In Search Of… 2.23 The Coming Ice Age

A figure in cold weather gear staggers through a blizzard. Nimoy's stentorian voice cuts across the soft whoosh of the wind to tell us that 1977 marked coldest winter North America felt in a century. We see frost-bound cars stranded on the highway. Nimoy explains that nine people froze to death during this particular storm. An eyewitness tells of being stuck on the road during the blizzard and concludes that if she had to face another cold snap like that, she'd have to move. "Move where?" Nimoy asks. He claims that experts are predicting an Ice Age.

But the blizzard only came to a rolling stop and was ticketed and fined by local authorities.

So… yeah. Some serious minded experts in the 1970s were predicting just that. Climate Change denialists still bring this up ad nauseum because – well, mostly because they're clueless jackasses, I guess. Anyway, point is, the ice age didn't eventuate, and thirty years later global temperatures are headed up, not down.

So what we have here is a little unusual for this show. It's not utter crackpottery and but it's also not something that still holds up well. I'm curious to see how it plays out.

Astronomical footage of the Moon and Earth. Nimoy assures us that the Earth is the only planet in our Solar system that can support human life. This survival depends on a balance of climate. Lovely, lovely montage of stock footage of extreme weather events, underscored with some seriously weird electronic music, segueing into footage of a woman watering her garden with pleasant piano music playing. I'm constantly impressed by the neat tricks this show can pull.

Nimoy points out that the Earth has experienced Ice Age free weather only for the last ten thousand years, and it's only been these historically clement conditions that have allowed the human species to grow to its present population. Over footage of ice floes, he talks about the ice sheets that covered North America and Eurasia 18 000 years ago.

Footage of Baffin Island, while the music gets weirder. If this were the Dr Who show, I'd say that the Sea Devils and Terraleptils were attacking. Nimoy now just offering a travelogue of Baffin Island. The indigenous people came from Greenland, apparently.

Okay, now a map of North America during the last ice age. Kind of repeating himself about the interglacial period. Shot of a city, while Nimoy asks what will happen if this warm period ends.

Now we're interviewing Dr Gifford Miller, a glaciologist from the University of Colorado, who has been looking at the glaciers of Baffin Island. He talks about glacial expansion over the last three thousand years, while I laugh bitterly.

The superintendant of Baffin Island National Park talks about the recent harsh winters. He has the most awesome Scandinavian accent. He talks about a summer in which the ice didn't melt in the fjords, then he examines a weather station while the music turns ominous. A weather balloon is launched. One of those cool hours of sunlight measuring things is used. You know, the ones with the glass ball in the middle. Those things are awesome.

Nimoy is standing on a bridge, somewhere cool. He wears a fawn jacket, with the collar turned up. He says that it is undoubtable that temperatures are dropping, then talks about the unprecedented scale of death that would follow a massive shift in the climate if we didn't take precautions in advance of it. Well, one out of two isn't bad.

Now looking at Quonset huts in Greenland. Scientists are collecting ice samples, sorting them, examining them. It's pretty cool. A scientist takes off his Arctic coat to reveal a three piece suit. Tah dah! He is Dr Chester Langway, a NSU geologist.

Langway talks about the possibility that a massive volcanic event may have caused a drop in incoming sunlight, causing the rapid onset of the last ice age. He wonders whether something like that might happen again in the near future.

More shots of snow, Nimoy wonders if we'd survive. Lots more shot of ice, while Nimoy talks about the ice sheet over New York. Now we're on a research ship, taking samples of sea-floor mud. By examining these cores, Nimoy tells us that scientists are able to build up a history of the  Earth's climate over millions of years.

Dr James Hayes (who has a killer 'tache) overlooks the sea-floor core library. It's cool. He says this history allows scientists to test different theories of the causes of ice ages and argues that changes in the shape of the Earths orbit drive the ice age cycle. He claims that he can say with confidence that we are heading into an ice age.

Nimoy talking about the winter of '77 again. Quite a repetitive episode this week. I guess when the episode first came out this was fascinating, linking an almost abstract discussion of climactic cycles to something recent. Anyway, Nimoy wonders how well the world would do if subjected to the same conditions that affected Buffalo in '77 – businesses cloed, airport closed, ambulances and fire engines stranded.

The reporting on Buffalo is kind of interesting. I live in Australia, and we have to put up with a lot of terrible weather conditions, but blizzards just don't affect our major cities. Nimoy goes on about the horrors of that disastrous winter, segueing how an ice age would affect the economy of America over stock footage and electronica. I don’t think this show has done this sort of disaster porn since the episode on Earthquakes. He discusses a couple of methods of raising the temperature as needed. Again, I laugh bitterly.

Now talking to Dr Steven Scheider, who says that an intervention to prevent an ice age could be worse than an ice age. Nimoy talks about the possibility that artificially raising temperatures to prevent an ice age could melt the polar ice, flooding cities.

Huh.

Summing up. Schneider talks about the interaction of people and climate. He worries that a country might destroy its environment, leading it to desperate reparative acts which actually exacerbate the damage. But Nimoy talks about how people pull together in disasters, and hopes that this will also happen during global disasters.

Not a terrible episode. Quite long on terrible consequences and short on convincing argument, although it's easy for me to say that thirty years on. Lots of good footage this episode of ice, snow and people dealing with blizzards. The electronic music really hit its stride this episode. Good stuff, really ratcheting up the tension, which you kind of need when you're trying to scare people with multi-thousand year cycles. It's interesting in its way, but like I say, more as a sort of time capsule than as something of lasting interest.

Quotes:

Nimoy: "We are vulnerable to the winds of weather and environment." – Could have picked a better metaphor. This one is just silly.

Summing Up

Electronic Music: 10/10, Nimoyness: 7/10, Good use of file footage: 7/10, Continued relevance 4/10, Sad laughter: 7/10. Overall: 35/50. Credit.

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