Lauer's SciFi Disaster Examines Our Lack of Future

June 16th, 2006 3:44 PM

      “We are the problem,” declared NBC’s “Today” co-anchor Matt Lauer doing a stint as host for the SciFi network. Lauer was referring to mankind’s alleged misuse of planet Earth, but his comment better suits the media and his apocalyptic documentary.

     Lauer’s program, “Countdown to Doomsday,” merged nearly every science-fiction disaster flick ever made – “The Terminator,” “Deep Impact,” “I, Robot” and, of course, the SciFi Channel’s own “Battlestar Gallactica.” Lauer’s news background gave an air of respectability to the documentary and the show was filled with news footage from Hurricane Katrina, 9/11 and more to reinforce that impression.

     In it, Lauer addressed what he called the 10 biggest threats to mankind from aliens to “evil robots” to, of course, global warming. It was up to viewers to decide whether they should include media hype as one of the prominent dangers.

     Predictably, climate change crusader Al Gore brought his campaign to the program with video of him declaring: “I think what we’re facing is a planetary emergency. It’s by far the most dangerous crisis our civilization has ever confronted.”

     Gore must have been very disappointed. Lauer and his own horsemen of the apocalypse didn’t think global warming rated higher than No. 4 on the list of top 10 threats. While Gore’s lecture was scary enough to beat out “evil robots,” volcanoes and terrorism, it fell two spots behind the current media frenzy for avian flu.

     “Us Homo sapiens are turning out to be as destructive a force as any asteroid,” claimed Lauer during the two-hour long disaster film. That’s some feat considering the devastating danger from comets and asteroids was listed as the No. 1 threat.

     When Lauer wasn’t quoting song lyrics, he was citing discredited threats about over-population. “Earth’s intricate web of ecosystems thrived for millions of years as natural paradises until we came along, paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” said Lauer, channeling singer Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” song.

     But he was serious about the harm mankind had done to the earth. “The stark reality is that there are simply too many of us and we consume too much.” Had this been the History Channel instead of the SciFi Channel, someone might have pointed out to Lauer that claim has been around for more than 200 years. It traces back to 1798 and Thomas Malthus whose work “An Essay on the Principle of Population” has been proven wrong as the world population has grown.

     Malthus claimed that mankind was growing at a rate faster than its food supply and eventually we would run out of food. The late professor Julian Simon argued that Malthus was entirely wrong and that human beings are a resource, not a drain. “Human beings,” the Cato Institute quoted him writing, “are not just more mouths to feed, but are productive and inventive minds that help find creative solutions to man’s problems, thus leaving us better off over the long run.”

     But instead of someone of Simon’s stature, “Doomsday” had Al Gore and a lengthy list of left-wing groups and spokespeople, several focused just on global warming. None of them was any worse than Lauer who claimed: “Freakish violent weather around the world is becoming the norm and no place is safe.”

     Lauer didn’t point out that no place has ever been safe from weather and that climate has changed numerous times throughout history – without mankind’s help. Instead, he was hyping the immediate risk. “The devastating effects of global warming may be much more imminent than most people realize,” he said.

     Apparently, not soon enough since there were three dangers listed that were even worse. One of them, “a gamma ray burst,” occurs spontaneously in space and could destroy the earth instantly. That was only No. 3.

     Lauer was happy to talk about solutions – all of which seemed to cost money. Some of those, he said, included “control population, recycle, reduce consumption, develop green technologies.” Still, “Countdown to Doomsday” was almost entirely pessimistic about mankind’s ability to handle the threats.

     SciFi Channel promos before the show morphed the word “iF” into the network’s name, but for this movie the better word would have been “when.” When will aliens attack? When will mankind be destroyed? SciFi viewers might well hope that “when” will be before rerun season.

Gainor has previously written about the science fiction slant on the news.