James Cameron’s upcoming documentary on the costs of global warming may be garnering some media attention, but it has not been well received by some in the environmental movement.
Cameron’s nine-part film series, called “Years of Living Dangerously,” features Hollywood A-listers like Harrison Ford, Matt Damon and Jessica Alba, along with liberal journalists Chris Hayes and Thomas Friedman. The film tries to tell the story of global warming and how it is impacting peoples’ lives around the world.
The series has been hyped by its host cable station Showtime as a “big show,” and environmentalists have begun to sing its praises. Former Environmental Protection Agency chief Carol Browner, now a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress, hailed the film. Browner said while most global warming documentaries are generally full of charts and graphs, “this is the first time it is about people.”
ThinkProgress’s Joe Romm said the film would be a “landmark television series, like Ken Burns’ The Civil War. It is what everyone is going to be talking about from April to June.”
But not all environmentalists are thrilled about Cameron’s new film series. Environmentalists Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute co-authored a New York Times op-ed, slamming the film series for trying to scare people into action on global warming.
“If you were looking for ways to increase public skepticism about global warming, you could hardly do better than the forthcoming nine-part series on climate change and natural disasters, starting this Sunday on Showtime,” Nordhaus and Shellenberger wrote.
The two environmentalists said “there is every reason to believe that efforts to raise public concern about climate change by linking it to natural disasters will backfire. More than a decade’s worth of research suggests that fear-based appeals about climate change inspire denial, fatalism and polarization.”
The two cite polling data showing that the public became increasingly likely to believe claims about global warming were exaggerated after Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth” aired in 2006. In the film, Gore made catastrophic predictions about global warming, including massive sea level rises.
“Still, environmental groups have known since 2000 that efforts to link climate change to natural disasters could backfire,” Nordhaus and Shellenberger added. “Messages focused on extreme weather events, they found, made many Americans more likely to view climate change as an act of God — something to be weathered, not prevented.”
Not only do people tend to reject climate fear-mongering, the authors noted, but scientific data does not support the assertion that global warming is making natural disasters more extreme.
The United Nations recently reported there is “limited evidence of changes in extremes associated with other climate variables since the mid-20th century.”
The UN noted that current data shows “no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century. … No robust trends in annual numbers of tropical storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes counts have been identified over the past 100 years in the North Atlantic basin.”
“It is misleading, and just plain incorrect, to claim that disasters associated with hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, or droughts have increased on climate timescales either in the United States or globally,” University of Colorado scientists Dr. Roger Pielke told Congress last year.
“Hurricanes have not increased in the U.S. in frequency, intensity or normalized damage since at least 1900,” Pielke added. “The same holds for tropical cyclones globally since at least 1970.”
“Claims that current disasters are connected to climate change do seem to motivate many liberals to support action,” write Nordhaus and Shellenberger. “But they alienate conservatives in roughly equal measure.”
“While the urgency that motivates exaggerated claims is understandable, turning down the rhetoric and embracing solutions like nuclear energy will better serve efforts to slow global warming,” the two authors concluded.
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