Scientists welcome Hollywood blockbuster on global warming

Posted: 2 June 2004

Scientists, environmentalists and concerned politicians have welcomed the blockbuster film The The Day After Tomorrow as a wake up call to the climate crisis facing the planet.

The $125m movie, now on general release, is generally agreed to present a wildly exaggerated picture of the dangers of global warming - with the earth paradoxically plunged almost overnight into a new ice age that freezes the British royal family to death in their Scottish estates, tidal waves that swamp New York and tornadoes that destroy Los Angeles.

But British scientists, who saw a sneak preview, said the film will help to focus attention on the real danger that the Gulf Stream could weaken or fail, as the Arctic glaciers melt, leading to radical cooling in the northern hemisphere and to drought and forest destruction in the tropics.

These and other possible consequences of climate change are now worrying scientists around the world. But they have spurred only a limited response from politicial leaders, especially those of the United States, Russia and Australia who have dragged their feet on the Kyoto Protocol, which seeks to begin the global response to the problem.

Chief adviser

Two British scientists who welcome the film as a way of raising public awareness, are the government's chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, and Dr Geoff Jenkins, head of the Hadley Centre for Climate Change.

Sir David said he was struck, not only by the special effects, but by the realism of the opening scquences, including the political content of the film, which sees the scientific hero struggling unsuccessfully to convince the US Vice President, among others, of the dangers.

Dr Jenkins said it was wrong to be "too po-faced" about the traditional excesses of a disaster movie, which sees weather-related disasters taking place over a few days, which might be expected over 100 years.

"Certainly the basic process of shutting down the Gulf Stream could in principle happen in the same way that it happened before," he said. "We do need to be concerned about the stability of the ocean circulation and why that could change in the future."

False impression

These views were reflected in the United States by former Vice President Al Gore, who said that while no one should see the movie as an accurate account of global warming, it might throw a national spotlight on the issue.

It was time the nation got serious about global warming, he said, and time people acknowledged that the "Bush/Cheney administration has worked very hard to create a false impression that the scientific community is uncertain about whether this is a serious problem."

Al Gore was joined in a US teleconference by Harvard University paleoclimatologist Dan Schrag, who said that while the film exaggerated the timescale of climate change, the phenomenon was real. He said that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, had risen from 280 parts in a million before the industrial revolution to 380ppm.

"These levels have not been seen for 30 to 50 million years" he said. And the longer humanity waits the harder it will get to slow the experiment we are now performing on the planet.

Sources: The Guardian and Environment News Service, May 13, 2004.

Related links:

Climatic Research Unit, UEA

Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research

Natural Environment Research Council - Rapid Climate Change

The Day After Tomorrow (Official website)

DAT guide to extreme weather phenomena