What the film ‘The Day after Tomorrow’ doesn’t tell us about climatic change

Environmentalists around the world are skeptical as to whether Roland Emmerich’s blockbuster «The Day After Tomorrow,» now showing in Greece, will actually make people worry about the greenhouse effect and climatic change. It is true that this is one of the few occasions that Hollywood has dealt with such a burning environmental issue, criticizing the US government’s policy and even referring to the fact that the US is the only country that has refused to sign the Kyoto protocol on climatic change. Climatic changes On the other hand, the fact that it encapsulates the effects of global warming in the shape of an ice cap that covers the entire northern hemisphere might just boomerang on the international environmental movement. The problem with climatic change is that it is happening extremely slowly, which is why it is not high up on governments’ agendas. There is always something more pressing to deal with. So showing a huge tidal wave sweeping through New York only minimizes everything else. For example, who will pay any attention to the World Health Organization’s warning that the spread of mosquitoes in a warmer and more humid world will send the incidence of malaria skyrocketing? Even though that is an even bigger nightmare. «The film is based on a true theory, but it is exaggerated,» said Professor Christos Zerefos, professor of atmospheric physics at Thessaloniki University. «The amount of time these climatic changes are supposed to take place is very short.» «No scientific scenario refers to the Parthenon being flooded. And even if that did happen, it would take billions of years.» Naturally the film is supposed to be entertaining and not to take the place of scientific studies. However, as Tom Prugh of the Worldwatch Institute in Washington wrote in the National Geographic News, «people have to have a good time at the movies,» but he added the hope that audiences wouldn’t laugh off climatic change. «I hope the film will be a lesson to us to be more careful about how we think about climate, and not to start looking for land in Mexico because the northern hemisphere might freeze over.» Forget causes Another accusation against the film is that it does not refer to the causes of the greenhouse effect – the dependence by the West on fossil fuels. These gases collect in the atmosphere, trap solar radiation and act as a «gas blanket,» increasing average temperatures on Earth. «The film might be science fiction, but forecasts of actual climatic changes, which have already begun, are just as terrifying,” said Manos Safos, head of the campaign on climatic change in the Greek branch of Greenpeace. «Rising temperatures and sea levels, the melting of the permanent ice caps, and the disappearance of 1 million species by 2050 will be the main events of this century if we do not rid ourselves of dependence on fossil fuels,» he added. So the solution is not to move further south, but above all to restrict the use of conventional fuels by means of energy-saving measures. It has been estimated that in order to avoid a future climatic disaster, emissions of these gases have to be reduced by 50-70 percent. Secondly, there has to be wider use of alternative fuel sources (wind, solar, geothermal and photovoltaic). Actual theory Nevertheless, scientists admit that «The Day After Tomorrow» is based on an actual theory, in which the Gulf Stream is halted by the melting of an ice cap. If this happens, it could result in a new ice age over large parts of the planet. In the film this takes place over a few days. In reality, it would take some decades. However, the first signs are already apparent: – On the day the film premiered in New York, 2,000 people were killed by flooding in Haiti and the Dominican Republic; – Australia is in the second year of the biggest drought in its history; – In Central America last May, 384 tornadoes were recorded within a week, a record number; – Last summer, more than 30,000 people lost their lives in a heat wave that struck much of Europe; and – The 10 hottest days ever recorded in history have occurred since 1990. And these are only a few examples of a growing trend worldwide. What each of us can do Roland Emmerich’s film focuses on the USA’s responsibility for climatic changes, yet all of us are partly responsible. «Even in Greece, we are still dependent on fossil fuels and are ignoring our abundant domestic supplies of clean energy sources such as solar and wind energy,» said Safos. Yet the State only needs to take a few simple steps to rectify this, such as promoting wind energy by simplifying procedures for issuing permits for windfarms and by expanding the networks into Greece’s windiest areas (Thrace, Evia, Laconia). It could also provide incentives to exploit solar energy in buildings, such as reducing the VAT to 0-8 percent or at least to the same level as that for other fuels, and by obliging new homeowners to install solar water heaters. What we could all do is use public transport instead of private cars, replace light bulbs in our homes with energy-saving bulbs, use natural methods to cool homes such as ceiling fans instead of air conditioning, turn off electrical appliances when not in use instead of leaving them in stand-by mode, insulate homes with double glazing, and double-insulate roofs.