Backstory: Global warming and the Blob

Forget climate change. The return of the 1958 movie character is global warming's most pressing consequence.

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Maybe you think you've heard enough about global warming already, but there's one thing you probably haven't heard: The massive hurricanes, inundated coastal cities, severe drought, and disruptions to the food supply that would result may be the least of our worries. Something more ominous lurks out there. But we'll come to that later.

With record warm temperatures throughout much of the country this winter, little snow at European ski resorts, and huge ice shelves breaking free in the Arctic, I started to wonder: Who was it, exactly, that first sounded the alarm on global warming?

My exhaustive research revealed something surprising. It wasn't Al Gore, the Sierra Club, or Rachel Carson. It was Steve McQueen. In 1958.

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That was the year the 28-year-old McQueen made his film debut as a teenager named, well, Steve, in the classic horror film, "The Blob." Everything about it was horrifying, from the screenplay to the acting. The Blob, you may recall, arrived from outer space in some kind of ball and began consuming humans at an alarming rate, getting bigger and bigger, but apparently no more satisfied, as it oozed around a small American town. Unfortunately, the Blob didn't have the good sense to land in Washington.

The Blob, which resembled a particularly extravagant Jell-O mold my mother made in 1964, threatens the town until Steve, in a moment of desperation – he's trapped in the basement of a diner – sprays the thing with a fire extinguisher. The Blob, or at least part of it, recoils. Steve then remembers that the Blob failed to follow him into the meat freezer in his father's grocery store just five minutes earlier.

At that moment it dawns on Steve that it's the cold from the CO2 that is the Blob's Achilles' heel, since it has heretofore been immune to bullets, a jolt of electricity, and a poor script. (This is rather odd for a creature that came from somewhere near Pluto where daytime temperatures top out around 380 degrees below zero, but never mind.)

Fortunately, the cops have patched a line through to the diner, and Steve tells them to get every fire extinguisher in town. They hose the thing into submission. With a single call, Police Sgt. Dave is able to persuade the Air Force to fly the Blob to the Arctic and drop it there. Government sure was efficient then. Imagine giving FEMA the same job today. The Blob would still be in a trailer on the Gulf Coast.

In a prescient moment at the end, McQueen declares Earth to be safe from the Blob as long as the Arctic stays cold, which, in 1958, was taken to mean forever. This sentiment was surely reassuring to millions of people who thought they might die any minute in a Soviet nuclear attack. Today, of course, a Soviet nuclear strike seems about as likely as the Arctic melting did in 1958. Forget hurricanes, drought, and drowning cities. Now I am worried about the return of the Blob. Someone alert the president. On second thought, never mind.

Peter Zheutlin is a freelance writer in Boston.

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