OTTAWA —

Daniel Adams

Since the World Trade Center attacks in
2001, the public’s focus — and its fear — have
been squarely on the threat of terrorism. FOX’s new gloom and
doom flick, “The Day After Tomorrow,” might just change
all that. The movie has, in a matter of weeks, revitalized a once
dormant debate over the likelihood that we’re causing
gradual, potentially catastrophic changes in global climate
patterns. Trailers for the film depict tidal waves engulfing the
Statue of Liberty, grapefruit-size hail raining down on Tokyo and,
most alarming, the dawn of a new ice age caused by a shift in ocean
currents.

Though these scenarios are indeed far fetched, the scientific
consensus on climate change is that it is real and is upon us. But
for years, a well-organized (and often well-financed) resistance
has stalled efforts to address the problem, combining heavily
entrenched industry interests (such as Exxon-Mobil) and the
pseudo-credibility of a few well-educated skeptics like Bjorn
Lumborg, Fred Singer and Robert Balling. These skeptics cast doubt
on the science of global warming, giving industry a free pass to
continue business as usual and the public an excuse to let them do
it.

Now, after years of concerted efforts at moral persuasion have
utterly failed, environmentally conscious groups from Ben and
Jerry’s, to Moveon.org, are promoting this movie — not
in the hopes that it will educate Americans concerning the dangers
of fossil fuel emissions, but that it will, quite frankly, scare
the crap out of them.

It’s a regrettable change in approach, to be sure. But if
the tactic of scare-mongering comes in and out of style, right now
it’s wearing an Armani suit. On a daily basis, we’re
bombarded by the 24-hour news media with color coded terrorism
alerts and vague, ominous intelligence reports warning of impending
doom. Pundits such as Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and even
our “paper of record” the New York Times have been
enlisted as part of an open assault on our sense of safety.

Now that the environmentalists want their turn, even some of
these same individuals have begun to cry foul. In a strange, but
not uncommon display of hypocrisy, Sean Hannity, of the hit FOX
analysis show, “Hannity and Colmes,” had this to say on
the May 25th edition of his show, “The vanquished vice
president, Al Gore, is using the film as an excuse to bash
President Bush one more time … Al Gore uses fear tactics and
hyperbole and attacks Republicans.”

Imagine that — Sean Hannity, concerned about the use of
“fear tactics.”

Maybe now, after years of trying to gently persuade lawmakers
and the public to care about climate change, the environmental
lobby will finally get the kind of attention that their cause
deserves. In the words of Michael Molitor, the former geochemist
who helped advise the making of the film and who has testified
before Congress on the matter, “It is going to do more for
the issue of climate change than anything I’ve done in my whole
life.”

Sadly, he’s probably right.

Adams can be reached at
“mailto:dnadams@umich.edu”>dnadams@umich.edu.

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