Palo Alto filmmaker Vanessa Warheit was riding her bicycle, surrounded by cars in traffic, when the "poop analogy" occurred to her.
She'd recently learned that burning a gallon of gas, which weights six pounds, creates about 19 pounds of carbon dioxide. Suddenly she imagined the cars around her spewing human waste and stumbled on the idea for a new film.
A year later, on Tuesday, April 22 -- Earth Day 2014 -- Warheit launched a $21,000 fundraising drive for the new project, "Worse Than Poop!," at a kickoff party at the home of Palo Alto eco-designer Sandra Slater.
She envisions it as a short, funny, animated feature narrated by her son Elliot, a Palo Alto third-grader -- that will teach children about the science of climate change. Warheit herself is a trained presenter with Al Gore's Climate Reality Project.
"The idea came to me fully formed in my head," Warheit said Tuesday. "Carbon dioxide is a gas so you don't see it, it just floats around. So I thought, 'What if you could see it and see it as something objectionable, like poop?"
The analogy seemed so obvious to her she felt certain somebody already had made such a film.
"And yet nobody has," she said.
She hopes the project will help kids comprehend climate change "in a way that's humorous and lighthearted," she said. "If you just focus on the negative and you're too serious about it, people don't know what to do with that and they don't act.
"But we have to act. We don't have a choice. Our choice is to stick our heads in the sand and go down with the ship, or to look it in the face and say what we're going to do."
The film, Warheit said, will present alternatives "and there are tons of alternatives we just have to start choosing them."
Warheit, whose past film projects have included in-house videos for Stanford University and local corporations as well as a 2010 documentary that aired on PBS, has shifted her own habits after studying climate science reports and reading books such as Mark Lynas's "Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet."
She rides her bicycle "everywhere" around Palo Alto and also owns a Fiat 500e. Her husband commutes daily by bicycle and Caltrain to South San Francisco.
For the upcoming film, Warheit and her son have already interviewed an array of clean transportation enthusiasts, including a manager of San Francisco's electric trolleys and a San Francisco mother who hauls two kids and groceries around the city on an electric-assisted Xtracycle, a bike with an extra-long rack.
She was heartened Tuesday at Elliot's elementary school drop-off when, in honor of Earth Day, families were encouraged to walk, bike or carpool to school.
"Usually on a regular day there are cars lined up ... but this morning there were almost no cars and the bike racks were full. So it is possible," she said. "We just have to do it a lot more."