Are Children Sounding the Global-Warming Alarm?

Even though Americans may be less concerned with global warming than people in many other countries, it is amazing how the subject has recently become so omnipresent. The media is brimming with global warming stories every day, from a variety of angles: environmental, economic, political, etc.

How did this happen? How has such a sweeping, complex, controversial issue become such a pressing concern — not overnight, certainly, but very rapidly as of late?

One theory came to mind the other day when I was looking over a list of the most profitable worldwide movie releases of 2006. No. 1 on the list was Ice Age 2: The Meltdown, an animated — and apocalyptic — kids’ movie, which took in just over $1 billion at the box office. And as you can see here, the animated kids’ movie Happy Feet has also been huge, with over $350 million worldwide, and counting. While Happy Feet isn’t quite about global warming, it is about mankind’s disastrous overreach into nature. (In order to appreciate the reach of these kids’ movies, consider that Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, a global warming jeremiad, has done $42 million worldwide, a huge figure for a documentary but a drop in the bucket compared to the animated blockbusters.)

We all know how influential kids can be. Newspaper editors and TV producers and even politicians have kids, and when those kids start obsessing about something, it’s amazing how fast the parents do, too. Just look at anti-smoking education in the U.S. My kids are so thoroughly indoctrinated against smoking that if they see someone in an old movie smoking a cigarette, they look at me, horrified, as if they’ve just seen someone slit a puppy’s throat. Similarly, I wonder if children may have been the ones who were scared straight about global warming — and have gone nipping at their parents’ heels.

I am not saying that global warming hasn’t become front-page news for a host of other reasons; but I do wonder if its recent prominence may have come about through a channel that no one was expecting.


mgroves

These types of overt socialistic political messages have been fed to kids for years. Remember Captain Planet? One of the villians was a literal capitalist pig. Kids are easily influenced and provide fertile ground for future socialists.

prosa

Appealing to children might help with respect to global warming but won't be of much use in dealing with the country's health-care crisis, that being of little interest to children.

snubgodtoh

This is off subject, A) how did they (Kagan) decompose the cost of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest as the threequel was filmed at the same time. B) I like how they divide TR by TC and dress it up with a fancy title: The Kagan Profitability Index (misnomer to boot).

SteveMac

Great column about global warming recently by Gregg Easterbrook in Atlantic Monthly (easy to find on their web site but you have to be a subscriber to read the whole thing).

Paraphrasing hugely, his basic premise was that a lot of people are making political capital from global warming by being pessimistic about the future, but there is no real basis for pessimism. He points out that various environmental crises have been averted by taking action (think of the hole in the ozone layer) and argues that it makes no sense to be either optimistic or pessimistic until we actually try to do something about it, and see how it comes out.

SBGamesCone

@mgroves

Socialistic political messages? You can't seriously be saying that Global Warming is a socialist initiative.

Great column though. It provokes some interesting thought and makes you wonder who else will drive a political agenda through a big budget kids movie.

jackbottoms

My grandchildren know about global warming. They hear about it naturally from their parents, the internet, movies, etc. They quiet naturally are concerned and frightened. They ask about it and need reassurance, but they also know the truth, and know that everybody is talking about their future.

There is a basis for pessimism as they learn that ice is melting in the arctic, antarctic, greenland, and the Alps. In California, they know that the snowpacks here in the Sierras are much less. Kids are very aware folks. It is about their future, eh?

egretman

This is as old as the southern hills. While sitting hours in a deer blind, I had to listen to my hunter friends complain about Bambi. Couldn't Disney just have had Bambi's mother die of old age? Hunting has never been the same.

If this keeps up, my friends said, perty soon you won't be able to have your kids ride in the back of a pickup.

My friends were prescient.

But really, what would we expect? Could there be a Bambi neocon movie? One that teaches kids that health care is really not government's business. And that ceo's of multimillion dollar corporations that clearcut Bambi's home deserve their 100 million dollar golden parachutes.

Ok, but it's not going to be a very inspiring movie. The kids are always going to prefer Happy Feet or Ice Age or Bambi.

snubgodtoh

September 30, 2006

Franke

I think you raise a very good point that children are being sensitized to global warming through movies like the Ice Age. Great! But that doesn't mean that global warming doesn't pose a serious threat. Thanks for the Naked Promotion plug for my visual essay -- "A Green Winter: Will Global Warming be good for Canada?" Like I said, Steven Levitt left me dumbfounded.

pkimelma

I think one of the reasons it makes sense to get kids interested is that they will inherit the problems.
SteveMac: yes, I agree that being pessimistic is useless; but until you get past the Bush administration claiming there is no problem (and refusing to publish their own research and/or edit out the information), you cannot start taking action. So, getting people to realize that it is a real issue and the potential consequences, you cannot get them to act.
As to why you cannot get equal action on something like Health Care is easy: there is no simple answer and no simple solution. Global warming, like the ozone hole was a direct consequence of specific actions on our part (use of freon in the case of the ozone hole). Changing those actions reduces the problem and allows for reversal. Health Care is a complex economic problem mixing costs of care with costs of litigation, costs of availability, lack of competition (especially medicine), and the consequences of not being able to say no to any new treatment/test/machine. Further, because Health Care is not a regular recurring cost (like Rent or food), people have to choose between paying money now for something they hope they do not need (insurance) or do nothing and hope for the best. For many with minimal income, the latter is the only choice. Further, insurance costs are inverse to the pool size, so for someone who does not get insurance through work, the costs are enormous. So, no simple solutions.
As to propaganda for kids pushing the neocon or other conservative position: there is plenty, but few topics have quite the immediacy to kids as dying animals. Yet, I always wondered how many kids grow up distrusting Government and Scientists because of movies like ET.

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debiannewbie

This is much more suspect than your other theories. :) My guesses are:

- An Inconvenient Truth
- Simple momentum. More science stories come out, more mainstream stories come out, more people realize this is a problem, etc. Yes, I realize this is circular reasoning. But the point is, it takes the general public more time to realize something (eg Bush is not a good president) than it does the educated person. The general public was bound to realize en masse that global warming was a problem, and now happens to be the time.

snubgodtoh

As to why you cannot get equal action on something like Health Care is easy:
Also, the environment is technically a pure public good and more readily impacted by externalities than health care. Both characteristics justifying governmental action. Would we really expect a Texas oil man to address and or be transparent about such issues?
Very well-put, pkimelma.

snubgodtoh

forgot to quote first line of above, apologies.

RandyfromCanada

really why is educating the children so important ?
Shouldn't we be educating the adults who profit from these situations ?

fh_joe

At some point, though, you have to ask yourself "What *should* we be putting into the heads of our children?"

I mean, I'm really struggling with why someone would think that taking care of our environment would be a bad message to your child. Maybe you would want to put the risks in perspective for them, but we're certainly entering new territory with what we've done to the world.

Just think about Xmas in 2050. Santa Claus is going to have wear a red wetsuit and flying around the world in a sled that can also go underwater. Kids will be singing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Porpoise". "White Xmas" will be something that you truly can only dream about. Etc, etc, etc...

GeologyRocks

Inconvenient Truth (2006) == Reefer Madness (1936)

I believe people on Earth give themselves too much credit in the global warming debate.

mgroves

"Socialistic political messages? You can't seriously be saying that Global Warming is a socialist initiative."

Global Warming is a fact. What *causes* Global Warming is a question that has been hijacked by socialists who influence a lot of people with good intentions.

Maybe you disagree, but I don't think this is an outrageous claim: who is the villain in the typical leftist global warming story? Capitalism. The market. What is usually the hero? Heavy government regulation and market control.

spongeboy

I personally think the increased visibility of the green agenda comes from one person - Rupert Murdoch. The change has happened since Al Gore gave a speech at a News Ltd convention.

The strongest climate skeptics were (and still are) News Ltd hacks. Now, not only has News Ltd become more vocal about climate change, critics have quietened down.

George S

GeologyRocks is spot on. It is a bit arrogant of us to think that we can control/impact the earth's climate in just 100+ years, positively or negatively.
But also:
The evidence for global warming should be open for scientific discussion, but it has been politicized and the debate stifled. Calling skeptics of global warming "Deniers" is not helpful. It assumes that global warming is a proven scientific fact. It is not (yet).
The margin of error in the data is never questioned, and much of it is based on computer models that are designed by people with their own opinions. How do we know the average temperature of the earth 400 years ago? There are no accurate man-made records. How accurate is any other estimate? When scientists claim that a 2 deg change can be catastrophic, isn't it important that we have accurate past data with which to measure changes, is it not?

As for the children, I think it's great that young people are introduced and educated about things that can effect their lives, as long as they are old enough to understand what is being taught.
But the one thing that I never see getting taught is that sometimes bad things can happen and it's nobody's fault. Unfortunately in today's society if something bad happens, someone must be blamed, even if it's a natural disaster. When children are led to believe that, they are incorrectly led to believe that man has 100% control over events, and we all know from experience that this is simply not true (or should know it).

And so if our climate is changing naturally, or some species is dying out naturally, it is not enough to simply show that in a children's movie: someone must have caused it. And the movie producers get to pick their favorite villains.

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DaddyMac

People. Please.

The increased awareness is not a function of any *one* event, person, agenda or message.

It is a function of the social nature of our society (and if that's oooh scary "socialism" then so be it) and the ease and speed by which people can share their messages, images and agendas.

People are becoming aware, because people are feeling the effects of "climate change" for themselves. And they're telling others about it.

I live in Australia, and the effects of our current climatic conditions are impacting our day to lives. The main one being, the country (as whole) is suffering it's worst drought in recorded history. There are restrictions on our use of water.

There are sizable towns that are about to run out of water. That's drinking water I am talking about. Gone.

Average temperatures are rising, we've had our hottest summers on record in recent years. Facts you can feel and experience for yourself.

And when venerable and respected scientific institutions (CSIRO) release credible research people tend to take note: http://www.csiro.au/csiro/content/standard/ps27l.html

When large insurance organisations have actuaries publish data that prove statistically we're seeing more adverse weather events (and insurance claims) than we ought to be, then you know there's fact behind brouhaha.

It's not about Capitalist "goodies" and Socialist "baddies" it's the fact that people of all colours, creeds and political persuasions are starting to smell the smoke for themselves.

The point is, there are many fires, and yet more people holding matches.

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