Will global warming really cause disaster to strike Earth in the manner depicted in the movie
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
befall earth in The Day After Tomorrow couldn't happen. It is true that global warming is causing ice to melt in the Arctic, Greenland, and Antarctica, which may eventually disrupt the ocean-current conveyor belt that keeps places like Western Europe warmer than they deserve for their northish latitudes. But such effects would likely happen over decades, not weeks.
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:
- Rising sea levels will submerge many near-sea-level island and coastal properties.
- Increasingly wild weather patterns will cause damage to property, businesses, and agriculture.
- Disease-carrying pests will expand their territories, resulting in increases in malaria, dengue fever, Lyme disease, West Nile virus, and other vector-borne illnesses. The effect will occur globally, including Western nations.
- There will be major impacts to agricultural productivity due to increased droughts and flooding, changes in rainfall patterns and amounts, higher levels of weeds and insect pests, and the increased temperatures themselves. A USDA study estimated a 10 percent decline in yields of rice, wheat and corn for every 1.8 degree F increase in average temperature.
Is catastrophic disruption of the
world's food supply due to global warming just a left-wing fairy tale? Nope. A Pentagon-sponsored report recognized the possibility 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 since records have been kept.
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 do more to reduce the risks associated with the heating of the planet, whether the future effects will occur the day after tomorrow or the decades after tomorrow. Here are a few ways:
- Live closer to work. Don't buy a house any larger than necessary. Buy energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances. Turn things off!
- Implement energy-efficiency measures in your house—sealing cracks around windows and doors, improving wall and attic insulation, using thermal window shades.
- Upgrade your heating/cooling system. A newer high-efficiency model can cut your cooling and heating bills in half.
- Keep your yard covered in low-maintenance native plants and trees, not grass that you have to mow. Turning that lawn into an edible yard is an even better idea.
- Commute by mass transit. Carpool. Drive a high-mileage vehicle. Combine trips. Walk and bike.
We also have an even bigger list of Global Warming Solutions.
And now, back to the movie script we're working on: "The Slurpee That Saved the World from Global Warming"...
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Check out The Day After Tomorrow
More about the science of The Day After Tomorrow at other sites:
- This RealClimate article explains the difference between the Gulf Stream and the North Atlantic Current. It's the latter which is part of the Thermohaline Circulation (THC), though sometimes global warming skeptics try to misapply the characteristics of the former in a misguided attempt to "prove" that the THC could not affect a continent's climate.
- MSNBC has a good if somewhat dated non-technical summary of the movie's science.
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