Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Interstellar: Climate Chaos May Not Mean Scientific Enlightenment

Interstellar spoiler alert: Ignoring climate change fails to make it go away.

My wife and I saw Interstellar in Imax 70mm last night and you should too. It's flat-out the best theater experience ever, a 2001 for the digital effects era.

Interstellar is cli fi (climate fiction), seeing a not-too-distant future - maybe late in this century - in which the climate crisis has spiraled out of control. Humanity is reduced to subsistence farming, eating mostly corn, the last thing left that will grow in the heat, drought and extreme storms. The fate of people in coastal areas and big cities is left unsaid, with only passing references to crumbling militaries and failed governments. Crops fail and soil blows away in super-sized Dust Bowl storms, making air pollution a daily, lethal threat. Our choice is life in the stars or life underground.

Climate activists often express hope that increasing evidence of climate impacts, such as superstorm Sandy, will awaken the apathetic and the deniers to the need for action. But the movie hints that dealing with a climate crisis wouldn't necessarily translate to instant, universal scientific acceptance.

To keep Americans focused on the desperate fight to grow food, students are told the Apollo missions were faked. Director Christopher Nolan hints the move isn't strictly practical, but also a political adaptation to the chaos, tinging the scene with Tea Party fervor:

"We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars," laments Matthew McConaughey's Coop. "Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt."

It's a fantastic film, but I'd rather count on solar panels and wind turbines to save us from industrial carbon pollution now than wait for the wormhole to appear.

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