May 14, 2004

Giving MoveOn the Move-On

Filed under: Climate Politics

A flier for distribution at showings of the science fiction blockbuster “The Day After Tomorrow” by anti-Bush group turns out to be science fiction in and of itself.

As its latest tool for Bush-bashing, the grassroots anti-Bush group has seized upon the upcoming Fox movie “The Day After Tomorrow.” In association with ex-VP Al Gore, who will host a news conference coinciding with the movie’s May 28 opening day, has developed a flier for volunteers to distribute at movie theaters across the country where the film is playing.

But like the movie itself, the flier is a work of science fiction; its information is that inaccurate. “Global Warming Isn’t Just a Movie,” the flier warns. “It’s Your Future.”

Here, we present the “science fiction” presents, followed by our soundly scientific response to their outrageous exaggerations. In each instance, the “Problem” or “Solution” is quoted directly from the flier (which interestingly depicts a woman running toward an approaching tornado):

Reality: The Earth’s atmosphere is heating at a rate faster than any time in history—a phenomenon known as global warming. Glaciers at the North Pole are melting. Sea levels are rising. Storms are intensifying. Heat waves, like the one that swept through Europe last summer, are longer and more deadly. Right now, we are in the middle of an unfolding climate crisis.

The abrupt climate crisis in The Day After Tomorrow is over the top. A full blown ice age could not happen. But global warming could bring dangerously cold temperatures in some areas, while others suffer severe storms, extreme heat, floods, droughts and water shortages.

Here in the U.S., cars, trucks and coal-fired power plants spew over half of all pollution that causes global warming. But that’s not inevitable. Together we can turn it around.

Our Response: Nearly every statement in the first paragraph is wrong. The earth’s atmosphere stretches from the surface to more than 30 miles high. During the past quarter-century—the so-called “greenhouse era,” the atmosphere closest to the surface has warmed up at about the same rate as it did from 1915 to 1945—before there were large-scale human-induced carbon dioxide emissions. The middle-atmosphere—from about 1 mile to about 10 miles up—has been warming at a rate less than half of the rate observed at the near-surface, and the atmosphere above 10 miles has been cooling. There are no glaciers at the North Pole—glaciers are multiyear ice accretions in mountainous terrain; there is no land, much less mountains, at the North Pole.

Yes, sea levels are rising, but they have been doing so at the same rate for more than 100 years as the earth’s have been climbing out of an unusually cold period known as the Little Ice Age. There is little evidence that human activity has impacted absolute sea level.

A string of recent research a convincingly demonstrated that Americans are becoming desensitized to high heat and humidity. Medical advances, improving technology, increased access to air-conditioning, and improved social programs are largely responsible for this trend. It is the rare heat wave that takes lives, such as the one which struck Europe last summer. If heat waves become more common in the future, societies will readily adapt.

So, instead of being in a “climate crisis,” we instead find ourselves in the midst of climate change—a situation that humans have found themselves throughout there history. The earth’s climate history is one which is characterized by variability and fluctuation, not steadiness and constancy. In fact, it is not clear that all change is bad. Scientific research shows that during the past 20 to 30 years, the Earth’s vegetation has flourished, partly because of enhanced atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide (a plant fertilizer) and partly because of the climate changes that have taken place. This hardly seems a sign of a climate in crisis!

The first line of the flier’s second paragraph is a bit understated. “Over the top” should be replaced with “a physical impossibility.” The earth currently is, and has always been, full of “dangerously cold temperatures in some areas, while others suffer severe storms, extreme heat, floods, droughts and water shortages.” Climate change (in any direction) will alter come of the pattern of occurrence, but not clearly the net frequency or intensity of these types of events.

And it is true that more than one-half of the U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide comes from cars, trucks, and coal-fired power plants. What conveniently left off the flier was that coal, along with other fossil fuels (oil and natural gas), produced 70% of all of our electricity, and few people move around by means other than cars or trucks. In other words, fossil fuels power our daily life.

One man stands in the way of real progress toward stopping global warming: President George W. Bush. At every turn, President Bush has sided with his friends and big campaign contributors in the oil, coal and automobile industries.

Our Response: President Bush withdrew the United States from the Kyoto Protocol, citing the lack of scientific evidence that the costs of attempting the engineer the climate (the main gist of the emission controls dictated by the Protocol) were greater than the costs of simply adapting and responding to any changing conditions that may develop. That approach—dealing directly with actual problems as they appear—is far more efficient than trying to change a huge entity, such as the global climate system, in hopes that problems don’t develop at all. The latter is pure naïveté, given that environmental catastrophes—many far greater than any that we have witnesses in our lifetimes—have impacted, and will continue to impact, regions of the earth with or without anthropogenic climate influences.

We have the expertise to make cars run on cleaner burning fuels, and the resources to develop new technologies that will dramatically cut pollution (and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs right here in America).

Go to and tell President Bush to get serious about global warming. Tell him to support the international Kyoto treaty and support Senator John McCain’s new bill in the U.S. Senate to reduce global warming.

Act now. Because we can’t wait until the day after tomorrow.

Our Response: In 2003, there were 16.6 million new cars sold in the United States. Fewer than 50,000 of them were high-mileage gas-electric hybrids. It is not that the technology or the choice doesn’t exist, but simply that we are not making the choice that thinks we should. That is not the fault of President Bush or Big Industry.

And as far as Sen. McCain’s “new bill” goes, the net impact on global temperature rise over the course of the next 50 year—even with full compliance with the conditions set forth in the Bill and the rest of the world fully meeting the obligations set forth under the Kyoto Protocol—would be a savings of about one-tenth of a degree Celsius—an amount that is scientifically undetectable. That calculation demonstrates the futility of large-scale measures at attempting to modify the world’s climate.

Instead of writing a letter to President Bush urging him to take action to combat global warming by supporting Sen. McCain’s Bill, we should instead be congratulating the President on setting a course that avoids certain economic penalties in an attempt to circumvent uncertain future events.

So, check your scientific fact book at the door, and enjoy “The Day After Tomorrow” for its entertainment value and special effects—and remember, any resemblance of the story to actual scientific reality is purely coincidental.

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