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'Tomorrow' Not Far Away?

Local greens use the disaster flick to talk seriously about climate change

By Lee Nichols, Fri., June 4, 2004

"Bad science" is the phrase almost universally used in reviews of The Day After Tomorrow, the global-warming disaster flick that opened last week to mixed reviews. Nonetheless, that didn't deter environmental activists from using the movie to point out the very real dangers posed by rising world temperatures. At a press conference on opening day in front of the Gateway Theatre – as one SUV after another drove by in the parking lot – representatives of Public Citizen and other groups said that while the movie's portrayal of overnight calamity may not happen, it does show what might happen gradually over decades.

The film "exaggerates some of the science behind global warming, but like all good science fiction, it's based on a few important facts," said Joe Ridout of Public Citizen. "And here are the facts: Nineteen out of the hottest 20 years we've ever recorded have happened since 1980, and the 1990s was the hottest decade in 1,000 years. Spring now comes 10.8 days earlier than it did in 1959. The planet is heating up, and unfortunately, viewers may not have to wait long to see a sequel to The Day After Tomorrow, because it is happening in their communities; it is happening every day in plain sight."

The speakers connected these effects directly to Texas. Ridout reminded reporters that San Antonio has been hit by two 500-year floods in a four-year period, and Lisa Doggett of Physicians for Social Responsibility said that the World Health Organization attributed 150,000 deaths in the year 2000 to global warming and said that number could be rising soon. "One of the ways it impacts health is through increasing rodent and mosquito populations. Conditions like dengue fever, malaria, West Nile virus, are now threatening parts of our state that were previously untouched by these illnesses. There are also increased rates of asthma. ... Here in Texas, we're likely to see more people in the emergency room suffering from these conditions."

Tom "Smitty" Smith of Public Citizen said that there is some good news, however – people can take preventive action now, and it will benefit Texans. "There are three things we can do, and the good news is they will all save money," said Smith. "We can buy cooler cars that produce far less pollution per mile and save us money at the gas pump; we can buy cooler power, like renewable energy, that saves not only pollution but gives us lower bills over the long term; and we can do things more efficiently in our homes and our offices, like buying new lamps, and insulating our homes, and buying better air conditioners.

"No state would benefit more from making those changes than Texas," Smith concluded. Referring both to the emerging wind and solar industries here and the consumer effects such strategies would have, he said, "The data would indicate we can create 84,000 more jobs than we would lose and put $700 per year in the average family's pocket."

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