Climate Movie Disaster: Could the Day After Tomorrow Happen in Real Life?

As art imitates life, filmmakers often seize on impending disasters for inspiration, but how accurate are they?

“The Day After Tomorrow” is a 2004 disaster film that depicts a sudden and catastrophic climate event caused by global warming.  While the film depicts a catastrophic event caused by abrupt climate change, the exact scenario is not scientifically plausible.

In the film, the melting of the polar ice caps causes a sudden shift in ocean currents, leading to catastrophic weather events such as massive storms, tornadoes, and blizzards.  The real-life consequences of melting ice and changing ocean currents are much more gradual and complex.

However, the basic premise of the film, that global warming can lead to significant and potentially dangerous changes in the Earth’s climate, is supported by scientific evidence and climate scientists have warned that increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere caused by human activity, such as burning fossil fuels, are causing the Earth’s temperature to rise.

In real life, the impacts of climate change are likely to include more frequent and intense heatwaves, droughts, and natural disasters, as well as changes to ecosystems and wildlife populations.  That doesn’t mean we won’t see very real catastrophes – in fact, they are happening already and the real-life footage from these events is terrifying.

Pakistan 2022

Last year, Pakistan faced its most severe flooding to date, with three months of heavy rainfall causing over a tenth of the country to become submerged. The United Nations referred to the disaster as a climate catastrophe, affecting 33 million individuals. Unfortunately, over 1,700 people lost their lives.

Although the water has receded in most regions, it still lingers in the hardest-hit areas such as Sindh and Balochistan, causing extensive damage. The flooding has caused the destruction of at least 1.5 million hectares of agricultural land, leading to food shortages for 15 million people and causing estimated financial losses between $30 billion and $35 billion. In response, international banks and donors have stepped forward, offering more than $9 billion in aid to aid in the rebuilding of the affected areas.  A Guardian report this week reveals, however, that many of those displaced by the floods are still living in camps, unable to return to their homes, with no blankets, limited aid and limited employment opportunities, which is having a knock on effect on the businesses which survived the floods.

Germany 2021

On a smaller scale, in 2021, floods in July 2021 killed more than 220 people in Europe, and caused €30Bn of damage.  However, the most terrifying events happened in a spa town in Germany.  Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler was hit by deadly flash floods that swept through bridges, homes and roads, affecting around 18,000 inhabitants.  It’s proving to be a slow return to life, with many of the bridges still unrepaired and residents nowhere near back to normal.  Anyone who watched the footage would say it was as dramatic as anything Hollywood could offer.

It’s therefore fair to say that, as our planet heats up, we can expect to see more extreme weather events – and we can either count the cost of the clean up, or make changes now to avoid catastrophe – assuming it’s not already too late.

While the events depicted in “The Day After Tomorrow” are unlikely to occur exactly as portrayed in the film, the real-life impacts of climate change are likely to be far-reaching and potentially catastrophic. It’s important to take action to reduce our carbon footprint and mitigate the impacts of climate change to prevent the worst-case scenarios from becoming a reality.