May 31, 2004

Flirting with Disaster

The environment community is all abuzz over the first "summer" 2004 blockbuster attempt by Hollywood: "The Day After Tomorrow." The movie depicts a climate run amuck thanks to decades of excessive greenhouse gas emissions by yours truly -- homo sapiens!

So is this really "the movie the White House doesn't want you to see," or will Dick Cheney be handing out free movie passes and popcorn in the Rose Garden?

Environmentalists are hoping the movie will draw positive attention to climate change and in particular to the Bush administration's dismal record on the subject. Moveon.org is rallying the troops, Al Gore is stumping, and Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman have a spring in their step as they look to reintroduce their Climate Stewardship Act in the Senate.

I have to admit that I was pretty hopeful when I first heard about it, but I've come to realize, like many others, that it's just as likely that the movie could hurt the movement. Environmental NGOs and climate experts are acknowledging that the details of the movie are, at best, overwhelmingly implausible. In its unsurprising over-dramatization, the movie could reinforce skeptics' views that the threats of climate change are greatly exaggerated and don't warrant the type of response that many environmentalists advocate. Critics of the Kyoto Protocol have a fresh opportunity to pan the global agreement, with the added convenience of a weak, easily-refutable sci-fi target.

I haven't seen the movie myself yet, but the early reviews aren't exactly pretty. To add insult to injury, the movie's premise opens it up to a wide range of predictably sarcastic puns from movie reviewers.

  • David Sterritt of the Christian Science Monitor writes: "This is a disaster movie that lives up to its label."
  • The Seattle Times' Moira Macdonald notes: "Emmerich, whose previous forays into disaster (in every sense of the word) include 'Godzilla' and 'Independence Day' [...]"
  • A.O. Scott opens the NYT review with: "'The Day After Tomorrow,' a two-hour $125 million disaster -- excuse me, I mean disaster movie [...]"
Mr. Cranky -- bless his caustic e-soul -- was of course in fine form:

There's a disaster hurtling toward Earth, and it's this movie.

How big a disaster? Big enough that Hollywood denizens should dive into their underground bunkers and brace for impact. Big enough that the producers would have been better off taking the $125 million budget and flushing it, dollar-by-dollar, down the toilet. Big enough that by the actual day after tomorrow, the only tornadoes destroying L.A. will be the tornadoes of failure decimating the career of any Hollywood executive who was even seen near this project.

"The Day After Tomorrow" is basically weather porn. The acting, story and dialog are but a flimsy pretext to get us to the money shot of a big storm destroying something. However, director Roland Emmerich can't contain himself and delivers a premature climax in the first half of the movie as Los Angeles and New York are torn asunder.

It's hard to hope for (or fear!) too much from this movie. President Bush is unlikely to sign the Kyoto Protocol tomorrow morning, but at the same time the movie is unlikely to set the environmental movement back 20 years. If all goes well, the movie could result in a "teachable moment," as some have suggested. And in an interview with National Geographic News, Tom Prugh, a senior editor at the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C., offered a pleasantly level-headed comment:

I hope people will come away with the lesson that we need to be more careful with the climate that we're fooling around with -- not that they need to worry about buying property in Mexico because the Northern Hemisphere is going to be locked up in an icebox. [...] One of the key lessons of the film is that this is a very big, very complex system that we don't understand very well. Since we're conducting a giant experiment with this huge, complicated, poorly understood system, weird and unexpected stuff is probably going to happen.

Like wolves running amock on Fifth Avenue, apparently. Pass the popcorn, and keep your fingers crossed for the environment.

Posted by anatole at 01:38 PM | Comments (2)

May 28, 2004

Ver 2.0

Well, here we go again. I'm going to give sobersecondthought.com another go.

To kick things off, here's what I wrote about the site the first time around:

This is my new web spot, launched on January 31, 2003. I intend to use it to ramble -- mostly for my own benefit, I can only imagine -- about various things political.

I've had it in my mind to create a website called sobersecondthought for quite some time now. The original impetus for this site had to do with some media-related frustrations (long story). Now I see it serving, at least initially, as an outlet for the types of politics/policy ramblings that I have kept largely internalized to date (for your safety).

And what is "sober second thought"? Until I did a bit of web searching in advance of my domain name registration, I didn't realize that -- with regards to "popular use" -- the expression is most common in Canada (see Google).

What I did know, of course, is that in Canada it is most often used to refer to our Senate or "upper" legislative chamber. The website Youthfluence (Youthfluence?! No wonder young people don't vote...) describes the Senate's role in part as a "watchdog [...] giving "sober second thought" to actions taken by the House of Commons." The origins of the expression date back to 1867. Canada's first Prime Minister, The Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald, described the Senate as:

"... the Upper House ... which has the sober second-thought in legislation ..."

"It must be an independent House, having a free action of its own, for it is only valuable as being a regulating body, calmly considering the legislation initiated by the popular branch, and preventing any hasty or ill considered legislation which may come from that body, but it will never set itself in opposition against the deliberate and understood wishes of the people."

-- Parliamentary Debates on Confederation of British North American Provinces [Quebec 1867, Ottawa, 1951], pp. 35 and 36 respectively

So there you have it. My hope is to spill some interesting ponderings onto these pages. Sober second thoughts? Well, I expect that I will generally be sober, if nothing else. Whether my political reflections occasionally do any justice to the Senate's important mandate remains to be seen.

Huh. No kidding. Well, in order to help things along a little better this time around, I figure a few simple guiding principles are in order:

  • No more trying to "perfect" entries before posting them.
  • No more writing exclusively in the middle of the night.

Both of which I'm violating right now. Excellent. Here goes nothing!

Posted by anatole at 02:54 AM | Comments (0)