Carbon Chaos: images of climate change in cinema

8 Jun

Carbon Chaos: images of climate change in cinema 

(Guest post by Chicago blogger Beth Michelle) 

Unless the economics of energy change drastically in coming years, we’re poised to find our planetary home both uninhabitable and unrecognizable as oceans rise and the atmosphere absorbs greater levels of carbon dioxide. This fact, however regrettable, has not been lost on Hollywood. While the industry itself might be somewhat hypocritical when it comes to taking action, man’s complicated relationship with the natural world has long been a topic in the sphere of cinema. At this pivotal time in the discussion of climate change, using the power of movies to better show the plight of the planet is crucial. Here are five films that present strong pro-environmental themes.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

star_trek_iv_1986The exiled crew of the USS Enterprise returns to Earth in 2286 to find that an alien probe is disrupting the weather and power grids. Spock discovers that the probe is attempting to communicate with the now-extinct humpback whale, and the director of an aquarium in 1986 California may be their only hope to restore order. That the inevitable destruction of the planet is tied to the extinction of one of its most majestic creatures is no accident. Whaling has been outlawed in most oceans, but some countries persist in hunting down creatures whose extinction would have a lasting effect on enormous ecosystems.

Planet of the Apes

planet of apesIt’s impossible to talk about this film’s environmental perspective without spoiling the ending, so if you’re one of the few who hasn’t seen it, skip to the next entry. An astronaut played by Charlton Heston crashes on what he believes to be an unknown planet ruled by apes, but it’s eventually revealed that he’s actually on Earth, with the planet having been radically changed by nuclear war in his absence. The movie posits the idea that even if we survive a nuclear holocaust, we may no longer be the dominant species. Indeed, the humans in the film are subjugated and enslaved by apes which have evolved the power of speech. In a future era, when our planet has gone on without us, who will be at the top of the food chain?

Soylent Green

soylent greenAnother Heston sci-fi classic that jumps into the future, the world of Soylent Green is a chaotic one. Overcrowding has led to people being packed into buildings like sardines, trees and clean water are very limited and expensive resources, and of course there’s no food aside from that manufactured by the Soylent Corporation (the less said about its contents, the better). The greenhouse effect has taken over the world due to rampant pollution and consumption of energy. An interesting thing to note is the absence of any sort of recycling program for garbage – they weren’t in place yet when the film was released, and the film manages to act as a critique in favor of a program that had yet to be implemented. “Food” for thought.

Logan’s Run

logans runThis futuristic action flick gives us a similar scenario to Soylent, only the powers that be have worked out a nifty solution to the planet’s overcrowding – kill everyone when they turn 30. Logan’s job is to locate a colony of “runners”, or those who have successfully escaped their fate. Given the abuse of power and lack of respect for human life we’ve seen by leaders throughout history, this horrifying premise could be possible if overcrowding becomes a problem and world governments continue to consolidate their power. Perhaps one of the “biggest unspoken issues” on today’s political agenda, it’s a matter that will become increasingly pressing – literally and figuratively – if we continue to ignore it.  

Mad Max 2 – The Road Warrior

mad max 2 the-road-warriorLike all the Mad Max films, this one takes place in a future where oil shortages have brought about a gigantic, resource-guzzling world war. In this post-apocalyptic world, the price of fuel is at a premium, and those who control it wield the most power – as Max quickly finds when he crosses paths with the barbaric Lord Humungus. Of course, as anyone on the side of science will tell you, the movie’s premise isn’t outside the realm of possibility – even the most optimistic energy providers predict that the Earth will be depleted of oil in less than a century. While the ending of Road Warrior leaves us with few answers as to the ultimate fate of our planet, it’s clear that a smarter, greener approach to fuel is needed immediately.

The dystopian futures in these films may seem outlandish, but they are all based around the very real problems that have arisen as a result of an exploding population, worsening pollution, oil depletion, and rampant deforestation. Even as we race to develop renewable resources, it’s still not too late to commit to other programs which will help preserve the planet for future generations.


Beth_KellyBeth Michelle is a Chicago-based blogger with a nasty film addiction. Her primary interests include pulp cinema, fashion photography and vintage Japanese film cameras.


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