A Bowlful of Cherries

Celebrating Matty and Noah

The day after tomorrow

On the 28th next month, The Day After Tomorrow (warning: slick) opens. The disaster movie shows climate change destroying the earth. “In this special-effects packed, highly anticipated event motion picture, an abrupt climate change has cataclysmic consequences for the entire planet.” One photo shows a tidal wave roaring through Manhattan. The caption says, “All hope is abandoned.” The city is later devoured by a glacier. Tornados sweep through Los Angeles.

The movie may be so preposterous that people will perceive it as unlikely as an alien attack or a collision with a meteor. That could harm the efforts of environmental groups working with policymakers to tighten controls on greenhouse gas emissions believed to cause climate change. The movie provides a great opportunity to raise the issue in general, but because of the exaggerations, it makes that discussion more difficult. You can’t promote an alarmist view of climate change, but you don’t want to miss an opportunity to gain traction on the issue.

(The Sierra Club is planning a national summer campaign on climate change and will take the opening the movie provides.)

What’s a person to believe? Waterworld had us living in boats because all the ice caps melted, and now this, New York City buried in ice? Are we really facing such disastrous climate extremes? And how will global warming make glaciers in Manhattan?

Global warming is a complicated problem. But we’re seeing the effects already. If we don’t start fixing it soon, the damage will be much more costly (see the 2003 Sigma Report on the Swiss Re website), and could be impossible to reverse.

Since 1990 we’ve seen the 10 warmest years on record; since 1980 we’ve seen 19 of the 20 warmest. The National Academy of Sciences agrees that heat-trapping pollution is the main cause. Average temperature increases of 3 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit will occur by the end of the century unless emissions are cut soon.

The apparent contradiction that global warming could produce severe cooling is based on evidence that fresh water from melting polar ice could change ocean flows radically enough to shut down the warm Gulf Stream current, cooling much of Europe. While this prospect remains highly speculative, the idea that such extreme change is possible only underscores the urgent need to start cutting emissions now.

I think it would be better if the movie was less about “sending a superhero out to destroy the meteorite heading toward earth” and more “the brave scientist fighting the evil corporation.” The Insider, which depicted Russell Crowe as a tobacco industry scientist fighting to make public damming information that tobacco companies knew about smoking’s health risks while publicly denying those risks, is a perfect example of the latter. But I won’t pretend to tell Hollywood how to make movies. After all, I love Sleepless in Seattle.

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Written by Michael

12 Apr 2004 at 1024am

Posted in Misc.

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