An Occasional Ramble By The Sea
June 1, 2004
By David Helvarg
Roland Emmerich, the director who gave us Independence Day and Godzilla is back to wreck more havoc on New York in a Global Warming Disaster flick titled The Day After Tomorrow.
The one difference from his previous special-effects movies is that scaly spacemen and Giant mutated lizards aren’t an actual threat to the blue frontier.
While there’s little likelihood that fossil-fuel fired climate change will create a massive tidal wave followed by a same-day blizzard in Manhattan, people on the Jersey side of the Hudson are being encouraged to tile their ground floors to reduce water damage from storm surges. Real climate scientists like Dr. Vivian Gornitz from Columbia University tell me that 100-year storms like the Noreaster of 1992 could soon start hitting New York every decade or so. She remembers talking to a man on Wall Street whose Porshe sank during that Noreaster. What did you do, she asked? Wait for the tide to go out,” he told her.
A 10-foot storm surge typical of a more extreme event will likely flood all the city’s subway tunnels and its three major airports. Still unlike in the movie, the Statue of Liberty should survive intact. The problem as a friend of mine who used to work at the Wall Street Journal explains it is that environmental news stories like climate change don’t break, they ooze.
A UN report produced by Swiss Re, one of the largest re-insurance company in the world says extreme weather linked to climate change could be costing around $150 billion a year by the end of this decade. That’s over 1,000 times the cost of this $125 million Hollywood blockbuster (500 times what George W. Bush is raising for his re-election campaign). The movie takes some of the worst-case scenarios projected by science and pumps them up with visual steroids.
The real trends of course, be they a European heat wave, retreating glaciers, intensified hurricanes along our coasts, or a long drought and bad fire season in the West tend, for most of us, to blend into the general background of news and weather. I recently contributed a few chapters to a book on climate change (see excerpts HERE) and while the scientists I met failed to warn me of giant hail storms destroying Tokyo they did say that the planet could warm up by as much as ten degrees Fahrenheit in this century, making the planet warmer than its been in several million years. And while I’ve not seen snowstorms in New Dehli like the movie portrays, I have seen climate-linked coral bleaching in Fiji and been told that we can expect to lose more than half the world’s tropical reefs just from the warming that’s already taken place.
I expect a lot of climate skeptics from the White House to, excuse the redundancy, the oil industry, will point to this movie and say its over-the-top portrayal of global warming destroying New York, Tokyo and other cities is just another environmentalist backed attempt to scare the public. To me it’s actually proof that 20th Century Fox knows how to sell popcorn in the summer.
The reality of course is that subtle changes in rainfall, drought, crop growth and ocean productivity in a warmer world may over the long haul prove a far more pernicious problem than computer generated tornadoes taking out Los Angeles and its famous Hollywood sign.
Sadly neither the Pew nor U.S. Ocean Commission draft report chose to deal with fossil-fuel fired climate as a major threat to our living seas despite it’s link to rising seas and sea temperatures, coastal erosion, intensified hurricanes, coral bleaching and ocean regime change from the Gulf Stream to the North Pacific.
One thing I know for sure is that with another sweltering Washington DC summer on the way, I plan to spend at least two hours in comfortable air-conditioned darkness enjoying the Hollywood version of a disaster that’s not so much breaking things apart as oozing up the thermometer.
In other summer news the July 11-13 Blue Vision Conference is pulling together nicely with some 250 activists, educators, scientists, fishermen, surfers, divers, explorers, even a few landlubbers, coming to DC to meet with members of both ocean commissions, Co-chairs of the House Ocean Caucus, Senators and other key policy makers. Between panels and debates (at ‘Mollies’ the Irish Bar adjacent to the hotel site) attendees will begin networking the seaweed rebellion (Seaweed Rebel Tee Shirts will be available for sale). For more go to www.bluevizmeet.com.