Politics & Policy

Chilling Tomorrow

A look at the soul of left-wing environmentalism.

All summer movies want to create buzz, but rarely is the intended buzz “Support the McCain-Lieberman bill.” The movie is The Day After Tomorrow, the global-warming flick that aims to gin up support for the sort of greenhouse-emissions regulation sponsored by John McCain and Joe Lieberman.

The premise of The Day After Tomorrow is as laughable as its dialogue. “I think we’ve hit a critical desalination point” passes for snappy repartee in the film, as global warming melts the polar ice caps. This disrupts the Gulf Stream, plunging North America into a new ice age. Tidal waves devastate New York City, which is then buried under ice and snow (ensuring the defeat, by the way, of whoever is running city hall, since New Yorkers would never tolerate a mayor who couldn’t clear the streets after a snowstorm).

Al Gore has given the movie two green thumbs up, and the left-wing group MoveOn.org is promoting it. Never mind that the movie’s scenario is absurd. There is no such thing as a flash freeze that makes helicopters fall out of the air. Nor can an ice age descend in a matter of days. More sober environmentalists worry that the very ridiculousness of the film will discredit their cause.

The innocent moviegoer will be confused that a movie about global warming features so much snow. But this is in keeping with the trend of global-warming advocates laying claim to any unusual weather. When winters are bitterly cold, it is a sign of “climate change.” When winters are unseasonably warm, it too is a sign of climate change. It is an all-purpose phrase, since the climate is always “changing” and therefore by definition vindicating environmentalists.

That said, global warming is a fact. The surface temperature has gone up roughly 1 degree Celsius since the mid-19th century. The warming during the past 30 years might even be partly a result of manmade emissions. But we’re talking very small and gradual changes that aren’t causing the disruptions environmentalists sometimes hype, like extreme weather or dangerously rising sea levels.

Any regulatory fix will have only the slightest effect. Climatologist Patrick Michaels estimates that the Kyoto Treaty–McCain-Lieberman is a watered-down version of the treaty–would prevent only 0.07 degrees Celsius of warming over the next 50 years. The best solution to greenhouse emissions is the kind of technological innovation that has made America’s economy steadily cleaner. Economic growth is the environment’s best friend, creating both new, cleaner technologies and giving people the luxury to worry more about the environment and less about their own sustenance. But anti-growth environmentalists don’t want to hear that, which brings us back to The Day After Tomorrow.

Why is New York the setting for the film’s most graphic mayhem? It is the iconic American city, so it’s always a tempting backdrop for disaster movies. But something else might be at work. As environmental writer Iain Murray has argued on NRO, New York is the emblematic expression of America’s capitalist civilization, and is therefore something of an affront to critics of that civilization, foreign and domestic.

The makers of The Day After Tomorrow revel in the prospect of our civilization being brought low, humiliated for its sins. In the film, desperate Americans flee illegally across the Mexican border to escape the weather cataclysm. Get the irony? After the disaster, the Dick Cheney-like vice president apologizes, essentially for the fact that his country has been running a modern economy lo these many years: “We were wrong. I was wrong.” Even with America’s economy destroyed, even with millions dead, there is a bright spot. At the end, an astronaut comments from far above our frozen continent: “The air has never been so clear.” All the SUVs are buried under the tundra!

The Day After Tomorrow might not be much of a movie, but it is useful for providing a glimpse into the soul of left-wing environmentalism. Pretty chilling.

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.


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