Saturday, 11 April 2009


David Zax wrote a piece recently in Slate magazine praising the movie Waterworld, saying that the $200 million action movie was an “eco-parable whose message was ahead of its time.” He notes that the world in the film was water because the ice caps had melted, that the cities had been submerged, that the story pits a sail-boating urine-recycler Kevin Costner against gas-guzzling “smokers” who worship the captain of the Exxon Valdez.

I don’t disagree that this waste of $200 million had an ecological message – that was well known at the time, and obvious from seeing the movie. No, I object to the now-commonplace assumption that climate change is a recently-discovered issue -- that films about climate change from the 1990s are prophetic, because no one had any idea.

Nonsense. John Tyndall, an early scientist from County Carlow south of us, first proved the greenhouse effect around the time of the American Civil War. The Swedish scientist Arrhenius proposed a hundred years ago that emissions from our fossil fuel use would cause the world’s climate to heat up.

I mentioned previously my 1955 copy of The World We Live In, which states casually that our cars and factories would create a hotter world. Ten years later, on Feb. 8, 1965, U.S. president Lyndon Johnson included the problem of climate change in an address to Congress for the first time. Nine years later, climate change was part of the background of the film Soylent Green.

We can applaud the people who have brought climate change into the media’s radar in recent years, but let’s not say they discovered the issue. If climatologists are right and the weather grows increasingly freakish in the years ahead, we will hear messages like this a lot, just as we will with oil shortages and the current economic collapse. It's not our fault. No one knew this would happen.

It's almost never true.


Robin said...

It reminds me of whenever the news media interviews the neighbors of some heinous serial killer and they say "He was such a nice young man, we can't believe he could be this terrible killer".

Climate Change, economic havoc, peak oil. We knew, it's just that it's really hard to look that reality in the face because then you have to realize that you MUST do something about it, you have to change. No one wants to do that.

Jimmy Carter, in 1979: "We can't go on consuming 40 percent more energy than we produce. When we import oil we are also importing inflation plus unemployment."

Heh, truer words...

Brian Kaller said...

Agreed. I wonder sometimes if we will be able to change, when we have not in the past -- and then I remind myself that we have changed, over and over, through history. So there is hope -- but no guarantee.

Jimmy Carter is gaining much more respect lately, even in unllikely circles -- The American Conservative recently ran an article called "Jimmy Carter Was Right." Their staff does not generally favour liberal Democrats, as you might imagine, but they understand peak oil and the limits to growth, and see Carter as a kindred spirit in that sense.