Beware the future

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Beware the future

Choi Hyeon-chul
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“Tenet,” a science fiction film written and directed by Christopher Nolan, was released in late August. Despite high expectations from the director of “Inception,” “The Dark Night” and “Interstellar,” the new movie sold fewer than two million tickets during its over 40-day run amid the Covid-19 shutdown and social distancing restrictions. Still, it managed to stay in the cinemas longer than expected, as there have been few releases during the pandemic.

The plot is about a secret agent from the future trying to stop World War III through manipulation of the flow of time. Forward and backward time travels often make a film plot. Nolan, who struggled with the movie’s ideas for over a decade, blends inventive ideas with breath-taking action scenes.

When asked why they were manipulating the past, the future forces explain that the planet is so damaged that destroying it is their only chance. But what about their chance of survival in the future, asks the protagonist. “If you go back in time and kill your grandfather before they meet your grandmother, how can you exist?” The villain answers, “What happened has happened.”

Nolan’s idea started with a plant ruined by climate change. His previous movie “Interstellar” was set in the year 2067, when humanity’s survival was at risk with corn remaining the last viable crop. A group of astronauts and scientists travel through a wormhole in search of a new plant for mankind. Whether traveling to outerspace or to the past, people may one day have to find such extreme alternatives for survival as planet Earth could very likely become a place that’s no longer livable. Until “Interstellar,” I still felt like climate change was akin to fiction. But “Tenet” felt real upon watching the global disasters this year.

The U.S. West suffered from massive wildfires this year. The “gigafire” burned an area equivalent to one-fifth of South Korea. The fires reddened the skies over San Francisco and their ash and smoke even reached near Chicago. Direct damage to forests and residences totaled 23 trillion won ($20 billion). When indirect damage is counted, the losses are estimated at 58 trillion won. Fires are regular in the dry summer season, but the scope and frequency were severer as this summer was excruciatingly hot. The mercury went up to 54.5 degrees Celsius (130 degrees Fahrenheit) in Death Valley, California — a record-high heat level. The incendiary climate became prone to fire, while parched forests added to the inflammatory force.

On this side of the Earth, it was wet. Defying earlier forecasts of a sizzling summer, the Korean Peninsula was soaked by the longest rainy season since 1973. Rainfall was followed by a string of three typhoons. Such unprecedented summer climate volatility has been caused by pressure changes around the peninsula after temperatures in East Siberia went up to 38 degrees.

The symptoms of extreme climate changes panned out across the world. Scientists warn of disaster if the average planet temperature which increased by 0.74 degrees over the last century does not stop at 1.5 degrees. This is why 195 countries around the globe signed emission control commitments in Paris in 2015.

Committing to the emission controls was not easy. The United States bolted from the Paris Agreement, within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, last year under the Trump “America First” slogan to save jobs for Americans.

South Korea has “feigned” its commitment. In the timetable to be submitted to the United Nations by year end, Seoul has lowered its emission reduction target for 2030 to 24.4 percent of the 2017 levels — instead of adhering to its earlier pledge to reduce the emissions by 37 percent of its expected emissions in 2030. The government claimed that the absolute reduction would be the same 536 million tons in both cases. Although the government has touted its Green New Deal, it was stalling on cutting carbon emissions.

A cabinet meeting on external economic affairs was held unofficially last month to give a go-ahead to state utility firm Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) to join a coal plant construction project in Vietnam. Under such a plan, Kepco would take a 40 percent stake in the $2.2 billion project surrendered by Hong Kong-based China Light & Power. Kepco brought in Samsung C&T even as General Electric of the United States pulled out. Does the government think coal plants are OK as long as they’re not built on Korean soil?

The Financial Times reported that two insurance companies under Samsung Group have invested 16 trillion won in coal-related projects over the past 10 years. We must note that Korea could face climate revenge even before any future calamity arrives.
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