Gore Warns of 'Climate Emergency' While Promoting Disaster Film
By Marc Morano
CNSNews.com Senior Staff Writer
May 12, 2004
(CNSNews.com) - Former Vice President Al Gore warned of a "climate emergency" on Tuesday as he joined forces with political activists from MoveOn.org to promote a Hollywood disaster film that shows global warming creating an ice age and causing massive destruction.
The Day After Tomorrow , a 20th Century Fox production set for release on Memorial Day, stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Dennis Quaid. The $125-million movie will offer "a rare opportunity to have a national conversation about what truly should be seen as a global climate emergency," Gore told reporters.
"I hope this movie will provide many opportunities for in-depth conversations about what this issue is really all about," Gore added. Others participating in Tuesday's teleconference are also planning to use the timing of the film's release to attack the Bush administration's environmental policies.
Rolland Emmerich directed The Day After Tomorrow . His disaster/adventure film portfolio also includes Godzilla and Independence Day.
Emmerich's latest offering depicts global climate change wreaking havoc on the Earth by causing a rapid ice age in much of the world. Los Angeles is slammed by massive tornados, New York City receives depths of snow nearly as high as skyscrapers, New Delhi, India, is also consumed by snowstorms and Tokyo is pounded by giant hailstorms.
Gore was joined at the press conference by Peter Shurman, executive director of the liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org, and Dan Schrag, a professor of paleoclimatology at Harvard University. According to Schurman, The Day After Tomorrow is the "movie President Bush does not want you to see."
But it is Gore's promotion of the film that has prompted critics from both sides of the climate-change debate to ridicule his efforts.
Gregg Easterbrook, a senior editor at New Republic Online and one who believes that human-caused climate change is real, said Gore is doing a disservice to the environmental cause by affiliating himself with a Hollywood disaster film.
"Once Gore was a serious thinker on environmental issues and diligently sought out top-notch advice ... Now Gore appears ready to affiliate his reputation with a cheapo, third-rate disaster movie that makes Fantastic Voyage seem like a peer-reviewed technical paper," Easterbrook wrote.
Easterbrook assailed the movie's "imbecile-caliber" science: "By presenting global warming in a laughably unrealistic way, the movie will only succeed in making audiences think that climate change is a big joke, when in fact the real science case for greenhouse-gas reform gets stronger all the time."
Easterbrook fears the greenhouse effect will be trivialized through its connection to a disaster movie, which he believes is "scientifically illiterate." And ultimately, The Day After Tomorrow may convince audiences that the global warming threat is just another Hollywood gimmick, Easterbrook stated. "Unfortunately it may not be," he added.
Gore called a 'sock puppet' for MoveOn.org
Easterbrook also criticized Gore for his close affiliation with MoveOn.org, the liberal group propped up by huge donations from billionaire financier George Soros for the express purpose of defeating President Bush.
"It's easy to see why MoveOn.org wants the reflection of the new movie's limelight; wild exaggeration is a good fundraising tool. But if Gore associates himself with this mindless film, he will have completed his descent from serious thinker and national leader to MoveOn.org's sock puppet," Easterbrook wrote.
"Why would Al Gore do this to himself?" he asked.
David Rothbard, president of the Washington, D.C.-based free market group, Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), rejects what he sees as climate change alarmism.
"Since Al Gore had such success peddling science fiction as reality in his book Earth in the Balance, it's no surprise he's all ozoned-up about a global warming movie with similar fantasy-as-fact foundations," Rothbard told CNSNews.com.
"Gore talks about a "global climate emergency," but with scientific evidence mounting against any catastrophic man-made warming, the only global emergency would be if this movie resuscitates an otherwise dying Kyoto (global warming) treaty," Rothbard said.
"With an epic doomsday movie like The Day After Tomorrow , green leaders have finally found the proper genre in which to market their end-is-near alarmism," he added.
'Fictional' Bush environmental policy
Gore acknowledged that the movie contained fictional elements, but he charged that the Bush administration's climate policy was even more fictional.
"There are two works of fiction that we have to deal with. One is the movie and the other is the Bush administration's presentation of global warming," Gore told reporters. He said he has read the script but not yet seen the film.
Gore explained that the movie's timeline of events is fictional; but he said it's "accurate in giving the impression that the consequences can be extremely serious.
"The Bush administration is in some ways even more fictional than the movie -- in trying to convince people that there is no real problem, that there is no real degree of certainty on the part of scientists about the issue and sort of accepting the big polluters' argument that nothing should be done to change the current practices of dumping pollution in an unrestrained way into the atmosphere," he added.
"This is the kind of dishonest behavior that can lead to an unhealthy debate in our democracy not dissimilar from the kind of misleading impressions that were created in the run up to the Iraq war," he added.
Gore warned of future dire consequences for the planet if climate change issues are not addressed.
[There will be] more vulnerability to tropical diseases like dengue fever and malaria in higher latitudes, rising sea levels and areas threatened by storm surges that have not been in the past," Gore warned.
He called climate change "an emergency that seems to be unfolding in slow motion, but it actually is occurring very swiftly -- not as swiftly as the movie portrays, but swiftly in the context of human history," he added.
Gore said he believes people are becoming increasingly convinced of the real dangers associated with climate change. "I do think that more and more people are feeling it in their gut. They are listening to their parents and grandparents tell them the weather is very different now than when they were children," Gore said.
'Global warming isn't just a movie'
Green groups such as Environmental Defense, Rainforest Action Network, and Worldwatch Institute are also joining in the effort to promote climate educational activities, including the distribution of fliers at movies theaters on Memorial Day weekend.
"Global warming isn't just a movie. It's your future," the environmental groups declare in the flier.
They also are urging support for the Kyoto Protocol and U.S. Senate legislation sponsored by Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Both measures would restrict industrial greenhouse gases that some scientists believe is causing climate warming.
Gore and MoveOn.org will host a town hall meeting in New York City on May 24 featuring Al Franken and Robert Kennedy, Jr.
The National Resources Defense Council is teaming up with the Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream company in a "Get the Scoop" campaign that will give free scoops of ice cream to people who sign a petition in support of the McCain-Lieberman climate change bill.
Climate change 'very likely' to happen
Dan Schrag, a professional of paleoclimatology at Harvard University, compared The Day After Tomorrow to other big-budget "earth science movies" such as Jurassic Park and The Core.
"But there is a very big difference, which is that although the effects of climate change -- and most importantly the time scale of climate change -- are exaggerated in this movie,
unlike those other movies, this is very likely going to happen," Schrag said.
"Climate change is real and it is going on," he added.
According to MoveOn.org's Schurman, the Bush administration has failed to act to prevent climate change because it is captive to the fossil fuel industries.
"President Bush's close ties to the oil and coal industry, Halliburton for example, apparently outweigh his duty to all of us to be a leader in preventing global warming," Schurman said.
According to MoveOn.org, the environmental groups have no affiliation with the movie. But Rothbard, of the free market group CFACT, believes the green movement will be disappointed by the movie's impact.
"While [environmentalists] may want people to view this movie like some kind of documentary on PBS or the Discovery Channel, hopefully it will be taken with the same seriousness as other upcoming summer flicks like Spider Man II or the new Harry Potter film," Rothbard said.
"Indeed, I expect many Americans, much to the environmentalists' chagrin, to be watching this movie at the drive-in with their SUV engines running and their trans-fatty buttered popcorn being washed down by a nice 32 ounce cola in a Styrofoam cup," he added.
"Day After Tomorrow" Ice Age "Impossible," Expert Says
for National Geographic News
May 27, 2004
In the new movie The Day After Tomorrow, abrupt climate change plunges the planet into total chaos. As tornadoes rip through Hollywood landmarks and grapefruit-size hail pounds Tokyo, New York City turns into an icy wasteland—all in a matter of days.
It may just be a high-octane summer blockbuster, but environmentalists hope The Day After Tomorrow will serve as a wake-up call about global climate change.
National Geographic News spoke with Tom Prugh—senior editor at the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C., and an expert on climate change—to hear what he thought of the movie, which he saw at an advance screening.
So should we brace ourselves for another ice age?
No, I don't think so. The scenario in the movie is fictional. Like some other Hollywood movies that claim to be based on true stories, there's a kernel of truth that is then pumped full of steroids and given cosmetic surgery.
But is global warming real?
The overwhelming scientific consensus is that global warming is real, and that it's upon us now. In the last century, the average temperature of the Earth has warmed roughly 1° Fahrenheit [0.56° Celsius]. That means an enormous additional amount of heat energy has been built into the system, and there are serious consequences to that warming.
What role does human activity play in global warming?
The atmosphere of the Earth is like a blanket that traps heat. It keeps the temperature at the surface of the Earth about 50° or 60° [Fahrenheit/28° or 33° Celsius] warmer than it would be otherwise, which is great because it makes the world a pleasant place to live. But humans have been adding to the gases that help trap this heat.
We've been adding to the stock of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by taking coal, oil, and natural gas out of the ground and burning them as fuels. Combined with deforestation, this has added around a third of the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.
And what does this do the welfare of the Earth?
If you think of an automobile engine—when you step on the accelerator, the engine speeds up because you're putting more energy into it by increasing the fuel flow, so everything runs harder and hotter and faster. The extremes get more extreme.
That's what's happening with the climate. We're stepping on the accelerator by adding greenhouse gases to the climate and increasing heat energy in the system.
How does climate change manifest itself?
Ocean levels are rising, because water expands as it heats up. Since there is more energy in the system, storms may become more frequent and more violent. Increased incidents of flooding create heavier runoffs and soil erosion. Indirect effects of climate change can also cause entire species to go extinct.
How realistic is this movie?
It has a kernel of truth, although it has been "Hollywoodized." There is evidence that abrupt climate change has happened a couple of times in the last 13,000 years, but it's never happened in a few days, as it does in the movie. That's completely impossible.
What is the ocean conveyor belt referred to in the movie, and what is its importance to the Earth's climate?
It's the system of currents that flows around the oceans of the world and carries heat from the tropics to the northern latitudes. There is evidence that the North Atlantic branch of the current has failed in the distant past—8,200 and 12,700 years ago—causing a great cooling of the climate.
In the movie, the influx of fresh water, caused by the melting of a massive ice sheet, changes the salinity of the oceans, shutting down the Gulf Stream. Could that happen?
In theory, that is realistic. Salty water is heavier than fresh water. When the cold, salty current reaches the northern latitudes and gives out its heat, the current actually sinks and flows back along the bottom of the ocean toward the tropics.
When then there's a lot of fresh water added to that current, it may stop flowing, because it's not dense enough to sink anymore. In the past, retreating glaciers dumped enormous amounts of fresh water very suddenly into the North Atlantic, and the currents stopped.
What about the superstorms depicted in the movie, which form like hurricanes over North America, Europe, and Asia? Are they realistic?
No. Hurricanes form over waters and tend to break up and dissipate when they reach shore. They can't get the energy to keep going anymore.
One of the effects created by the superstorms in the movie is the pulling down of supercool air from the troposphere that freezes people in a matter of seconds. There is nothing that suggests this could happen.
Could another ice age happen?
It's unlikely. Even if there were a continued influx of fresh water that weakened or stopped the North Atlantic current, any cooling effect that might create would be swamped by the warming that would continue to happen in the meantime.
But if abrupt climate change has happened in the past, before the industrial revolution, isn't this just part of a natural cycle that is, in a sense, inevitable?
Certainly the climate has, to some extent, a mind of its own. But that's not to say we're not having an influence on what the climate is, what it does, and how it behaves.
We've taken a great deal of carbon that used to be locked up in the Earth in the form of coal and undisturbed oil and natural gas and released it into the atmosphere. That carbon hadn't been there in the atmosphere for millions and millions of years.
It's simply naive to think that's not going to have an effect on the climate.
So what do you say to skeptics who dispute the seriousness of global warming?
Most don't dispute that the climate is warming and that human activity has a great deal to do with that. Even the most vociferous of the climate skeptics have pretty much stopped saying that global warming is not happening.
Actually, science benefits from having skeptics. They challenge assumptions and arguments and force people to go back and get more data.
Do you think the catastrophic events in the film may be so extreme that audiences may not take the climate change issue seriously?
I hope people will come away with the lesson that we need to be more careful with the climate that we're fooling around with—not that they need to worry about buying property in Mexico because the Northern Hemisphere is going to be locked up in an icebox.
People should have a good time, but I don't think they should take this as a reason to laugh off climate change. I hope this becomes a teachable moment for people and shows that we are doing serious damage to the climate.
Any particular aspects about the film that you liked?
I liked how it used shots from space to give you a sense of how huge and powerful the climate really is. One of the key lessons of the film is that this is a very big, very complex system that we don't understand very well. Since we're conducting a giant experiment with this huge, complicated, poorly understood system, weird and unexpected stuff is probably going to happen.
I don't think anyone thinks abrupt climate change is likely any time soon, but the probability is not zero.
Do you think the general public appreciates and fully understands the threats that global warming pose?
I hope they understand that climate change is happening now. It's affecting everyone who is alive on the planet, and it will inevitably affect their children and their children's children. I have a ten-year-old son, and I want to do everything that I can do to ensure that the world he grows up in is as wonderful and pleasant as the world we got now.
So what can people do about this problem?
They can do a great deal. If millions of people turn off the lights when they leave the room, it makes an enormous difference on how much carbon winds up in the air. Most people believe their electricity comes from renewable or nuclear power or hydroelectric power, but more than half of the electricity generated in the United States comes from coal.
When you leave the light on all night long, that one act is directly responsible for putting a couple of more pounds of carbon into the atmosphere.
I would urge people to go see the movie. I thought it was a lot of fun. I would also urge them to drive to the movie theater together with a few friends [to conserve gasoline and put less exhaust into the atmosphere] and turn out all the lights in the house before they leave.