TOKYO - I'm not a big sci-fi fan. Most of the old sci-fi movies had the same plot: Some-where west of Laramie, a family in a station wagon suddenly was horrified to see a brightly shining object coming toward them. When it landed, out popped little creatures with huge eyes, pot bellies and frog-like skin.
Their language was unintelligible, but their message was clear: Give us your youngest child. Then off they flew and the war was on. When it was over, the ending was predictable: Man 7, Aliens zip.
Crude special effects added to the incredibility. The flying saucers came right out of the kitchen cupboard and the little men (women?) were not only creepy, but creaky.
Computer graphics has changed all of that. Now the characters and machines overwhelm you, making you forget the plot - if there is one.
Still, some of the old sci-fi stories, films and characters are memorable. Godzilla crunching Tokyo; Orson Welles' radio broadcast of War of the Worlds; and my favorite, The Day the Earth Stood Still.
I haven't seen this little classic in years, but as I recall it revolves around a very human-looking alien scientist who arrives on Earth, meets with our scientists and concludes that unless we start cleaning up our act and halt the atomic race he'll literally put a stop to things.
When earthlings fail to heed his warnings, he demonstrates his power by grinding everything to a halt. Plants shut down and traffic comes to a standstill.
I don't recall the ending, so go get the video. But I do remember the moral and political implications. Was he God in a spacesuit? I leave that to the theologians.
This old black and white film comes to mind in the current controversy over global warming, which would make a compelling sci-fi story if it weren't a deadly serious affair.
I can just see the ending: After the ice caps melt and the fish take over, only a young couple perched on the last piece of real estate atop Mount Everest survives . . .
Next month, members of the United Nations meet in Kyoto, once Japan's capital, to sign a treaty limiting the amount of carbon from fossil fuel each nation can emit into the atmosphere.
It's these emissions that contribute to the "greenhouse" effect, or climate change, that UN computer models indicate will boost the Earth's temperature by 36_F (2_C) a century from now.
Although "greenhouse" gases produced by man are responsible for only 4% of the total (the remainder occurs naturally), it's rising as more nations industrialize. Unless fuel is rationed, say the treaty's proponents, Earth's temperature will rise and the climate will change with drastic ecological, economic, social and political consequences.
Treaty opponents argue that it's based on weak scientific evidence, and that in any case the proposed solution is unfair: Only 35 heavily industrialized nations - including those in North America, Europe and Japan - are targeted for rationing. The other 132 UN members, including populous nations such as India, China and Brazil, would be exempt.
Yet it's these "developing" countries, which some sources say already produce half of the gases, that will be growing the fastest as they add plants and vehicles - catching up, if you will, with the big guys.
Despite his pro-environment record, it's unlikely President Clinton will buy the UN plan. More likely the U.S. and other advanced nations will plead for more time - time to debate the scientific issues and develop technological solutions.
The automotive industry, of course, has a huge stake in all of this. But it's far from alone. Practically everything that's manufactured directly or indirectly uses energy from fossil fuels.
Still, automakers - especially the U.S. Big Three - could take a proactive approach to offset the environmentalists' heat. Who knows more about taming exhaust emissions for example? Extending U.S. exhaust technology to their vehicles built or sold in developing nations could be a start.
And whose plants have the world's leading emission-taming technology? Why not transfer that technology to new plants building abroad, even if local governments don't require strict emission levels?
Solving complex global warming issues won't come easily. Some 30 years ago no technology to clean up exhaust and factory emissions existed, and cars got half the mileage they achieve today.
That's not sci-fi, but it has taken time, and much of the world - where the biggest industrial growth is taking place - has yet to catch up.
Maybe that's the place to start, with automakers taking the lead.