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Look up! Climate change is already a planet-destroying threat
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Look up! Climate change is already a planet-destroying threat

Meryl Streep stars as President Janie Orlean, a head of state more concerned about keeping her political power than avoiding an impending apocalypse in "Don't Look Up."


The new comet apocalypse movie “Don’t Look Up” asks a dark question, one that’s been hurtling toward us for some time.

Will we buy the world’s end if it comes to an end?

Two scientists report in the film that a comet capable of destroying planets is on a collision path with Earth. We have six months to go before we die.

By the time the news passes through the meatgrinder of polarized politics and paralyzed government, there’s just a day or two left for humanity to accept its fate.

In a real end-of-days scenario, we’d be lucky to go from denial to acceptance in six months.

Consider that we’ve spent two years in the shadow of COVID-19, and today 73% of Americans say they are fully vaccinated (another 2% said they intend to get vaccinated ASAP), According to researchKaiser Family Foundation. Impressive, except that almost one in four say they will either “wait and see,” only get vaccinated “if required to,” or “definitely not” do so.

It has taken a long time to achieve this level of acceptance. 5.5 million deaths worldwide ― 846,000 in the U.S.

COVID is a warming up.

The pandemic is like a large wave that sweeps ashore. Behind it, there is a tsunami of a magnitude greater. Climate change, the real planet-buster is on its way. To be accurate, it’s already here.

The New York Times is a great source of information if you are unsure about its impact. Visual reportA sobering list of disasters such as hurricanes, floods, wildfires, droughts, and nearly unbearable heat has been compiled from 193 countries. Believe what you see.

For over 50 years, scientists have been warning of a slow-motion apocalypse. We talk about the crisis too often as if it is something we need to address in five, ten, or fifteen years.

According to a survey by a, nearly 60% of U.S. adults believe we are already experiencing the effects of global heating. 2021 Gallup poll. About 43% say they are “highly worried,” and another 22% say they worry “a fair amount.”

That leaves more than one-third who worry “only a little” (18%) or not at all (17%).

Meryl Streep stars as President Janie Orlean, a head of state more concerned about keeping her political power than avoiding an impending apocalypse in "Don't Look Up."

Meryl Streep stars in the role of President JanieOrlean, a head-of-state more concerned about keeping it political than avoiding an impending Apocalypse.

Maybe that explains the tepid critical response to “Don’t Look Up” The denial hits a little too close to home.

Take the movie’s dismissive president played by Meryl Streep. When the scientists deliver the news that there’s a 99.78% certainty that a huge comet will collide with Earth, she replies, “I’m gonna call it 70% and let’s just move on.”

There was a time when we would have called such dark humor “over the top.” We’re past that point. On March 30, 2020, COVID-19 deaths in America had just surpassed 3,400. Then-President Donald Trump stated: “Stay calm.” It will disappear.”

On an average week, there are 3,400 deaths.

Another thing “Don’t Look Up” gets right is the certainty that any disaster will become a political talking point.

Just look at the political breakdown of the 60% who say we’re already seeing the effects of climate change. That’s the view shared by 82% of Democrats29% of Republicans. Gallup reports that the gap between the parties was only 13 percentage points in 2001.

Our planet’s climate is not a political force like the virus that causes COVID-19. Both are forces within Nature. It does not matter whether we believe in them. They move on without or with our acceptance.

However, there may be some hope if you look hard enough. Despite how terrible the pandemic was, we have learned two important lessons.

First, it is important to remember that scientists will always be there for us when we need them. Researchers only took a week to sequence all the genetic blueprints of the new coronavirus. Then, in one of the greatest achievements of our age, scientists developed effective vaccines in less than a year ― a task that previously took a decade or longer.

The second lesson is to remember that no matter how stubbornly you refuse to change your life, you can and will if forced. Take a look back at 2020. 70% of Americans had moved away from the office to work at home by April. 89% of suburban residents had adopted masks by August.

The choice we face with climate change is simple — essentially the same one we face now with the virus:

Change or die.

To stave off a planet-busting disaster, wouldn’t most of us ride bicycles, take shorter showers, install solar panels, use energy-efficient light bulbs, even eat more vegetables?

You bet you could see annihilation falling on us like an asteroid.

It’s time for you to look up.

Mark S. Johnson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning science and health reporter for The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. His first novel, “Though The Earth Gives Way” (Bancroft Press), was published earlier in the week.

This article first appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel The movie “Don’t Look Up!” sums up our failures on climate change. Our failures in dealing with climate change are summarized in the movie “Don’t Look Up!”


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