Big Smile, No Teeth: Did you realise? We're living in a disaster movie


  • Environment
  • Sunday, 12 Aug 2018

Flames blazed more than 400 feet high above a natural gas line explosion that rocked Bushland, Texas about 1 a.m. Thursday Nov. 5, 2009 in the Texas Panhandle. The roaring sound of the leaking gas could be heard and seen from Amarillo more than 10 miles away. The gas line explosion was located about 2 miles north of Interstate 40 and 1 mile east of Bushland Road. A nearby structure is seen burning on the right of the photo and a high power utility pole is seen smoldering to the left of the blaze. A nearby rural neighborhood was evacuated by Potter County Sheriffs. (AP Photo/Michael Schumacher - Amarillo Globe News)

The future is now. Unfortunately, when I say that I mean the disaster of a future we all feared would show up when we spoke about the need to curb climate change.

Cape Town, South Africa, was fast headed to Day Zero, the day the water would run out, which was staved off only by the residents learning to use substantially less water; now, winter rains are refilling their depleted reservoirs.

The summer’s global heatwave has seen hundreds of people killed by heatstroke across the globe as countries see new temperature records, with Japan hitting 41.1°C, a city in Algeria, Ouargla, recording the highest temperature in Africa at 51.3°C, and a town called Quriyat in Oman logging the hottest ever night in recorded history at 42.6°C.

This is not normal weather.

Having a heatwave somewhere in the world isn’t surprising. Having a heatwave everywhere in the world at the same time is the start of a disaster movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. This is not going anywhere good.

“We now have very strong evidence that global warming has already put a thumb on the scales,” said Stanford climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh in an Associated Press report.

The increase in temperatures around the world has led to a summer where it seems impossible to turn on the news and not hear about devastating wild fires.

Whether it’s in the western United States, Eastern Russia, Greece or in Canada, the wild fire season has been exacerbated by the extreme heat. Extreme heat dries out the brush and makes fires that much more likely to happen.

Then there is the pyrocumulus cloud, a huge cloud that can be up to 8km in height that is formed because of mass evaporation of moisture; this massive moisture cloud forms so quickly that it can create it’s own weather system.

A pyrocumulus cloud can cause storm winds, lightning, all in its localised area. These clouds are usually associated with volcanic eruptions but they’ve been showing up lately because of the intense heat of the forest fires in California where the localised storm weather the clouds create can be a threat to firefighters. There’s also a massive one over a large part of Siberia.

Evil looking clouds forming over wild fires ... that’s the start of act two in that disaster movie starring the Rock. Except this is real life.

This is the year in which we can state that the climate change projections, the simulations we ran to see what would happen if we allowed carbon dioxide to plume into our atmosphere unabated, they all no longer matter. We no longer need to predict, or try to project, to see what might happen, we’re seeing it in our daily news, in our daily lives around the world. We’re feeling it right now.

It’s late in the game, but it’s not too late.

What happened in Cape Town is a good example of why we can still do something. A long drought hit Cape Town and they were headed for Day Zero (nicely titled for that disaster film), their reservoirs running dry and the city promising to turn off the water supply or risk the reservoirs being completely empty – but instead of running out of water, and society crumbling necessitating humanitarian missions to save the remnants of their city, the people of the cape pulled it together at the last minute.

Severe water restrictions were put on agriculture. Every person was to set a target of 50 litres to use for cooking, bathing, flushing, washing clothes, etc. More affluent residents drilled boreholes to access groundwater so they didn’t have to rely on the city water supply. Watering lawns and cleaning cars were banned. And all these last ditch efforts worked.

The winter rains have come and doubled the amount of water in the reservoirs. The wet season looks promising. Cape Town has avoided disaster.

And so too must the rest of the world. We can make changes to help decrease our carbon footprint. We have to. Just like the residents of Cape Town, all of us have to do what it takes to avoid global disaster.

Humans have a tendency to wait until the last moment to jump out of the way of disaster even though we can see it coming from a long way off.

We must demand decisive action on climate change from our governments because the third act of that disaster movie is coming up and we want a happy ending.

Big Smile, No Teeth columnist Jason Godfrey – who once was told to give the camera a ‘big smile, no teeth’ – has worked internationally for two decades in fashion and continues to work in dramas, documentaries, and lifestyle programming. Write to him at star2@thestar.com.my and check out his stuff at jasongodfrey.co.

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