Will global warming really cause disaster to strike Earth in the manner depicted in the movie graphic of storm "The Day After Tomorrow"? Could we have killer tornados attacking in roving gangs, murderous ice balls the size of sour grapefruits falling from the sky, waves of cold air that descend in minutes to freeze the doodads off metal statues and any nearby humans? Well, we'll answer that in a minute, but first, some humor!
A FEW AUDIENCE COMPLAINTS ABOUT THE MOVIE "THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW":
AL: "I was not impressed by a plot based on 'the weatherman gets it wrong again'..."
SUSAN: "This movie has RUINED 'Survivor' for me. Getting kicked off an island now seems totally lame compared to getting kicked off a continent..."
ROCKO: "There wasn't enough action. Seeing cities destroyed by Mother Nature is simply no substitute for car chases and explosions..."
OK, back to the question at hand. The quick take on this issue is that the short-term calamities that picture of New York City frozen over - from The Day After Tomorrow befall earth in "The Day After Tomorrow" couldn't happen. Though it is true that global warming is causing ice caps to melt, which may eventually disrupt the ocean-current conveyor belt that keeps places like Western Europe warm, which could cause colder conditions in some places, such effects would happen over decades or centuries, not weeks. (If you want more info on thermohaline circulation and global warming, MSNBC has a nice non-technical summary of this issue.)
But wait, wait, wait - we DO have some disasters for you! Just because the plot of "The Day After Tomorrow" is mainly Hollywood fiction does not mean that there aren't serious potential problems associated with global warming. Here are the REAL problems we should worry about:
1) Rising sea levels will submerge many near-sea-level island and coastal properties.
2) Increasingly wild weather patterns will cause damage to property, businesses, and agriculture.
3) There will be better living conditions and expanded territories for disease-carrying pests, resulting in increases in and spread of diseases like malaria, dengue fever, Lyme disease, and West Nile virus. The effect will occur globally, including Western nations.
4) There will be major impacts to agricultural productivity due to increased droughts and flooding, changes in rainfall patterns and amounts, and the increased temperatures themselves. A recent government study estimates a 10 percent decline in yields of rice, wheat and corn for every 1.8 degree F increase in average temperature.
A recent Pentagon-sponsored report recognized the possibility of catastrophic disruption of the picture of New York City underwater - from The Day After Tomorrow world's food supply due to global warming and predicted that such a situation could be serious enough to cause wars over food and other resources. We at Grinning Planet also find it a bit discomforting that the world's grain reserves are now at their lowest levels in 30 years.
"The Day After Tomorrow" is great entertainment - lots of eye-popping special effects, lots of big stuff getting messed up in a big way, and all of it against the backdrop of human drama and suspense. That's fine for entertainment - as far as it goes - but don't let the flaws of a movie plot fool you into thinking that there aren't real problems with global warming.
We can all contribute to Global Warming Solutions. Here are a few ways:
1) Live closer to work. Don't buy a house any larger than necessary. Buy energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances. Turn things off!
2) Keep your yard covered in native plants and trees, not grass.
3) Commute by mass transit. Carpool. Drive a high-mileage vehicle. Combine trips. Walk and bike.
4) Vote to elect officials that will fight for solutions to global warming.
James Nash is a climate scientist with Greatest Planet (www.greatestplanet.org). Greatest Planet is a non-profit environmental organization specialising in carbon offset investments.
James Nash is solely responsible for the contents of this article.