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One might say "Global Warming is the New Nuke", since it has largely supplanted the role the A-bomb once had in fiction as a catalyst for The End of the World as We Know It.
In fiction, the effects of global warming are often drastically exaggerated for the purposes of creating immediate drama. Everything within a thousand miles of the tropics becomes an inhospitable desert, with places like Canada, Siberia and Scandinavia becoming the last refuges of humanity. Massive tornadoes, hurricanes and wildfires start striking all over the planet. Absurdly swift rises in the sea level rise are also fairly common, with fictional works frequently portraying walls of water flooding all the coastal cities on the planet all at once rather than extremely gradually. A sea level rise of that magnitude necessitates the melting of most of the world's major ice sheets, something that would take decades in any realistic scenario. Here is a good app for demonstrating this point. Even the worst-case predictions for global warming don't involve any kind of sudden globally catastrophic event of the sort so popular in disaster movies, but rather a planet that gradually becomes less hospitable to human life. While global warming is often referred to as being rapid, that's "rapid" in geological terms. Compared to past cooling and warming trends (the ones that have brought Earth into and out of its past ice ages), a century-long gradual rise in temperature that substantially affects human life would be very rapid indeed.
In reality, while there are some possible (but less likely) scenarios where there could be movie-style doomsdays (and even in these unlikely scenarios, "doomsday" wouldn't happen everywhere at once), in general global warming is a far more subtle phenomenon, with its potential effects being long-term phenomena as droughts, famines, floods, and possibly magnification of certain common weather patterns, generally more heavily affecting the less developed parts of the world where farming is more difficult and food somewhat scarcer than in the developed world. Because the environment in the real world is complicated, no single drought or melted glacier can ever be shown to have resulted only from global warming; the effect only appears in statistical data gathered over many years, and can only be tentatively identified as a contributory factor in some of these effects.
For the developed world, the most relevant consequences of global warming may not be its direct effect on the local weather, but rather the effects that changing weather patterns elsewhere might have on the geopolitical climate. The increasing frequency and intensity of famine and other various ecological problems that might result could conceivably cause political unrest and upheaval in the populations of developing countries. In short, the (very) long-term situation might ultimately resemble Mad Max more than Waterworld.
A debate among the media and the general public rages on over veracity of climate change, especially anthropogenic global warming. This is no longer the case in the accredited peer-reviewed scientific community, where the debate has largely moved on to the specifics of warming and possible solutions. We won't get into the more specific scientific nitty-gritty of what those cited facts and arguments are here. We're about media rather than fact, and mostly it's fantastic Flame Bait.
The debate, in any event, rages on in full view of the media; whether Earth is currently growing hotter or colder, very few doubt that this intense Flame War between various factions of the political community continues to produce massive amounts of heat and very little illumination, save the possibility of the future invention of an argument-powered lightbulb.
Climatologists nowadays more often use the term "climate change" rather than "global warming" as a broader term applied to all complex changes in the globe's climate, past, present, and future rather than a simple increase in "average worldwide" temperature--when one area gets warmer and drier, other may get colder and wetter as the oceanic and atmospheric conveyor belts that move heat around the planet shift location.
Note: This page is only for examples concerning the portrayal of global warming in fiction. With all due respect and sensitivity, Real Life examples need to be avoided. Since global warming as a rather controversial and politicized issue has become pure Flame Bait (especially in The United States), No Real Life Examples Please.
- In Transformers Super God Masterforce, the main effect of the Decepticons' Kill Sat is to erode the ozone layer. A single shot quickly results in the polar ice caps melting and flooding at the base of the Himalayas. Which is an issue of Did Not Do the Research, because ozone is a greenhouse gas, and destroying it would cool the earth.
- Although it would greatly increase the rate of sunburn and melanoma, as ozone blocks high energy ultra-violet light coming in from the sun.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion manages to both play with and avert the problem. Second Impact (also a man-driven catastrophe) causes the destruction of Antarctica first, resulting in a lot of underwater real estate.
- It's somewhat important to note that Second Impact's name comes from it being an asteroid impact (or at least that's the cover story), which is a much better reason for rapid sea level rise than an intensification of the greenhouse effect.
- In Jubei-chan, the reason that Freesia was freed from being a Human Popsicle.
- In the original manga of X 1999, Kamui's mother burns to death because she was the 'shadow sacrifice' for the earth and took all of the earth's misfortune (aka, global warming) onto herself. Okay, maybe death by fire was a little more dramatic than the real thing, but...
- I dunno, all that heat increase for the volume of the biosphere, condensed into the 1.2 - 1.4 cubic feet average volume of an adult human female would be pretty durn extreme
- The Humongous Mecha of Patlabor were originally developed to construct barrier dams to protect coastal cities from being flooded due to global warming. It's portrayed realistically insofar as the flooding is not catastrophic. In fact, it's merely a part of the background.
- In an early chapter of Yotsuba&, Asagi introduces Yotsuba to the concept of air conditioners, but Ena tells her about global warming, leading to a brief stint as an environmental crusader to her father (Koiwai: "You know about that?!"), until Asagi calms her down by saying that if the Earth gets too hot, people can use the air conditioners to cool it down again. This might be a metaphor for the need for technical solutions to climate change. . . or a cute story about a kid.
- In Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, sea levels have risen dramatically, submerging entire cities, although global warming is never explicitly mentioned as the cause. The extreme version of this trope is averted however, since the rise is shown to be happening gradually, over generations. This greatly adds to the atmosphere of the work: Humanity is slowly fading away, and the fact that this is a slow and gradual Cozy Catastrophe, rather than an explosive overnight change, just makes it more poignant.
- Appears in the Crapsack Future of Give Me Liberty, with the streets of New York City turned into Venice-like water canals.
- Waterworld has the entire planet, save a few high mountaintops, covered by water. This would require more water than is currently on the planet: were all the ice caps to melt (a process which would take centuries at the present rate), the sea level would rise over 220 feet - catastrophic, sure, but there would still be plenty of solid land left.
- The Day After Tomorrow revolves around a sudden catastrophic global Ice Age precipitated by global warming. This concept is very loosely based on a theory that global warming will disrupt certain mid-Atlantic ocean currents, resulting in a 20-30 degree Fahrenheit temperature drop across much of Europe and North America.
- Note that the theory doesn't predict that it'll happen in only 2 days, nor that it will form super-cooled columns capable of freezing the fuel(!) in a running(!!) helicopter engine.
- The movie of Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea features a non-human-caused version of global warming, predating the contemporary issue. The ice caps melt, leaving chunks of ice to rain down on the Seaview, which ignores the fact that ice, you know, floats. It's shown how hot it's getting around the world by taking Stock Footage and tinting it fire engine red. Oh, and we haven't even gotten into the absurdities of how this was caused in the first place. It's resolved through Deus Ex Nukina, of course. (Don't ask why this is the plot of a movie titled Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea.)
- The backstory of A.I.: Artificial Intelligence has global warming destroying Earth's ecosystems and causing sea levels to rise by a hundred meters. Most of the Third World is effectively uninhabitable, while the rich nations managed to use their advanced technology to survive. At the end of the film, the reverse has happened -- a new ice age has wiped out humanity, leaving behind only the intelligent robots that they built, who have evolved into Sufficiently Advanced Aliens.
- In Soylent Green, the greenhouse effect has led to year-round temperatures in the 90s and 100s, so crops cannot grow and people can only be fed by the Soylent Corporation's processed products, including their latest innovative product.
- Ice Age: The Meltdown. Justified, as it takes place at the end of the last ice age, when the Earth's climate was starting to warm.
- The end of the Rite of Spring segment of Fantasia had all of the dinosaurs going extinct because of a massive drought caused by a sudden warming of the Earth's climate. Shortly after the last dino goes extinct, the entire Earth is flooded, submerging whatever continent is still on that planet.
- A novel by Arthur Herzog portrayed global warming (well before most average people understood it at all) as rapidly transforming the entire planet into a desert, nearly boiling off the oceans before some Applied Phlebotinum just barely saved the world.
- In Ben Bova's Empire Builders and sequels, the ice caps don't melt en masse, but global warming eventually hits a "cliff" where several ecosystem-critical weather systems fail at once, leading to massive devastation across the Earth and setting the stage for the rise of several power-mad theocracies across the globe.
- Michael Crichton's State of Fear is all about the controversy over global warming. It is worth noting that it resembles the accusations of Climategate and Glaciergate, but differs substantially in the details in that in the book, climate change as a whole is a hoax, whereas in the two 'gates, the greens insist that all it proves is that two scientists need better proofreading.
- Quite well handled in the Sands of Sarasvati. It involves the icecaps of Greenland partially melting into unknown caves beneath the island, causing the entire ice mass to slide on a bed of molten water into the sea, causing a megatsunami that threatens the nuclear powerplants built on the coastlines. It's also written by an actual environmental scientist, and aside from the aforementioned caves, is based on sound science. It helps that it's set Twenty Minutes Into the Future to escalate the force of global warming, as well.
- Philip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass, in which the portal between the worlds created an increase of temperatures that made things harder for the native sentient polar bears. They are later driven to the Himalayas, and things aren't any better there
- Lois Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga is set far enough into the future that sea levels have already risen; London is protected by a system of barrier walls.
- This is a major background element and plot point of Paolo Bacigalupi's biopunk novel The Windup Girl. The novel takes place in 23rd century Bangkok, which is actually below sea-level after Global Warming has taken it's toll and only survives thanks to enormous sea-walls and powerful pumps that work throughout the monsoon season. This becomes a plot point when the foreign merchant Carlyle has the only replacement parts for about half the pumps available in his warehouse outside Thailand, which he uses as political leverage. In the end, it doesn't last and Kanya lets the city drown to save the people of Thailand from foreign influences such as Carlyle.
- Carbon Diaries 2015 and its sequel Carbon Diaries 2017 by Saci Lloyd takes place in Great Britain after global warming has caused climate change, and as a result, people are rationed the amount of carbon they can use.
- Stephen Baxter puts an interesting twist on this in his Northland Trilogy where global warming and sea level rise causes masses of problems for the stone age tribes that lived in what was to become the North Sea 10000 years ago. This is of course the warming to the current global temperature and sea levels.
- This is the backstory of the world of Dark Life: risen seas mean that the only land availible is on the bottom of the ocean.
- Subverted on The Twilight Zone, in an episode where the Earth was heating up due to having shifted closer to the sun. (And apparently had stopped rotating, as there was no more night in the city where the characters lived.) A subversion, because the Karmic Twist Ending is that it's All Just a Dream by a young woman whose Earth is freezing rather than roasting.
- The wildlife Speculative Documentary The Future Is Wild had a waterworld stage as one of Earth's natural climatological shifts of the millions of years that the show covers. The Global Ocean, like all the other periods, had its own set of weird critters living in it.
- In an episode of My Name Is Earl, Earl visits a former stoner he robbed (who now lives in a hippie commune), and learns about Global Warming. He becomes scared, and spends the episode obsessively trying to go green. After Earl has a breakdown, the ex-stoner helps him see that he doesn't have to do everything and that he can only do his best.
- The Onion has an article on the melting ice exposing secret arctic villain lairs.
- In Cracked's recent list of possible ways the world could end fairly shortly, two are global warming related. Truth in Television, Rule of Funny, or nonprofessional research tactics? Only the writers know.
- Majora's Mask Abridged has a throwaway joke in one episode blaming flooded Hyrule on global warming.
- MRC has published Fire and Ice essay by Dan Gainor, with a timeline of media alarmism (both warming and cooling) from 1895 on, and juiciest quotes from each period. Fleeting Demographic Rule?..
- Freefall, planet Jean, 2001: mentions it in relation to Helix's Vampire Florence theory.
- Chainsawsuit, 13 Feb 2009: tries to outdo this.
- Calamities of Nature, 11 Jan 2010: discussing the ways of thinking about this.
- Luke Surl, 24 Mar 2010: comics add
HeatFund Raising Thermometer.
- A The Whiteboard filler has Doc start to launch into a rant about GW, only to be interrupted by a mallet to the head, in this strip.
- A Wonderful Life episode in which Wheeler didn't join the Planeteers (and some of the villains went into the past to increase pollution levels) showed Manhattan half-submerged by the Atlantic Ocean in the the alternate future.
- Parodied on The Simpsons; Lisa examines a museum diorama of Manhattan which promises to show what the effects of global warming will be "over the next three years"; the city is entirely submerged, with tiny plastic bodies floating around. In an attempt to reassure her, Marge says "Three years is a long time."
- In another episode the kids go on a field trip to Springfield Glacier, which is reduced to a pathetic hunk of ice floating in a lake. Lisa spends the whole trip ranting about global warming, with the park ranger flatly denying it because "the government's stance on global warming is that it does not exist".
- The Futurama episode "Crimes of the Hot" revolves around global warming. A educational film shown at the beginning shows that the solution was to put ice cubes from Halley's Comet (the only source of ice that doesn't have bugs in them) into the ocean. But when Halley's runs out of ice, a conference is called, where Prof. Farnsworth reveals that the cause of global warming is pollution from robots. So all the robots are lured to the Galapagos islands, where they are to be destroyed. Farnsworth saves the robots and prevents global warming at the same time by having all the robots vent upward at once, thus moving the Earth further away from the sun and solving the problem once and for all.
ONCE AND FOR ALL!
- The "educational film" is actually used in An Inconvenient Truth. It helps that Gore's daughter is one of Futurama's writers.
- In the earlier episode "Xmas Story", Fry comments that mountain snow is beautiful and glad global warming never happened. Leela responded it did , but nuclear winter canceled it out.
- South Park has quite a few Anvilicious episodes attacking Global Warming in general, and The Day After Tomorrow in particular. In the episode, "The Goobacks", the unemployed rednecks were talking about how to make sure the future never happens so that the people from the future won't take their jobs. One guy suggested using Global Warming to cause an Ice Age. That idea was shot down since it was idiotic. In the episode "Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow", Stan and Cartman destroyed a beaver dam and the resulting flood was blamed on global warming.
- Global Warming was 'solved' by the villain Killface in Frisky Dingo. While he attempted to destroy the earth with a rocket that would drive it into the sun, the rocket instead moved the earth 1 foot away from the sun, effectively undoing global warming permanently. He parlayed this into a failed Presidential run, his slogan being 'I solved Global Warming! Now you can have your factories, and your SU Vs and your tanks.'
- It's a snow job/by Obama/and his crew
- This trope is one of the prime features of the Earth sim game Fate of the World.
- In keeping with its Cyberpunk setting, Jump Raven takes place in a USA that's been sold off to the highest bidders, wracked by global warming and militias of street thugs. You spend the game in a future New York where it's always night and enormous walls have been placed to keep back the ocean.
- In Civilization IV, Global Warming is one of the disasters that can strike your larger cities in the late game. The effects of "global warming" in game are bizarre, strike locally and aren't restricted to coastal towns or other locales most likely to be affected by actual global temperature increase. Just imagine a news story about buildings being DESTROYED in downtown Denver by GLOBAL WARMING and you'll see how strange this gets. The older games treated it more severely, however, with a global meter that tracked pollution output and would do nasty things like raise sea levels, destroying any cities or units on coastal plots, although some of the weird effects might be explained by exceptionally strong storms and such.
- In Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, runaway pollution can make terrain change, earth sink, and if you don't have a Pressure Dome, the rising water can destroy cities (and units who apparently couldn't escape from the slowly raising water). But fear not, because with a Pressure Dome the city becomes a floating city, plus your formers can raise the land, and if you get the Planetary Council to agree, you can launch a solar shade to cool the planet.
- The Planetary Council can also decide to melt the polar ice caps, causing global warming on purpose (which isn't as nonsensical as you might think, they are Terraforming Planet after all). You can arrange this in order to flood your rival's coastal cities.
- In Brink, global warming has caused the seas to rise, covering most of the Earth.
- In the PS 1 game Submarine Commander, the Earth experienced global warming so fast that the crew of the titular submarine doesn't realize it, and when they surface, it's all sea. The ending is even more absurd: the inverse, global cooling, happens just as fast, via satellite. It's so fast that after the final battle, your submarine that took catastrophic damage and was sinking, is rescued by water levels receding so fast that the submarine is stranded on top of high-rise buildings.
- This is one of the possible consequences of letting your ecosystem become unbalanced in Spore. You can cause it yourself by running around enemy planets with a heat ray, causing settlements there to undergo Critical Existence Failure.
- Curiously, if you reverse the process fast enough after they capitulate, you can preserve the T3 rating of the planet with all the plants and animal.
- Global warming is a part of the dystopic backstory of Frontlines: Fuel of War, with a "super-hurricane" hitting Alaska in 2021.
- The Play Station 2 flightsim Lethal Skies is set in an Ocean Punk type setting after melting glaciers have flooded most of the planet.
- Happens in Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, when the villains' attempt to control weather-based legendaries lead to massive climate changes threatening to wipe out humanity. Since this set of games (and the Pokémon franchise as a whole) does appear to have subtle environmental messages in place, it may well have been intentional.
- Battle Engine Aquila is based during a war over the 13 remaining islands after the sea level rises.