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3954NASA Curbs Comments on Ice Age Disaster Movie

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    Apr 28, 2004
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      NASA Curbs Comments on Ice Age Disaster Movie

      April 25, 2004

      "Urgent: HQ Direction," began a message e-mailed on April 1
      to dozens of scientists and officials at NASA's Goddard
      Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

      It was not an alert about an incoming asteroid, a problem
      with the space station or a solar storm. It was a warning
      about a movie.

      In "The Day After Tomorrow," a $125 million disaster film
      set to open on May 28, global warming from accumulating
      smokestack and tailpipe gases disrupts warm ocean currents
      and sets off an instant ice age.

      Few climate experts think such a prospect is likely,
      especially in the near future. But the prospect that
      moviegoers will be alarmed enough to blame the Bush
      administration for inattention to climate change has
      stirred alarm at the space agency, scientists there say.

      "No one from NASA is to do interviews or otherwise comment
      on anything having to do with" the film, said the April 1
      message, which was sent by Goddard's top press officer.
      "Any news media wanting to discuss science fiction vs.
      science fact about climate change will need to seek comment
      from individuals or organizations not associated with

      Copies of the message, and the one from NASA headquarters
      to which it referred, were provided to The New York Times
      by a senior NASA scientist who said he resented attempts to
      muzzle climate researchers.

      Late last week, however, NASA appeared to relax its stand
      on discussing the movie. Though she did not disavow the
      e-mail, Gretchen Cook-Anderson, a spokeswoman at NASA
      headquarters, said on Thursday that the agency would make
      scientists available to discuss issues raised by the film.

      "We've decided not to proactively speak out on anything
      related to the movie," she said. "But when asked, we can
      certainly provide some of our experts to answer questions
      about the validity of the science."

      Several days ago, NASA scientists produced a list of
      questions and answers about abrupt climate change, but the
      information has not yet been approved for public release.

      "The Day After Tomorrow," from 20th Century Fox, is
      directed by Roland Emmerich, whose "Independence Day" in
      1996 depicted an alien invasion of earth and included such
      memorable special effects as the White House exploding in
      flames. The new movie's script contains a host of
      politically uncomfortable situations: the president's
      motorcade is flash frozen; the vice president, who scoffs
      at warnings even as chaos erupts, resembles Dick Cheney;
      the humbled United States has to plead with Mexico to allow
      masses of American refugees fleeing the ice to cross the

      The initial efforts by NASA headquarters to limit comments
      angered some government researchers.

      "It's just another attempt to play down anything that might
      lead to the conclusion that something must be done" about
      global warming, one federal climate scientist said. He,
      like half a dozen government employees interviewed on this
      subject, said he could speak only on condition of anonymity
      because of standing orders not to talk to the news media.

      Along with its direct criticisms of a Bush-like
      administration, the movie also could draw attention to a
      proposed Bush budget cut.

      The lead character, played by Dennis Quaid, is a
      paleoclimatologist, an investigator of past climate shifts,
      for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
      President Bush has proposed sharp cuts to the agency's
      paleoclimatology program, which began under the first Bush

      On Friday, NOAA officials said they saw the movie mainly as
      an opportunity, not a problem.

      "Any time anybody can focus on this little agency that
      nobody ever pays attention to and talk about what we do,
      that's a good thing," said Jordan St. John, the agency's
      director of public affairs.

      Dana Perino, a spokeswoman for the White House Council on
      Environmental Quality, which handles policy on
      environmental issues, said she was "not aware of any White
      House discussion about this movie with anyone - none at

      Some leaders of nonprofit environmental groups are also
      distressed about the movie, though for different reasons.
      In conference calls and e-mail exchanges, they have said it
      so overstates the issue - turning a decades-long or
      century-long threat into one that explodes over five days -
      that it might cause people to simply laugh off the real

      The film's creators said they were puzzled by the concerns
      of environmentalists. "If they can get their act together,
      all they need to be saying is the drama of this movie is
      fictional but the fact is that global warming is real,"
      said Mark Gordon, the producer of the movie.

      If environmentalists distance themselves from the movie,
      they will be squandering a gift, said Dr. Daniel B. Botkin,
      an emeritus professor of ecology at the University of
      California, Santa Barbara.

      "I think it is a good educational opportunity, and that we
      should treat a disaster movie as entertainment and not get
      upset that it is a distortion," Dr. Botkin said. "But $125
      million on global warming must be a record for publicizing
      the issue."

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