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Local scientists featured in climate change documentary with Pope Francis

Greg asner pope francis
Courtesy The Letter/Laudato Si’ Movement
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Greg Asner and Robin Martin meet Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Two Hawaiʻi scientists, a husband and wife team, are representing the islands on the global stage in a new film about the Pope’s efforts to fight climate change.

"The Letter: A Message for our Earth" features individuals from across the world in conversation with Pope Francis about how climate change affects their communities.

"He said we're looking for representatives, someone to represent the voice of wildlife and biodiversity, which turned out to be Robin and me, someone to represent the voice of the poor, the voice of Indigenous peoples and the voice of the youth," said Big Island conservationist and marine biologist Greg Asner.

Asner and Robin Martin use satellite imagery and big data to monitor the health of coral reefs. Their work mapping underwater heatwaves, as well as their interventions to improve reef health, caught the attention of filmmakers.

The couple said it was an honor to be a part of the project and they did not take the opportunity lightly.

"I'm really proud that we got this chance. Hawaiʻi has a major voice in this movie, both as the icon that it is and the challenges we all face as an island state and island community. I hope Hawaiʻi will take a look at this movie," Asner said. "We're speaking globally, we're looking outward in this movie to all peoples, not just Catholics, but all people."

Greg Asner and Robin Martin
Laudato Si’ Movement
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Greg Asner and Robin Martin

"Pope really, really was careful to make sure that this was outward-looking. But Hawaiʻi is front and center, especially from the wildlife and biodiversity and environment portion of the movie," Asner added.

Asner and Martin have been working on the Big Island for more than three decades. Their nonprofit, the Hawaiʻi Marine Education and Research Center, was honored with the Marine Sustainability Award at the Big Island’s Sustainability Conference last month.

"You'll notice in the movies, we don't give any answers. It's just about the world itself, and what's happening here and, with hope, that everybody can come together and help the earth heal itself," Martin said.

The film premieres Dec. 21 on PBS and is available online for free.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Dec. 12, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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