Geostorm Movie Review

Posted in Algae by Robert Tulip on the October 25th, 2017

In watching an action fantasy world apocalypse movie like Geostorm, a temptation for the cynical can be to just see the surface appearance. First a village mysteriously freezes solid in an instant in Afghanistan, then the streets of Hong Kong erupt in flaming explosions sending skyscrapers collapsing like dominoes while a driver miraculously escapes through the rippling volcanic chasms opening around him. And next the bikini babes on Copacabana turn to blocks of ice as a super cold front somehow pushes a tsunami onto the Rio beachfront.
The cause of the disasters is problems with geoengineering satellites deployed in 2019. But is this just a programming malfunction? If not, who are the baddies who have sabotaged the world weather management system run by the USA? Why and how did they do it, and how can they be stopped? Who is the rogue on board the geoengineering space station? Will the clock that he started tick down to zero, causing a geostorm, a fiery end to life on earth? Will the US President die in the robot car chase through massive lightning bolts hitting every second? Will the hero return from exile, and will he survive on the space station? Will his brother get the girl? Which city is next?
Such plot details are classic Hollywood formula. This movie combines amazing disaster scenes, excellent visuals and production, a strong simple plot, a vivid range of characters and great acting into a gripping thriller. Geostorm is full of tension and drama and surprise and new ideas down to the wire. It is a worthy popular successor to Independence Day and Godzilla, which were both also produced by the Geostorm producer/director Dean Devlin.
Geostorm deserves to be a smash hit for a serious reason though. This movie makes an important and well considered contribution to advancing policy debate on response to climate change. The question raised at the start is how to address the threat that global warming could destroy the world economy. This explicitly raises the need for urgent concerted technological response to avert catastrophe, since previous methods focused on emission reduction have failed.
The movie deliberately chooses an impossible geoengineering technology, aiming to blend the topical ideas of weather management and space travel to create a science fiction fantasy. But the parable is equally applicable to realistic geoengineering proposals, ranging from solar radiation management to large scale ocean based algae production for carbon mining. Any large scale climate intervention needs proper risk management if it is to help forestall the impending climate impacts.
In a nod to human corruption, the plot raises the risk of weaponizing a peaceful technology, evoking the failed military Star Wars Initiative idea of death from the skies. And recognising human fallibility, Geostorm asks if this magical system installed by technological geniuses at the last minute will become like Goethe’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice, producing uncontrollable and unforeseen damage.
The movie explores the real risk of whether a technological fix to mitigate extreme weather could be built too quickly under political imperatives. The need to respond to weather events that destroy whole cities could mean decisions will be made by politicians who will not take on board the best information. The rapid deployment then opens the unsettling policy risks of how such a system could be corrupted and misused for political motives, how it could sideline the high ideals of global scientific cooperation in favour of national or commercial interests. And then, with the process already compromised, could the resulting security gaps, political appointments and weak governance systems risk manipulation by criminals who don’t have a clue about the science of what they are doing, and who lack concern about the scale of damage they might cause?
The need for geoengineering means these issues should already be big questions in world politics today. Unfortunately they are not, because the dominant attitude is that if we ignore or deny climate change or only accept unworkable responses the problem will go away. With CO2 level continuing to grow apace, the risk is that far from going away, the problems will go awry.
Emission reduction alone cannot hold temperature rise this century below four degrees Celsius, so technological fixes are essential. Putting on an alarmist hat, it seems possible that failure to deploy geoengineering could even make the current sixth world extinction event rival the mass death that ended the Permian Age 252 million years ago. That seems to be the partly unconscious apocalyptic worry driving popular interest in movies like Geostorm.
Geoengineering is absolutely necessary and urgent for climate stability. We need world leaders to take up the ideas implied by this movie, through large scale funding of lab and field trials looking to select and deploy systems that will stabilise and repair the climate as a primary global security concern.
A bunch of reviews are at https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/geostorm/, but as you might expect from the usual foolish cynics writing in popular media, they have no eye for the meaning of this movie. They wrongly see it only through a surface movie industry lens without caring about its meaning and purpose for core ethical problems facing humanity. Geostorm raises major existential concerns of our age in an accessible popular way. It should be celebrated and debated as a major event. Geostorm could help achieve the political tipping point we need to deploy geoengineering systems with sound governance, reversing the current path towards mass extinction and economic and social displacement and collapse in favour of practical methods to stabilise the global climate.
Robert Tulip

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