'Snowpiercer' TV show uses climate science to fix a mistake in the film

"We wanted to know what happens at temperatures that are literally 117 degrees below zero," showrunner Graeme Manson tells Inverse.

When Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer premiered in 2013, climate change wasn’t at the forefront of most people’s minds (though it probably should have been). Instead, the South Korean director’s movie used the threat of a new ice age the discuss class tensions — a topic he’s continued to explore in his new movie Parasite — but in 2019, climate change is dominating the global conversation. Enter Snowpiercer the TNT series, coming in Spring 2020 from Orphan Black creator Graeme Manson.

Speaking onstage at New York Comic Con, Mason revealed just how far he and his writers’ room went to capture the grim realities of our future climate in Snowpiercer.

“We did a lot of research with some climate scientists,” he told a lively crowd at the Hammerstein Ballroom. “We’ve been talking with this guy from NASA this year. It’s been fascinating. We love researching the science.”

Daveed Diggs and Jennifer Connelly star in 'Snowpiercer' 


After the panel, sitting around a table with a few other reporters, Manson tells Inverse exactly what he learned from those climate scientists, and how it sets his new show apart from the Snowpiercer movie.

“We wanted some reality as to how it happened, what would happen, what happens at temperatures that are literally 117 degrees below zero,” he says.

Specifically, there’s one surprising detail that Manson uncovered about how the world would change at extreme sub-zero temperatures.

“It doesn’t snow anymore,” he says. “There’s not enough moisture for precipitation.”

Wait a tick. Is that true? Could it actually get so cold that it stops snowing? Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to follow up on my question with Manson, but a bit of research shows that the science does bear out. Sort of.

A July 2019 study from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that climate change could disrupt the water cycle in some regions, which would theoretically mean no more snow.

Here’s a relevant passage:

The scientists found regional differences under the overall acceleration of water cycle. Specifically, the Northern Hemispheric African, South and East Asian monsoon regions will experience an intensified water cycle, while in the Northern Hemispheric American monsoon region, the water cycle would robustly be weakened.

In other words, at long as their’s moisture in the atmosphere, there will be snow (or rain, or hail, or something). But unnatural changes to the water cycle brought on my rapid climate could (maybe) mean no more snow in some parts of the world.

Of course, there’s more to Snowpiercer than just climate change. Manson sees the show’s eponymous train (1001 cars long, like in the original comic but unlike the movie) as a high-speed metaphor for many of the pressing issues of our day.

“Immigration, detention and class are all the big thing,” he says, “and they’re all built on this horrible foundation of climate change. To me, that’s the most important brick in this building.”

Snowpiercer debuts in Spring 2020 on TNT.

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