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A Global Warning?

(History Channel; US DVD: 15 Apr 2008)

Looks Like We're All Going Down Together

The earth is warming, and humans are hastening the process. If you disagree with that sentence, kill yourself. You are not helping, and there isn’t much time left to waste arguing with you. If you disagree, then you are perhaps a religious zealot, a conservative politician, a traditionalist voter, a stubborn and implacable soul; but, for whatever reason, you have not yet been sufficiently inconvenienced by the truth. So, it’s time for you to go.


Okay, that probably wasn’t very helpful.


But, let’s face it: it’s plainly ridiculous that there is still a large and loud and angry population of educated people out there who refuse to listen to the overwhelming majority of scientists as they report on the calamitous consequences of our misuse of the earth. What’s worse: it isn’t about science, really.


The deep, powerful hatred of “liberals”, hippies, and science-based (read: non-Christian) reasoning is the real motivation, here. Which means that this is a case of entrenched political differences more than it is a matter of two scientific arguments at loggerheads. It’s that the two sides of this debate don’t like each other very much, and have dug in their respective heels. What blinkered ignorance! And yet I’ll admit that I haven’t any time, none, for the other side on this score. The finger points at me. But the bell tolls for us all.


The History Channel, not exactly known for its scientific television programming, has produced a film that aims to avoid making any over-the-top and unhelpful statements like the one I made above, to my increasing discredit. The film puts a question mark right there in the title: A Global Warning?, and then pretends to begin from a query rather than an agenda. But, since the film follows a series of climatologists who are, all of them, on record as global warming alarmists, the titular punctuation emerges as little more than an affectation.


Showing the violent fluctuations of the planet’s temperatures for millions of years, this is a film which, at every turn, underlines the perilous human contributions to climate change. It seems we’re supposed to be heading toward another ice age, which we probably won’t survive, but we’re messing with that natural move into an ice age by causing global warming, instead, which we probably won’t surive and even if we do, eventually, an ice age is going to get us again. 


Viewing the thin band of geological time where our species crawls about the earth, we can see the end of our survival: be it death by fire (warming—inching up to our doorstep) or ice (ice age—you and I won’t be around to worry about that, anymore, but our great, great, great grandkids . . .? )—either way, we’re doomed.  The title would have been more accurately punctuated with an exclamation point, rather than a question mark.  The end, it seems, is inevitable. Only the form it may take is in question.


The film employs oppressive, near-constant, narration of some very depressing geological science. Thus, watching A Global Warning? a somewhat annoying experience: the episodic structure is just too formulaic, too by-the-numbers to be enthralling. It occurred to me – and, it really shouldn’t have – that this was a high school textbook-on-film.  Didactic, straightforward, and trying too hard to speak to me “in a language I’ll understand”, A Global Warning? made me want to cut class and go smoke cigarettes in the parking lot.


That said, this is a film with a message that everyone needs to hear, and soon. Recent climate change is driven by centuries of human activity. If we can save the planet now, we might be able to save ourselves in the long run.  (We’ll have to leave Earth, but that’s another matter.)  The History Channel is valiantly trying to reach out to the people who still see this statement of fact—that humans are hastening global warming and causing tremendous disruption to the planet—as a question. (I’m going to pretend that their decision to put the question mark in the title was a reasoned outreach decision and not possibly a ruse to get more viewers and thus higher ratings and thus make more money because, please, no more.)


If only one more person is turned from the darkness to the light on this, the defining issue of our time, then kudos to the filmmakers behind this otherwise tiresome lesson in climate crises.

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Stuart Henderson is a culture critic and historian. He is the author of Making the Scene: Yorkville and Hip Toronto in the 1960s (University of Toronto Press, 2011). All of this is fun, but he'd rather be camping. Twitter: @henderstu


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