Scary Cool

Forget space aliens and serial killers—the latest movie monster is global warming

May 1, 2004
Outside Magazine

Got a photo of an oil-soaked duck or Leonardo DiCaprio driving a Toyota Prius? Run it big and there's a good chance someone will notice. Got invisible greenhouse gases that may someday ruin life on earth? That's tougher to billboard. Global warming, as everyone knows, is one of the most terrifying but somehow stultifying issues around. The peril may be dire, but there's no easy way to make it real.

Enter Hollywood. On May 28, 20th Century Fox is releasing its $115 million special-effects spectacular The Day After Tomorrow, a jaw-dropping disaster pic in which global warming is truly chilling, Mother Nature becomes Mommie Dearest, and the nerd climatologist is a handsome hero, played by Dennis Quaid.

The last time director Roland Emmerich jolted us like this was in 1996, when Independence Day aliens vaporized the White House and much of Western civilization. In his latest, more edifying effort, the villain is CO2, and the weather has gone insane. Tsunamis slam Wall Street, tornadoes rip Los Angeles, and hailstones strafe Tokyo. To top it off, the meteorological mayhem disrupts the ocean current that warms the Northern Hemisphere, so temperatures on the East Coast don't rise—they plummet. When a new ice age hits Manhattan, where Quaid's son (Jake Gyllenhaal) is on a high school trip, Quaid must somehow save him.

Preposterous? Yep. For entertainment's sake, Emmerich compressed into a few weeks a litany of horrors that, even according to worst-case scenarios, would take at least a decade—and may never happen. But big-screen eco-havoc could do for people what years of headlines haven't: shake them up. "I'm ecstatic about the potential," says Michael Molitor, former associate director of the Center for Environmental Research and Training at the University of California at San Diego, CEO of Carbon Management Group (a firm that helps companies reduce greenhouse gases), and science adviser for The Day After Tomorrow.

The movie's launch couldn't be better timed, Molitor says. In February, news broke about a Pentagon climate-change report that warned of future ice, floods, droughts, and war (a forecast that critics call overly alarmist). But Molitor hopes the buzz will boost interest in the "carbon neutral" trend, in which companies like the London-based Future Forests offset carbon emissions by planting trees or investing in green technologies.

Neutralizing your CO2 sins through FF might mean buying solar panels—or perhaps planting an entire forest, as Coldplay, the Rolling Stones, and DiCaprio (a fervent FFer) have done. Emmerich joined FF and paid for the movie's offsets out of pocket. (He invested in reforestation and clean energy.) Jake Gyllenhaal signed on and bought swaths of trees in Bhutan. Unfortunately, he was too late to win FF's "America's First CarbonNeutral Citizen" title. That honor went to Leo.

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