The Messiest Sci-Fi Show of the Year Is Also the Most Important

Extrapolations is must-see TV in the era of climate change.

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Scientist looks at the last humpback whale in Extrapolations

The ice caps are melting, but companies are moving deeper into the Arctic to exploit its natural resources. Forest fires decimate fragile ecosystems. Water is a scarce resource.

It may sound eerily familiar, but in this case, it’s the fictional world of Apple TV’s Extrapolations, thrusting us 14 years into the future from our present moment. Climate change escalates as humanity’s biggest existential threat by the day, but few onscreen stories bring up the topic at all, let alone meaningfully reckon with it.

It makes Extrapolations a timely reckoning, but also an imperfect one. A recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report puts us at a tipping point for catastrophic climate change in the 2030s if we don’t take action. Clearly, Extrapolation did its homework. The show’s pilot drops us in 2037, where our present problems have escalated.

But as timely as it may be, Extrapolations suffers from a few narrative faults. For one, its technical language caters to people who already understand the jargon of climate change, tossing out phrases like “geoengineering” and assuming the viewer is already familiar with these complex climate science topics. And there’s little mention of renewable energy helping us transition away from fossil fuels beyond a throwaway line about wind and solar — even though renewable energy has now surpassed coal consumption in the U.S. for the first time.

There are fascinating main characters, including a CEO, a pregnant scientist fleeing wildfires, and a Black rabbi trying to relocate his synagogue from Rising sea levels. But overall, Extrapolations tends to highlight people in privileged positions. We get a few fleeting glimpses into the lives of others, such as unhoused individuals or people struggling to survive in the Global South, even though they contribute far less to climate change and may bear the brunt of its wrath. (In the episode “Nightbirds,” India’s population must brutally adapt to daily extreme heat conditions by living during the night and coating their vehicles in reflective sun-shields during the daytime.)

But now that the finale has aired, it’s worth taking a closer look at this groundbreaking show — and why it’s important that anyone who cares about climate change (read: everyone on planet Earth) should watch Extrapolations, despite its many faults.

Extrapolations Holds Up a Mirror to Our Climate Reality

A man pays for a puff of oxygen in polluted India in Extrapolations.


When Hollywood broaches the topic of climate, it’s usually to serve up a dystopian scenario of a ravaged post-apocalyptic Earth (Mad Max Fury Road) or outlandish climate disasters (like Geostorm or The Day After Tomorrow). While these are great cautionary tales, they fling us into far futures or unrealistic scenarios. They don’t ground us in our present or show what we can do now.

By setting itself in the near future, Extrapolations offers a harrowing look at our near future if we fail to act to curb climate change. Subsequent episodes push further into the 21st century, with grave consequences each episode for the billions of people who call Earth home. The pilot starts out with less than 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise. By the time we reach the penultimate episode, “The Going Away Party,” set in the year 2068, the Earth has heated up by 2.44 degrees Celsius and the air in San Francisco is unbreathable due to pollution from fossil fuel emissions.

“I miss sunsets,” a despondent man tells his wife. “I want to breathe real air without a mask.”

It’s a scenario that’s easy to imagine, and that’s what makes Extrapolations so eerily frightening, despite its faults.

Weaving real science into fictional narrative

A rabbi works to relocate his synagogue amidst flooding due to sea level rise in Extrapolations.


The science in Extrapolations is generally sound. The show avoids depicting alarmist worst-case scenarios that we are likely to avoid due to shifts in the last decade to renewable energy. Better yet, it does this while managing to make the science feel personal to the viewer.

It’s one thing to read about Miami’s shoreline going underwater. It’s another to see it onscreen. Climate reports often communicate through graphs and metrics showing rising temperatures, but Hollywood has a far more potent tool: stories.

“It's one thing to know that climate change is a problem. It's another thing to feel it in our bones that climate change is a problem,” Lena Lewis, Virginia Energy and Climate Policy Manager for The Nature Conservancy, tells Inverse.

In Extrapolations, a rogue engineer (Indira Varma) decides to modify the atmosphere to cool the planet — a practice known as geoengineering.


These stories include countless figures who seek to profit from climate change, and in fact, benefit from the worsening state of the planet. Some are mildly abhorrent, such as a wealthy community member bribing public officials so his local Miami synagogue doesn’t go underwater — even if it means displacing people who presumably already lost their homes due to flooding.

There are also overarching villains, including the CEO of a company called Alpha that serves as a stand-in for various tech giants, controlling several aspects of modern existence. The show makes it clear we can’t rely on technology alone to solve climate change.

We know by now that our inaction on climate change — namely our failure to swiftly reduce fossil fuel consumption — is leading to rapid carbon emissions into the atmosphere and subsequent global warming. Yet, we don’t take action. Climate change advocates hope the effective storytelling in shows like Extrapolations will help shift us out of complacency to push for systemic changes, like better public transit infrastructure, or working to reduce our own carbon consumption by purchasing electric vehicles or driving less.

Extrapolations shows the impacts of climate change through the eyes of different characters.


Even at its clunkiest moments, Extrapolations is a bold, ambitious first foray into climate change storytelling on the small screen, and for that, it should be applauded. There’s a reason why Good Energy — an organization focused on bringing climate change to Hollywood — recommended the show to The New York Times.

The truth is, there will likely never be a perfect climate change story that satisfies everyone. Climate change is an enormously complicated topic that is difficult to explain even for a savvy viewer, and no single show can possibly encompass the breadth of perspectives on the topic.

Extrapolation makes a valiant effort at this, and it’s hard to imagine watching even a single episode and not feeling at least slightly moved to protect this one little “pale blue dot.” For years, activists have touted the slogan that there is “no planet B” for humanity. Now, Hollywood has created a visionary show worthy of that slogan, too.

Extrapolations is streaming now on Apple TV+.

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