April 18, 2007
The recent Oscar may have gone to Martin Scorsese for his remake of the Chinese thriller The Departed, but the film that should have beaten it–and Al Gore’s similarly hyped An Inconvenient Truth–was Alfonso Cuaron’s disturbing, destabilizing Children of Men. A dystopian sci-fi of mammoth proportions, Children of Men is nevertheless harrowing cinema precisely because–as Cuaron himself explains in one of the featurettes contained on the film’s recently released DVD–without the love story between Clive Owen and Julianne Moore, it is essentially a documentary about the ravages of climate change, mass migration and resource wars going on as I write this very paragraph.
Perhaps not in America or its native U.K. as of yet, but as everyone from the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to the famed Mexican director has agreed that it is simply a matter of time. And time, as the cliche goes, is definitely running out. Which is not to say that the type of dystopian environment illustrated all too vividly in the movie is a lock for the future of humanity. As we have seen before, life is not the movies. But then again, as we have seen before, sometimes it is too close to call.
Consider the IPCC’s most recent report on global warming, which is a doozy straight out of sci-fi cinema. Over 2,500 experts, 800 contributing authors and 450 lead authors from 130 countries have crunched climate data from far and wide only to tell us what we already know: Our reliance upon fossil fuels could spell the end of our species as a whole if we don’t get our shit together. Chew on these facts from the report’s executive summary, usually the only thing policymakers and politicians read at all.
Coastal areas everywhere “are projected to be exposed to increasing risks, including coastal erosion, due to climate change and sea-level rise, and the effect will be exacerbated by increasing human-induced pressures on coastal areas.” In addition, “many millions more people are projected to be flooded every year due to sea-level rise by the 2080s. Those densely populated and low-lying areas where adaptive capacity is relatively low, and which already face other challenges such as tropical storms or local coastal subsidence, are especially at risk.”
Africa, in particular, is in trouble. By 2020, “between 75 and 250 million people are projected to be exposed to an increase of water stress.” Even worse, “agricultural production, including access to food … is projected to be severely compromised” and “the area suitable for agriculture, the length of growing seasons and yield potential, particularly along the margins of semiarid and arid areas, are expected to decrease. This would further adversely affect food security and exacerbate malnutrition in the continent.” All told, the IPCC confirms that “Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents to climate variability and change because of multiple stresses and low adaptive capacity,” and while there are some efforts underway to adapt to its changing environmental situation, they “may be insufficient.”