Let’s be honest here – most viewers tend to stray away from movies and TV shows that depict hard, unsettling topics. However, some TV shows tackle hard topics that we HAVE to talk about – like climate change, which is rapidly threatening our very existence. Apple TV’s Extrapolations combines facts and fiction to depict that, but the question is – is it based on a true story?
While Extrapolations is a fictional show set in the future, it does take some real-life scientific facts and concepts about climate change, AI development, political influence, capitalism, etc.. It intertwines those concepts in the overarching storyline.
That doesn’t mean the future that Extrapolations depicts accurately represents what lies ahead in real life, nor does it mean that such a future can’t be avoided. But, the show (so far) does a masterful job at pushing the right buttons and advocating for change in human behavior, as awareness is the only way to prevent dire scenarios regarding climate change and global warming.With that in mind, let’s investigate Extrapolations and the facts behind its fiction.
What is ‘Extrapolations’ about?
‘Extrapolations’ is an AppleTV+ original series that focuses on the effect that climate change and global warming will have on our planet, as well as ourselves; our faith, work, family life, economics, and existence.
Each episode is set at a different time in the future, starting with the year 2037 (then 2046, 2047, 2059, etc.). Every episode focuses on a particular predicament and an unrelated story that ultimately intertwined and ties into the ‘bigger picture’ and purpose of the show – addressing climate change while there’s still time to undo our wrongdoings.
Or, at least, do our best not to make things worse. However, as you’ll witness throughout the show, economics, capitalism, greed, and even technology always get in the way of doing what’s right.
One of the things about the show that’ll immediately catch anyone’s eye is the unfathomably talented cast – I’m telling you, rarely do we see such a collection of stars working together on a big project like this.
Meryl Streep, Edward Norton, Tobey Maguire, Diane Lane, Eiza Gonzalez, Marion Cotillard, Forest Whitaker, Daveed Diggs, Kit Harington, Judd Hirsch, Tahar Rahim, Sienna Miller, Matthew Rhys, David Schwimmer, Nick Kroll… I’m not even halfway through! The names are there, but we’ll see if they translate to something unique once all the episodes come out.
As I’ve mentioned, the show is obviously fictional since the plot revolves around the future. However, the creator of ‘Extrapolations,’ Scott Z. Burns, made sure not to include stuff like ‘flying cars or other world-building like that.’ He wanted the show to feel more like ‘our world,’ a more realistic representation of our future.
The show also uses a ton of scientific facts, concepts, and research that’s already taking place and might be developed further in the future. Knowing that, let’s analyze the show’s first few episodes deeper to see how much of it is a fact and how much is fiction.
Is ‘Extrapolations’ based on a true story?
By now, you have realized what the core concept of ‘Extrapolations’ is; take scientific facts, concepts, and research, and fictionalize it in a plausible way to represent what the future might look like for humanity and our planet in general. I’ll go through the show’s first three episodes separately to determine what’s real and what’s not.
Episode 1 – Facts & Fiction
The first episode of ‘Extrapolations’ focuses on global warming that’s causing all kinds of issues throughout the planet – wildfires spreading like crazy, droughts, polar caps melting… That’s something that’s already taking place, albeit to a much lesser degree than what’s portrayed in the show.
We see a young girl talking about being born in 2015 – the year when several countries ‘signed an agreement’ in Paris. That agreement happened in real-life – the COP21 – an agreement signed at the UN Climate Change Conference where countries agreed to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Currently, the world has heated a little over 1 degree Celsius since the pre-industrial era, and while that might not sound like much to you, it actually has huge ramifications on the entire planet’s biosphere.
Now, in the show, we’re in the year 2037, and the repercussions of global warming are felt all over the world – especially in countries that already had low water supplies, which are now on the brink of catastrophe.
This huge corporation, Alpha, develops a desalination technology that could help the world’s water supply issues – but they agree to deliver only if most world countries sign COP42 – a new agreement that pushes the bar from 1.5 to 2.3 degrees Celsius of allowed warming.
The countries with no water agree to this new deal, of course, but they don’t realize the ramifications. Such a big temperature increase would, in real life, kill almost 99% of coral reefs. Wildfires would increase dramatically, and so would the sea level due to polar caps melting, resulting in most of the world’s coastlines being completely submerged.
While this kind of scenario would likely be prevented, the fact is we’re on our way to such catastrophic consequences. Some projections suggest that, if current trends continue, we could reach an increase of 3 degrees Celsius by 2100, which would essentially jeopardize the entire world’s biosphere.
By the end of the first episode, we see the 79 N glacier – a real-life glacier that’s the longest glacier tongue in Greenland – collapse into the sea. If the glacier were to melt, the sea levels would dramatically increase – something that Episode 3 revolves around, but we’ll get there.
I’m mentioning this because it’s not far from the truth – reports are already available online about that particular glacier melting and depleting. Therefore, if current trends continue, the 79 N glacier depleting by 2037 isn’t such a far-fetched scenario.
Episode 2 – Fact & Fiction
In Episode 2, we see a couple of scientific facts and research that are already in development in real-life today, but by 2046, when this episode takes place, they are imagined to be completely developed and available.
The first one is an AI instrument that allows humans to speak to whales – that is, interpret their sounds in a human language and ‘translate’ human language back to the whale. The whale is voiced by none other than the magnificent Meryl Streep, who portrays the last humpback whale alive on Earth.
Of course, we don’t have such a device yet, but advances have been made in human-whale communication or at least our understanding of their ‘language.’ Also, the plot thread about the ‘last humpback whale alive’ is actually not even far-fetched – in fact, the humpback whale has been endangered for a while now.
The thing that ‘Extrapolations’ took to extreme lengths is the way that humanity is trying to deal with species extinction. They are trying to bring extinct species back using genetics and biotechnology instead of focusing on protecting the species and preventing their extinction in the first place.
The thing is, some moves have been made in that direction, but it’s more about combining the DNA of extinct species with their live successors – for instance, a mammoth with an elephant. That being said, no actual results have been accomplished.
Another concept in the second episode is the ‘summer heart.’ Now, the term doesn’t exist in real life, but basically, it’s described as a condition that’s caused by dramatic temperature rises. The heart has to pump more blood into the surface layers of the skin to cool down the body, putting the heart through much more strain.
It actually happens more often than you might think – even today – but not as dramatically as depicted in the show. By 2046, though, who knows…
Episode 3 – Fact & Fiction
Episode 3 took place in 2047 and heavily revolves around the particular predicament that Miami’s coastline was facing. A rabbi of a synagogue calls for action and for a sea wall to be built to prevent the synagogue and the surrounding territory from flooding due to rising sea levels.
Believe it or not, if sea levels keep rising, they could go up as much as six feet by 2100. If that happens, the Greater Miami area – as well as about 70% of the world’s coastlines would be completely submerged and lost. But, you see, that’s where the even larger problem takes place.
How do you prioritize which areas to protect? Are sea walls even a solution? No, they are not – they just make the situation somebody else’s problem by deflecting the wave energy and directing the rising tide someplace else. Meaning if they were to build a wall to protect the synagogue and the wider Miami region, it’d likely mean flooding somebody else.
Also, sea walls are not a solution; they only hold off the inevitable. They can crumble under the immense pressure of the incoming sea levels or simply deteriorate with time. That’d make them even more dangerous, as they’d provide false safety for people living behind the wall, only to be demolished in one swift motion if and when the wall proves to be insufficient.
There are several more plot threads intertwined throughout the episode, but the main concern is the politics behind what’s next. How do you deem one area more important than the other? Why do we tend to deal with the consequences instead of trying to solve the issue before consequences even exist?
How does every episode play into the larger narrative?
Despite every episode being a separate story happening at a different point in the future – they all intertwine and play into a larger narrative. That narrative manifests in two ways.
One, for every action, there’s a reaction. Solving one problem by causing another problem isn’t really a solution. Every question answered inadequately only opens up more questions. That point leads us to the other part of the narrative.
That other part of the narrative is hope. There is still time to react – and act to save our planet and prevent such dire scenarios from happening. Every episode so far delivered a few nuggets of that hope in the form of palpable solutions and advice on acting before it’s too late.
Unfortunately, in the show, as in the real world, those solutions are often trumped by capitalistic greed. The only way we can prevent climate disasters is to become aware of the danger and act accordingly.
Could things from ‘Extrapolations’ really happen in the future?
The bottom line is – ‘Extrapolations’ took some serious real-world problems and fictionalized what they could become in the future. Perhaps the future wouldn’t manifest exactly how this show portrayed, but that’s not the point. The show isn’t trying to predict or present the future – it’s showing us that it might be what’s coming next if we don’t start doing things differently.
In other words, things from ‘Extrapolations’ could (in one way or another) happen in the future, but they don’t have to. It’s ‘minutes to midnight,’ but there is still time to act and do our best to undo what we’ve done to the planet, or at least do our best to heal it enough so that our entire world doesn’t collapse right before our eyes.