Climate change à la Hollywood

Potsdam, 29 Oct. 2004

Study on the impact of the film "The Day After Tomorrow"

At the end of May 2004 the climate thriller "The Day after Tomorrow" by the Hollywood star director Roland Emmerich appeared in the cinemas in around 80 countries. Would this film re-kindle the climate debate and promote protection of the climate? Or would it rather damage the climate issue, its depiction of a new, man-made ice age in the northern hemisphere being based more upon fiction than science? Scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research investigated the impact of the film. The latest PIK Report publishes the results of this study.

The sociologists Fritz Reusswig and Julia Schwarzkopf from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and Philipp Pohlenz from Potsdam University carried out the social scientific impact study on the film; the study was supported by the European Climate Forum (ECF) and the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU).

The results show that thanks to the accompanying publicity, interviews and media reports, the film triggered a mini boom on the climate issue and reached people who otherwise were not or little interested in the subject. The film also managed to impart a greater awareness of the complexity and vulnerability of the global climate to cinema-goers. The role played by the oceans, for instance, was not known to most of those interviewed before the film. The special effects accompanying the descent into a climate catastrophe by no means led to feelings of fatalism or escapism, as might have been expected. On the contrary, less than ten percent of interviewees went home with the message "There's nothing we can do anyway", while 82 percent after watching the film preferred the slogan "We have to stop climate change". Most people also thought that it is still possible and economically feasible to pursue a policy of climate protection. German climate policy, which before the film particularly because of the "eco-tax" was not especially popular, was afterwards significantly better assessed - not surprising, in view of the film's critical attitude towards the climate policy of the US government. Interviewees thought Germany should increase its efforts, both at home and on the international level.

Together with PIK, four other research teams from the USA, the United Kingdom and Japan were involved in assessing the impact of the film on the public. These teams met on the 21st and 22nd of October at PIK to exchange results. It became clear that the different cultural and political backgrounds in these countries caused one and the same film to have a very different impact on cinema-goers. In the USA, for instance, where climate and climate protection play a much smaller role in the public arena than in Europe, the film clearly contributed to sensitizing the public to the issue and to the need for a policy on climate. Also, those who saw the film were much more inclined to vote for John Kerry than for George W. Bush.

For the PIK study, 1118 cinema-goers from six cities were questioned (Berlin, Bremen, Magdeburg, Marburg, Munich, and Potsdam). In a written questionnaire immediately before and after seeing the film, they answered questions on climate change and climate protection. A further group of 150 people were interviewed again by telephone four weeks later, to test the long-term impact of the film.

The results of the study are published as PIK Report number 92. The study can be accessed on the internet:

The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) was founded in 1992 and employs around 120 scientists from the natural and social sciences. Its research on climate change, climate impacts and sustainable development is of international renown. PIK is a member of the Leibniz Association.

Dr. Fritz Reusswig, email, phone ++49 331 288-2576

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Anja Wirsing, e-mail, phone ++49 331 288-2507