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Environment & Science

The Blank shows Charles Keeling some love, as his famous curve climbs a little bit higher

Mauna Loa Observatory.
Mauna Loa Observatory.

Earlier this year I watched a play being workshopped at The Blank on Santa Monica Boulevard in L.A. At the time, it was called “Tipping Points.”

It was a one-man play about global warming. The night I saw it, James Cromwell folded his long George-Sibley-in-"Six-Feet-Under" frame into the little seats a couple over from me -- a fabulous moment for your humble correspondent.  

The story’s told from the perspective of Dr. Charles Keeling, the guy who went to Mauna Loa to record atmospheric carbon dioxide measurements in parts per million. Those records are important not only because of the length of the record, or their verified accuracy.

These days parts per million form the basis of rallying cries from climate change activists such as Climate activists have debated for years what the “tipping point” is – and what number we need to care about getting below. has a pretty strong explanation of the science it says supports its position that we need to get below 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to prevent some of the most dire predictions about global warming from coming true.

Studio City playwright George Shea cast his friend and neighbor, Mike Farrell, as Keeling. I spoke with Shea and Farrell back in January:

Farrell acknowledges the dangers at the intersection of art and politics: preaching to the converted, for one; overloading an audience with facts, for another. "The issue for me is, the difference between a lecture and a theatrical piece." He says he hopes "Tipping Points" becomes the latter. I observed that Farrell seems to keep his activist work separate from his acting. "In a life like mine, it's not natural to separate them completely," Farrell told me. "When I can find something that marries the two, it can be quite fun." 

The play is now ready for its closeup; the title has been changed to “Dr. Keeling’s Curve.” It opens tonight for a limited run at The Blank; more about tickets and the show at the theatre's site. When the play was workshopped at The Blank, the measured ppm of carbon dioxide at Mauna Loa was at 391. It’s since gone up to 392.