotionally and physically with nature and wildlife has steadily declined. And implicit in this decline is an accompanying loss of attachment to natural places and wild habitat, or what is sometimes understood as lost bioregional identity.

 Precisely how much this growing separation diminishes human concern about the environment is unknown, but it is clear that people are more likely to protect the things they love and actively internalize. Distancing from nature may have some of the same emotionally debilitating effects as distancing from other people. This separation becomes even more significant in issues of climate change, where the most dramatic impacts are taking place in the Arctic and other remote areas that few people ever visit or monitor.

The obstacles to clear thinking about these kinds of threats extend far beyond psychological distancing. Research on climate change communication has identified dozens of factors that serve to hinder or derail public support for timely action on climate risks.  As a partial summary of many of these factors, I have developed a simple table (below) to help in examining the causal forces at work in the development and persistence of climate denial and disbelief.

Overcoming the disbelief and suspicion that currently polarize large segments of our population will require both intellectual and emotional intelligence about our common origin in the great web of life and our common future in sustaining it.

Causes of Eco-Complacency and Disbelief 



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