Apple’s new climate change drama, Extrapolations, is filled with kernels of real science. In the first episode, viewers are faced with raging fires, water shortages, and vanishing Arctic ice—all threats that are a reality in our world. Walruses, a “vulnerable” species faced with danger due to oil and gas drilling and melting sea ice, were also featured in this episode as a symbol of environmental destruction. Additionally, the second episode showcased a fictional medical condition, “summer heart,” which is a reflection of the real-life weather-related killer in the US.
In order to break down the science behind the show, The Verge put together a guide to the biggest science themes in the first three episodes. It examines how the show compares to the real-life climate crisis and whether the solutions it presents could actually work.
The world has already warmed by more than 1 degree Celsius, and under current policies, it is on track to reach close to 3 degrees Celsius by 2100. This amount of warming comes with dramatic consequences for life on Earth and people, including more extreme weather, severe fire seasons, and rising sea levels. Thus, the landmark agreement struck in Paris to limit warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius is crucial for the planet’s future.
The show also explores desalination as a solution to drought. Desalination is not a silver bullet, however, as it is expensive and energy-intensive. In addition, it still runs on fossil fuels, meaning it produces greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. It also has a pollution problem in the form of leftover brine waste.
Another theme of the show is de-extinction, which is a very controversial idea within conservation. While some biotech companies have attempted to bring extinct creatures back to life, these initiatives are filled with hype and have not produced any results. Moreover, the technology used would create hybrids using the creatures’ distant relatives, not the actual animals that went extinct. Thus, more focus needs to be on preventing species from going extinct in the first place.
The third episode is set in a flooded Miami in 2047, a reality that Miami-Dade County may face due to rising sea levels. Seawalls are presented as a solution to this problem, though they are not a fool-proof solution. Seawalls can also give a false sense of security and potentially put more people in danger as populations continue to grow along low-lying coasts. Moreover, shielding one part of a coastline can increase land loss for its neighbors.
Ultimately, Extrapolations reveals that humanity won’t be able to engineer its way out of the disasters climate change brings. The only way to avoid the worst-case scenarios we see play out in the show is to reduce the greenhouse gas pollution that is causing the mess.