A friend and I went to see The Day After Tomorrow on its opening weekend. The previews promised spectacular special effects, and on that, at least, the movie did not disappoint. In most other areas it failed miserably, suffering from a predictable plot, uninspired dialogue, and canned subplots.
The film’s obvious political agenda taxes one’s patience. The U.S. President in The Day After Tomorrow, who follows all the advice of the global warming climatologist, bears an uncanny resemblance to Al Gore. And, when the film opened in theaters, the real Al Gore took the opportunity to speak out against Republican environmental policy, blaming the world’s environmental problems on George W. Bush.
But the movie's so-called scientific premise disturbed me more: that global warming is an imminent and serious threat (from which only the government can save us). According to the movie, global warming can actually cause global cooling. Greenhouse gases melt the ice caps, introducing fresh water into the oceans. The fresh water eventually crosses a critical threshold that suddenly disrupts the North Atlantic Current. The whole Northern Hemisphere cools rapidly. Formation of snow and ice does not push the fresh water balance back to its original level (as one would expect) and correct the Atlantic Current disruption. If that happened, the movie could not show spectacular massive storms flash-freezing everything north of Dallas.
One should not look to Hollywood for accuracy or realism. Hollywood will trade realism for spectacle any day. A movie that depicts climate changes over a thousand years would not produce excitement and alarm like a change that could occur, well, the day after tomorrow. But there are quite a few moviegoers who will believe in global warming because of the fictional "science" in this film.
I am an economist, not a climatologist. But it does not take much study to see that the science on global warming is not as unambiguous as some of its advocates would like the public to believe.
First, it is not clear that global warming, if it exists, is abnormal or that it is caused by human activity. Long-term global temperature cycles seem to be normal, and any warming trend we have seen in the last century may be nothing more than an upswing from a below-normal period (the “Little Ice Age” from several centuries ago).
Second, there are problems with some of the data used to measure global temperature. Measuring temperature from the ground, for example, is subject to “heat island” effects if the thermometers are located near an urban area. Satellite data are better and seem to indicate only slight recent temperature increases, if any at all.
Third, even if global warming is occurring, it isn’t necessarily a problem. If it means higher nighttime lows rather than higher daytime highs, along with an extension of the temperate zone into the higher latitudes (which may well be the case), we would have longer growing seasons, more habitable higher latitudes, and perhaps other benefits.
Admitting to any of this would weaken the environmentalists’ public appeals. Large amounts of grant money and lecture fees are at stake and they know that sensationalism sells. Some global warming prophets have even justified lying, if it helps advance their policy agenda. Stephen Schneider, a well-known global warming climatologist frequently cited in the media, made an astonishing admission in a 1989 interview for Discover magazine:
[S]cientists should consider stretching the truth to get some broad-based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up some scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention about any doubts we might have .… Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.1
Until about 1978, Dr. Schneider was doom-and-glooming about disastrous worldwide cooling and a global ice age. With The Day After Tomorrow, he can have it both ways. Warming causes cooling!
Global warming advocates accuse their critics of exaggerating the costs and underestimating the benefits of radical policy changes. But it could be much more cost-effective to adapt to temperature change than try to stop it.
The costs proposed by the global warming advocates are truly enormous. The proposed Kyoto Protocol (which now seems dead, thankfully) would cripple the U.S. economy, and the impact would be felt worldwide. According to a 2002 article by Paul Georgia at the Competitive Enterprise Institute:
[The Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration] estimates that the cost of Kyoto to the U.S. alone would be about $300 billion per year. The resulting loss of GDP over the next ten years, about 28 percent, would be nearly triple the loss to GDP experienced during the Great Depression, which saw a drop in GDP of about 10 percent. There is little doubt that the Kyoto Protocol, or the domestic equivalents being considered in Congress, would cause deep and broad based economic harm in the U.S. and the world as a whole.2
Radical policy advocates say we must stop global warming because of expected increases in tropical diseases like malaria. The Christian environmental quarterly Creation Care asserted, “[L]ater in this century, an additional 300 million people could be at risk of malaria due to global warming.” Yet there is a widely available solution to the malaria problem, which environmentalists began to attack in 1962: DDT. This chemical, whose inventor won the Nobel Prize in medicine, fell under an outright ban by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1972. Most countries followed suit. In Sri Lanka, DDT controlled mosquitoes so effectively that malaria declined from 2.8 million cases in 1946 to only 110 cases in 1961. In the early 1960s, the Sri Lankan government prohibited DDT and the number of malaria cases soared to 2.5 million in 1968–69.
In a new book, Eco-Imperialism, Paul Driessen notes that most of the victims of malaria are children, “who die at the rate of two per minute or 3,000 per day — the equivalent of 80 fully loaded school buses plunging over a cliff every day of the year. Since 1972, over 50 million people have died from this dreaded disease.” Environmentalists’ campaign against DDT has made life even more difficult for the people in poorer nations whom they profess to care about.
In general, the economy can provide means to accommodate warmer climates — if it is not being crippled by regulation. Last summer close to 20,000 French citizens died in a heat wave. Why? Every summer all across the American West, temperatures routinely rise to the levels seen in France. We do not see anything like the French death toll from the heat because in America air conditioning is common. High energy taxes in France, along with a lower per-capita GDP (thanks to draconian regulation and generally high taxes), mean the French are much less likely to have air conditioners in their homes.3
Apparently many Christians buy into the idea of global warming and depend on government intervention to stave off disaster. Creation Care magazine calls for political action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (specifically, the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act). Joseph K. Sheldon, professor of natural sciences at Messiah College, contends the impact of global warming constitutes “a profound challenge to Christian justice and our call to care for ‘the least of these’ (Matthew 25:40, 45).” He goes on:
Pollution that causes the threat of global warming violates Jesus’ Great Commandments to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31), and the Golden Rule to “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). And global warming is a breach of our responsibility to care for God’s other creatures (Genesis 2:15). As such, it denies Christ’s Lordship and His reconciliation of all things “through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:20).4
Here we have it: Driving your car is sinful. Even if it is a 60-mpg hybrid, it creates pollution that “causes the threat of global warming.” You should repent. Even breathing is immoral: You emit small quantities of carbon dioxide, a known “greenhouse gas.” Sheldon would not go so far, or be as logically consistent, as to argue that your very existence is sinful. But then there is no single polluter, not even the largest coal-burning electric utility, whose output contributes more than an infinitesimal fraction of the total worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases. How then do we sort out the “sinners” from those who produce a reasonable amount of possibly hazardous by-product from a beneficial production process (like generating electricity)?
Movies like The Day After Tomorrow, along with other laughable eco-disaster films like Waterworld, rest on wildly exaggerated nonsense. I can certainly handle unrealistic premises in my movies, but it bothers me to think that many Americans will adopt the global warming rhetoric without question. Global warming science is far from conclusive, and we do know that people like Stephen Schneider will lie if they believe it will bring the masses on board. Will Christians be as credulous as the rest of the population?
1. Discover, October 1989.
2. Georgia, Paul, “Global-Warming Nonsense: An Economics Journal Publishes Junk” August 2, 2002, www.cei.org/gencon/029,03155.cfm.
4. Sheldon, Joseph K., “A Call to Action On Global Warming,” Creation Care, No. 24 (Spring 2004), pp. 12–13.
- Timothy D. Terrell
Timothy Terrell is associate professor of economics at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He is assistant editor of the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics and is an Associated Scholar with the Mises Institute.