JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Silence of the doom mongers

A tsunami floods New York city following a catastrophic climatic shift in a scene from the 2004 disaster film The Day After Tomorrow.

A tsunami floods New York city following a catastrophic climatic shift in a scene from the 2004 disaster film The Day After Tomorrow.

Like most wage slaves, I struggle to find the time to build the Dream Life® of my humdrum ideals. My vegie patch is still a concrete slab; I'm pretty sure my children watch more TV than is pedagogically proper; and my great unpublished novel is, so far, a couple of rather crap paragraphs I jotted down one morning in 2009. When my kids are asleep, instead of reading Tony Robbins and motivating the alleged giant within, I tend to blow my spare moments on a rather pointless pleasure: watching apocalyptic films.

I must be close to having seen every English-language movie in the genre, as well as its disaster, dystopian and post-apocalyptic sub-genres. I've even ploughed through dozens of zombie flicks, ridiculous though they are (I Am Legend and 28 Days Later excepted).

The apocalypses or societal breakdowns depicted in art tend to reflect the fears of the time. 

The themes these films explore are endless. Sometimes, the catastrophe is nothing more than a backdrop for the usual celluloid fodder of romance, vengeance, an improbable triumph or plain old gore. Yet the apocalypses or societal breakdowns depicted in art tend to reflect the fears of the time. The earlier dystopian tales of last century often centred on class struggle and authoritarianism (think Metropolis, 1984 or, more recently, V for Vendetta). World War II and the atomic age spawned a still-growing collection of post-holocaust survivalist stories (On the Beach, The Day After, The Road). The space race encouraged the alien-invasion genre (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing), just as the computer age stoked old fears of machines turning on their masters (2001: A Space Odyssey, The Terminator, A.I. Artificial Intelligence).

A man (played by Viggo Mortensen) and his young son struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic America in the 2009 film The Road.

A man (played by Viggo Mortensen) and his young son struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic America in the 2009 film The Road.

There are plenty of other causes of these fictional crises: pandemics (see the BBC's brilliant TV series Survivors), mass infertility (Children of Men), an ebbing sun (Sunshine), solar flares (Hell), natural disasters, asteroid impacts, divine judgment (Left Behind: The Movie, for a laugh) and even the gradual dumbing-down of mankind (Idiocracy, for many laughs).

Most are wildly implausible, not that that makes them any less fun (see the gaudy nonsense of 2012, based on the Mayan prophecy that the world will end this year). But critiquing the ''reality'' of this fantasy genre misses the point. I indulge in these films to escape my everyday worries. When watching them, I worry instead about how I'll hide or defend my family from scavenging bandits in the future post-apocalyptic wasteland of northern Canberra. (As I know nothing about guns or cars, and noting again my lack of a vegie patch, I've accepted that we're pretty much goners.)

You may have noticed a gap in this short summary: films that are based on the dominant fear of our time. A handful of science-fiction movies exist which tell of a world devastated by climate change, but they make up a tiny proportion of the genre. There was the expensive 1995 flop, Waterworld, which told of a near-totally submerged planet with no ice caps. In contrast, 2004's The Day After Tomorrow, an extreme portrayal of the Earth passing a climate tipping point, was a box-office smash. In the usual Hollywood style, the story's science was fudged to compress the action (events that would take decades unfolded over a couple of weeks). For some reason, this infuriated many viewers. Newspapers and politicians angrily decried the film as propaganda and inaccurate. Sci-fi fans like me wondered why they took it so seriously; how on earth would they react if they ever saw, say, Independence Day?

Man (Keanu Reeves) rages against the machine in 1999's The Matrix.

Man (Keanu Reeves) rages against the machine in 1999's The Matrix.

But that's the rub with climate change: the public discussions about it have never made much sense. Each debate descends into hateful rhetoric; even escapist fiction is viewed through an ideological prism. As scientists become more certain of climate change, and more confident of their predictions, the community becomes less willing to act. Lowy Institute polls show that more than two in three Australians believed global warming was a ''serious and pressing problem'' six years ago. Today, despite stronger evidence that change has already taken place, and at a faster rate than earlier models forecast, just over one in three Australians hold that view.

This week, United States researchers announced that the shrinking Arctic ice sheet was almost the smallest size on record. It says much about the prevailing public mood that few newspapers even reported the study. I guess we were all too busy seething with indignation at the carbon price, which is so minute it won't change anyone's lifestyle anyway.

It's little wonder filmmakers ignore the only likely apocalypse of our time; we've made it clear we don't want to know about it. Nor would these movies make for riveting viewing, in any event. The pending crisis will be so gradual that we'll be able to continue to deny it. Even my children will probably live mostly comfortable lives, though any grandchildren I may have won't. We'll cop worsening droughts and storms, but we'll survive. Climate change won't destroy our society; it'll just make it slowly poorer.

The scientist and economist who heads the United Nations' climate panel, Rajendra Pachauri, is not prone to hyperbole. Yet five years back, he gave a stark warning that was out of character: ''If there's no action before 2012, that's too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future.''

We weren't listening. We're still not. We're too absorbed in our escapist fantasies to deal with the dull but real doom on our doorstep.

Markus Mannheim edits The Public Sector Informant. Send your tips to aps6@canberratimes.com.au

2 comments so far

  • I went to an ANU lecture at the Shine Dome given by Dr Raubach . Anyone who was there ( and you can watch it on the internet) saw the data .. and its convincing . The world will warm by 2 C no matter what we do .. and thats ok...just. But if we push it to 4 C then positive feedback loops will start and frankly we done ..all of us . Runaway thermal rise will occur. There won't be any survivors in caves or anywhere else . As it stands we are on the road to Hell. James Lovelock said he doubted if the human race will number more than 100 million by 2200..He may be optimistic. The good news is we can still save the world ..each of us.. if we act now by ditching growth economics and moving to sustainable economics

    Commenter
    Dan
    Date and time
    August 25, 2012, 4:59PM
    • You can't make a movie about climate change itself, it happens too slowly. And there's no drama. And while you can set a movie in a post-climate change world, it's usually better to lave the cause ambiguous - like Mad Max. And finally, while such a movie could depict those who are suffering, there are many people suffering in the world already, with more dramatic stories to base a movie on.

      Commenter
      Robert Bast
      Location
      Williamstown
      Date and time
      August 26, 2012, 1:29PM

      Make a comment

      You are logged in as [Logout]

      All information entered below may be published.

      Error: Please enter your screen name.

      Error: Your Screen Name must be less than 255 characters.

      Error: Your Location must be less than 255 characters.

      Error: Please enter your comment.

      Error: Your Message must be less than 300 words.

      Post to

      You need to have read and accepted the Conditions of Use.

      Thank you

      Your comment has been submitted for approval.

      Comments are moderated and are generally published if they are on-topic and not abusive.

      Featured advertisers

      Special offers

      Credit card, savings and loan rates by Mozo