Disaster movies have long had a place in Hollywood. But while the early days of the genre featured small scale disasters like The Towering Inferno, Airport, and The Poseidon Adventure, recent years have seen films depicting worldwide cataclysms caused by climate change. Films like 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow have sounded the alarm about humanity's effect on the Earth's climate, and now a new film, Geostorm, looks to do the same. But could Geostorm really happen?
It almost feels like it already has. 2017 has seen an abundance of worse-than-usual natural disasters, from the most damaging hurricane season ever to California's deadliest wildfire to two once-in-a-century earthquakes in Mexico, the past few months have looked like armageddon. Geostorm starts off in a similar place in the near-future where, after a number of devastating natural disasters caused by global warming, 18 nations have banded together to create a network of weather-controlling satellites. Initially, everything goes well with the satellites as they keep the climate in check and natural disasters become a thing of the past, but then someone starts sabotaging the system and it begins malfunctioning, causing cities to freeze, burn, or be otherwise destroyed by nature's wrath. So do we have to worry about this actually happening?
Not really, though there are currently scientists who are looking into ways to better combat climate change through geoengineering, a discipline which looks to control the climate that has not yet seen any large-scale success but is being explored via a variety of different methods. According to Chris Berdik of the Boston Globe, some of the ways geoengineers are looking to fix the climate are by planting forests to convert excess carbon dioxide into oxygen, spraying sulfuric acid into the atmosphere to scatter sunlight and cool the planet, dumping iron dust into the ocean to increase the activity of CO2-eating phytoplankton, creating salt water vapor clouds to better reflect sunlight, building giant CO2 scrubbers, and launching giant mirrors into space to beam the sun's rays away from Earth. That last one is probably the closest realistic idea to the satellite system seen in Geostorm, but it's still a far cry from a system designed to actually control the climate, rather than just influence it. So how close is the field of geoengineering to actually coming up with a system like the one seen in Geostorm?
Not close at all. Harvard professor and geoengineering scientist David Keith told Motherboard's Carl Franzen, "Geostorm's relationship to the science and politics of geoengineering seems about as realistic as The Day After Tomorrow's relationship to the science and politics of climate change. That is, there is almost no relationship." Considering that The Day After Tomorrow is one of the least-realistic disaster movies ever, you can probably rest easy knowing that the cataclysms of Geostorm aren't likely to happen in real life.
Alan Robock, an environmental scientist at Rutgers, also spoke to Motherboard and cast doubt on the movie's dubious science, specifically taking to task the disasters themselves — which include things like planes being frozen out of the sky and armies of tornadoes. "The technology portrayed in the movie, as far as I can tell from the trailer, does not exist, and I know of no way to actually control the weather in the manner indicated," Robock said. "It is pure science fiction. The multiple tornadoes and huge wall of water from the ocean are impossible, given my understanding of climate physics, and clearly were invented to make the movie exciting."
So if you're worried about the government controlling the weather and then someone hacking the system to cause natural disasters all over the globe like in Geostorm, don't be. The technology for doing so doesn't exist, and according to those in the know, it doesn't sound like it ever will.