By Andy Goldberg
Los Angeles - Since coming to power three-and-a-half years ago, United States President George Bush has treated global warming as the quirky concern of a few marginal environmentalists who rely on fuzzy science to prove a political point.
But with a general election looming and Bush running neck and neck with his presumptive challenger, Senator John Kerry, a new blockbuster movie that offers a cataclysmic take on the hazards of global warming has the White House in a cold sweat.
The Day After Tomorrow is aiming to become the greatest disaster movie ever made. Directed by Roland Emmerich, whose previous works include Godzilla and Independence Day, the movie extrapolates on basic scientific theories about the buildup of greenhouse gases and global warming.
In Emmerich's vision, higher global temperatures melt the polar ice gaps, sending cold water into the oceans, raising sea levels and triggering a disastrous ice age around the globe in just three days. Snow falls in New Delhi, hailstones the size of water melons batter Tokyo, mega-tornadoes devastate Los Angeles, and Manhattan is destroyed by a tidal wave before becoming frozen solid as a result of the big chill.
The special effects are nothing if not spectacular, and since this is a Hollywood movie, there also is a handsome hero. But the dire warnings of Dennis Quaid, who plays a climate expert, are ignored with disastrous results by a callous president, who looks disarmingly similar to current Vice-President Dick Cheney.
Quaid is certainly not shirking from explaining the film's message.
"It's a cautionary tale about what can happen if we continue to provoke Mother Nature," he told interviewers.
The repeated telling of that tale to millions of Americans has the White House worried that it might tip the scales against the incumbent when voters go to the polls in November.
Bush's repudiation of the 1997 Kyoto Agreement on global warming, his lowering of clean air standards and relaxation of restrictions on logging and oil drilling are just some of his actions that have earned him the ire of environmentalists. The White House has been so concerned that the film could get voters to turn their support to Kerry that it ordered officials not to comment on the movie and even issued a directive to scientists with the US space agency Nasa to refrain from interviews about climate change, The New York Times reported.
But plenty of other scientists have been speaking out, and although they maintain that the film's events are far-fetched fantasies, few dispute the basic premise that global warming poses a massive threat.
Their views are in sharp contrast to the view popular in the White House that global warming has yet to be proven and any rise in temperatures might be due to long-term cyclical climate change rather than the buildup of greenhouse gases.
"The type of global climate change that happens in the movie - where global warming diverts warm ocean currents and plunges the world abruptly into a new ice age - could possibly happen in real life, but it would take many, many decades or even a century or more," said Duke University Professor Susan Lozier.
"Hollywood time is not, obviously, the same as geological time," Lozier said.
"The movie greatly exaggerates how quickly climate change can happen," Harvard University's Dr Daniel Schrag agreed. "However, it is possible that the ultimate consequences of climate change, occurring over decades rather than days, may be just as severe and disastrous."
Still, the movie remains as validating for environmentalists as Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ was for hard-core Catholics.
Eco-friendly former vice-president Al Gore has urged people to see the film and was promoting a leaflet campaign when the movie opens that described the weather crisis in the movie as "over the top" but also says that global warming is real and that Bush is doing nothing to stop it.
Environmental groups like the Future Energy Coalition have created websites that explains global warming while even the Weather Channel is hopping on the climate debate by screening a week's worth of extreme weather programming to coincide with the movie's release.
The movie might deepen Bush suspicions that famously liberal Hollywood is out to get him. After all, leftist documentary maker Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, which bashes Bush's handling of the September 11 terrorist attacks, is also coming out in the election run-up.
But with Tomorrow, Bush fans cannot complain. The movie was made by 20th Century Fox, a company owned by one of Bush's biggest supporters, media mogul Rupert Murdoch. For him, it seems, the prospect of earning possibly billions of dollars with a hot summer hit movie is worth upsetting the White House. - Sapa-DPA