Extrapolations: The real science behind Apple’s climate change drama

There are kernels of real science in Apple’s new climate change drama Extrapolations. In the first episode alone, we see raging fires, water shortages, and the disappearance of Arctic ice. These threats are real.

The show also invents tricks to tell a story. (Spoiler alert!) Walruses, for their part, are much more threatened by humans than we are by them. But given their status as a “vulnerable” species in part due to oil and gas drilling and melting sea ice, a little walrus rage in the first episode is probably warranted. There’s also no “summer heart”, a medical condition we see in the second episode. But the heat makes put extra strain on the heart, and it’s already the number one weather-related killer in the United States.

The edge has put together this guide to some of the biggest science themes from the first three episodes of Extrapolations, all of which begin streaming today. We break down how the show compares to the real-life climate crisis on our doorstep and whether some of the solutions it poses could actually work.

We see raging fires, water shortages and the disappearance of Arctic ice – these threats are real

a):shadow-highlight-franklin”>How much is the planet warming up?

The season opens in 2037, with the world facing a warming of nearly 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. It may not seem like a big change, but it has dramatic consequences for life on Earth. With such warming, 99% of coral reefs should disappear, for example. Things are getting dire for people too, with more extreme weather, severe fire seasons and rising sea levels. above sea level by more than 0.66 feet (0.2 meters). The most powerful tropical cyclones, category 4 and 5 storms, are becoming more frequent. The area burned by forest fires each summer in the Mediterranean increases by 62%. And 388 million people in the world are facing water scarcity.

The historic climate agreement reached in Paris commits countries around the world to limit warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius. The world has already warmed by just over 1 degree Celsius. And unfortunately, under current policies, the world is still on track to reach nearly 3 degrees Celsius by 2100.

In the show, a billionaire shares patents on his desalination technology with drought-stricken countries, ostensibly to get them to agree to weaker climate targets.

There aren’t many details in the first episode about what makes its “state-of-the-art” desalination technology so special. Modern desalination techniques have been around for decades, on which some parts of the world – particularly the Middle East and North Africa – already rely heavily. Israel, where much of the first episode takes place, desalinates around 70% of its municipal water supply.

But desalination is not a miracle solution. For starters, it’s expensive because it’s very energy-intensive. Two main methods are used: blowing the water with heat to evaporate it and then re-condense it without salt; or using immense pressure to push water through a reverse osmosis membrane to filter out salt.

Desalination is not a silver bullet

Not only are these two processes energy-intensive, but most desalination plants still run on fossil fuels. So, producing clean water this way, with today’s dirty energy system, also produces greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. Even though renewables replace fossil fuels, desalination has another pollution problem to solve in the form of leftover brine that becomes waste.

a):shadow-highlight-franklin”>Climate change is pushing vulnerable species to the brink. Can we make them disappear?

This episode follows Sienna Miller as a researcher for a company that archives the genes of species on the verge of extinction. The goal is to “bring those creatures back” one day. This is deextinction, one of the most controversial ideas in conservation.

You may have heard of a biotech company trying to bring a dodo-like creature to life and a woolly mammoth-elephant mashup, for example. These initiatives make a lot of noise and lack results. Even if they succeed, they won’t resurrect the same animals that disappeared. The technology they are working with would create hybrids using the creatures’ distant relatives. Imagine a furry elephant with a domed head.

Scientists The edge spoke with argue that there just needs to be a lot more focus on preventing species extinction in the first place. Today, approximately one million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction, more than at any other time in human history.

My favorite character of the season is a humpback whale voiced by Meryl Streep. He communicates with Miller’s character through some kind of animal interpretation technology. This is clearly in the realm of science fiction.

Scientists are studying whale songs to see if they can decode them

But scientists are studying whale songs to see if they can decode them. The NPR Podcast Invisible has an interesting episode about an initiative using artificial intelligence to try to understand non-human communication. Other scientists are investigating whether nonhuman animals can even communicate through something like language. Some of this research was inspired by TikTok sensation Bunny the dog, who apparently presses buttons to request scritches.

a):shadow-highlight-franklin”>What part of Miami will be underwater in the future?

This episode is set in a sodden Miami in the year 2047, where rising sea levels threaten to wipe out a local synagogue. In reality, Miami faces two or more feet of sea level rise by 2060 and about six feet by 2100. It’s an existential problem for Miami-Dade County. It sits only about six feet above current sea level, on average, and more than 877,000 people live below that elevation.

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A common plot thread in this episode follows a synagogue asking for “preservation” by the state of Florida, which would involve figuring out how and where to build protective structures like levees. Although levees can provide shelter to communities most at risk from flooding, they are only built to withstand so much abuse and can ultimately fail. The United Nations Climate Panel recently warned that levees can foster a false sense of security and can potentially put more people at risk if populations continue to grow along low-lying coastlines.

Levees are also controversial because they usually only protect a select set of properties or communities. As we see in the episode, what is deemed worthy of protection is fraught with ethical pitfalls – and perhaps a fair share of injustice and corruption as well. Additionally, protecting part of a coastline may actually increase the loss of land to its neighbours. Levees deflect wave energy, making it someone else’s problem.

What we can take away from these early episodes is that humanity will not be able to extricate itself simply from the disasters that climate change brings – not with levees, de-extinction or desalination. But we can work to reduce the greenhouse gas pollution that causes this mess and avoid the worst-case scenarios we see playing out on the show.

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