Controversial Disaster Film Casts Spotlight on Global Warming

NRDC Cuts Through the Storm Surrounding 'The Day After Tomorrow'

WASHINGTON, DC (May 4, 2004) - Before it hits a single screen, the sci-fi thriller The Day After Tomorrow is sparking controversy for its portrayal of climate disaster. NASA officials ordered their scientists not to answer questions about the film (bosses backed off after a New York Times story), while a Bush/Cheney campaign spokesman quibbles with the New York Post over political fallout from the movie. Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox promoters try to squelch the words "global warming" altogether.

The $125 million motion picture opens with an Antarctic ice sheet collapsing beneath a team of polar scientists. Tidal waves batter Manhattan, before the city is frozen in ice. Tornadoes blast Los Angeles, while blizzards sweep India. The paleoclimatologist hero played by Dennis Quaid warns a dismissive vice president bearing uncanny likeness to our current one that "if we don't act now, it will be too late."

The over-the-top storyline far exceeds real-life climate scientists' most extreme projections. But like any good fable, the movie taps a more basic truth: Global warming is happening today. While research on the problem is continuing, responsible experts say we need to act now to start fixing the problem.

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) can help reporters, reviewers, and editors writing about The Day After Tomorrow sort fact from fiction on global warming, and discuss the sharp political reaction to the film. We have climate experts on staff, and can also help you reach local scientists in your area.

Fever Pitch

While New Yorkers won't have a glacier problem anytime soon, they will face hotter, more frequent heat waves and costly flooding due to rising seas. In the Western U.S., problems include prolonged drought and water shortage. The story is much the same across the country, and around the world.

In fact, the Earth is warming faster today than at any time in history. Since 1990, we've seen the ten hottest years on record, and 19 of the hottest 20 since 1980. The National Academy of Sciences says heat-trapping pollution is the main cause.

The effects are becoming painfully clear: The minimum extent of the ice cap covering the North Pole has withered by 20 percent since 1979; droughts and water shortages are becoming more common and more severe in many areas, including the Southwestern United States; and last year Europe and Asia experienced lethal heat waves unlike anything they have ever seen.

As in the movie, real scientists report the collapse of massive Antarctic ice shelves, melting glaciers on every continent, and the earlier onset of spring. Dr. James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute, says polar warming trends may cause the Greenland ice sheet to collapse, accelerating sea level rise (see

Scientists say average temperatures will warm as much as 10 degrees F by the end of the century unless we start cutting global warming emissions soon.

Solutions for the Real World

The good news is, we know how to stop the problem. The answer is better technology in our cars, trucks and SUVs, and cleaner, more efficient energy choices like wind and solar power -- solutions that will strengthen our economy and create jobs. What we need are sensible standards that get them into the marketplace as quickly as possible.

Energy companies and other big corporate interests want to block the legal safeguards necessary to fix the problem. So far, they've succeeded in pressuring Congress and the White House to adopt only toothless, voluntary measures in place of concrete emissions standards. But all that may soon change.

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote this spring on bi-partisan, market-based legislation by Arizona Republican John McCain and Connecticut Democrat Joe Lieberman that would set limits on heat-trapping emissions for the first time. The bill came within seven votes of passing last fall, and Sen. McCain says he will keep the pressure on until it does (just as he did on campaign finance reform).

The issue is also taking hold in many states. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has promised to implement the new state law to cut global warming emissions from new cars and trucks, and defend the measure against possible legal attacks. Republican and Democratic governors of nine eastern states recently agreed to tackle global warming pollution produced by power plants from Maine to Delaware.