One of new Mayor-elect Jean Quan's first official acts last weekend was to welcome an enthusiastic crowd of visitors to Chabot Space and Science Center. The Center, long an Oakland treasure, outdid itself Saturday with the opening of a new exhibit, Bill Nye's Climate Lab. This is not just an exhibit, it is an experience. It is designed for people to participate, and the visitors did so with enthusiasm. A long time Chabot volunteer, I have seen the introduction of a number of new exhibits but I think this one is unique in concept and scope.
The exhibit as described on their website “explores the effects of climate change on the Earth's interconnected systems; use of the sun, wind, land and water to generate clean energy; and innovative technology and design that will yield long term benefits for human health and the planet.”
Unlike so many discussions of climate change, it does not try to assign blame or forecast doom and destruction, but rather it focuses on the positive, engaging the viewers to participate in finding solutions. Furthermore, they can continue the process at home, becoming a “climate scout” and going on line to consider more climate issues. Each person entering the exhibit is given their own “Climate Scout I.D.” card which they can register on line and accumulate points as they solve more problems and find solutions.
As any good exhibit is expected to be, it is educational. But more than that, it's great fun! Ostensibly designed for kids around middle school age, everybody gets involved. Everybody, little kids, parents and grandparents, gets their Climate Scout I.D. It is a delight to watch parents and children helping each other to turn cranks or push buttons or levers to capture solar power or create wind energy or wave energy which lights up a lamp or runs a motor. There are colorful graphic exhibits that get adults and even little kids talking about recycling, waste, water and energy use, or figuring out how to design green buildings. Complementing the exhibits were a series of labs set up in the class rooms with interactive demonstrations and activities happening all day Saturday and Sunday.
Besides visiting Bill Nye's Climate Lab, hopefully first time visitors to Chabot will discover and take advantage of the many other programs the Center offers for all ages. There are interactive exhibits for people to experience place flight or explore the expanse of the universe. There is a replica of John Glenn's space capsule, a Soyuz capsule and a real Russian space suit. There are a number of ongoing classes and workshops, a planetarium and a MegaDome theater offering various shows, and much, much more. Possibly the most special of all, there are three telescopes used by professionals but open on Friday and Saturday evenings free to the public for viewing the skies.
The Center is on Skyline Boulevard just a mile and a half off Joaquin Miller Road.