Sunday, June 29, 2014

Best movies about Sustainability

Sustainability in popular culture

Whenever a problem assumes threatening proportions for a society, its appearance in popular culture goes up. Books, music, movies, television and painting have always reflected the concerns of the society in which they are born. Be it oppression, slavery, drugs, women rights, war, terrorism – they all find there way into popular culture.  Even our own Bollywood has graduated from smuggling in the 70’s and early 80’s to the non-resident Indians of 90’s to terrorism in the first decade of 21st century!

The works of popular culture spread ideas quickly and influence minds in a way that academic works cannot. Who can underestimate the influence of Voltaire’s works in French Revolution or the pivotal role of ‘Vande Mataram’ in India’s freedom struggle?

I want to do a quick survey of sustainability concerns in popular culture, and I am going to focus on the movies. The first movie I describe is however, a non-fiction work, a documentary. ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ is an absorbing, disturbing and thought provoking documentary film on Global Warming made by form US vice president Al Gore. It won two academy awards in 2006 and a commercial success on the box office! The presents scientific viewpoint on Global Warming and also it present and future effects. One of its purpose is to refute those who claim that effects of global warming will be negligible. In one scene, Al Gore discusses the possibility than a major ice sheet in Greenland or Antarctica might collapse, causing a 20 feet rise in sea levels, flooding coastal areas and producing 100 million refugees.

In the end, Al Gore gives a message for us:

"Each one of us is a cause of global warming, but each one of us can make choices to change that with the things we buy, the electricity we use, the cars we drive; we can make choices to bring our individual carbon emissions to zero. The solutions are in our hands, we just have to have the determination to make it happen. We have everything that we need to reduce carbon emissions, everything but political will. But in America, the will to act is a renewable resource.”

Erin Brockovich is a next item on my list. It’s a 2000 film based on the real life of Erin Brockovich, a legal clerk in California. The movie shows how working as a legal clerk, Erin comes across a case of Water Contamination by Pacific Gas and Electric Company. The residents of Hinkley, California are troubled by various health problems, including tumours and  Hodgkin Disease. She spends a lot of time uncovering the origin of the water contamination, which turns out to be the pollutant hexavalent chromium. Erin convinces her employer and they file a class action suit against the giant company Pacific Gas and Electric. Even though not trained in law, Erin plays a pivotal role in the lawsuit, especially in managing the 634 plaintiffs during the proceedings. The movie exposes the ugly side of big corporations- bribing the residents by paying their medical expenses, destroying key documents and using delaying tactics. Erin Brockovich brought forward the darker side of economic prosperity, in an eminently watchable format. It should be noted that the pollution of hexvalent chromium in Hinkley was assessed once again in 2010 and 2013, and was found to be spreading to wider areas.

A movie based on similar theme is ‘A Civil Action’, which tells the story of a flamboyant, ambulance chaser lawyer whose life changes while working on a water contamination case. His fight becomes a personal one as he refuses to settle out of court and keeps on fighting. He loses all his and his firm’s money and goes bankrupt while fighting the case against big corporations. The case is then taken up by the Environment Protection Agency, a government agency fighting against ecosystem damage. Once again, the apathetic attitude of the industry towards the damage they are causing is depicted in no uncertain terms here.

We are probably the last generation who can do something to avoid the impending calamity of ecological disaster. A movie called ‘The Age of Stupid’ builds this theme to perfection. The story of the movie happens in 2055, when earth is already devastated. Many cities are under water, desert has advanced and eaten cities like Los Angles, fires are consuming parts of world. A researcher find an archive of old recording in a repository somewhere in the Arctic. He watches footage, mostly from the years 2000-2008. What he finds is that ‘those people did not act while there was still time’. The footage he watches is real, taken from interviews and news items. The movie thus switches between fiction and reality. This movie was made entirely from crowdfunding, and is available for free screening for anyone. 

Many movies are being made for children too. Happy Feet is a movie for children, that tells the tale of habitat destruction and melting of ice in Antarctica. Lorax and FernGully are about deforestation. 

The list grows and grows. Wall-E is a movie about waste management. The robot Wall-E is assigned the task of clearing a waste covered earth of future. The Japanese movie Muro Ami is about illegal and unregulated fishing. The horror movie The Happening tells the dark story of the revenge by plants. Anyone who does not know about ecological concerns can probably glance at this list and safely deduce about the growing severity of the problem in the minds of the people. The day is not far when Bollywood makes a movie with an ecological disaster in background. It will be a scary day!

The last movie I want to talk about is of course the James Cameroon director blockbuster Avatar. While being a typical Hollywood adventure flick with lots of special effects, it is really a story of exploitation of the planet, in this case the distant Pandora. It touches the issues of exploitation of earth capital, learning from indigenous people, a planet that functions as an organism (Gaia theory). Native people protect their forests from attacking human beings, a thinly veiled metaphor for the commercial interests destroying ecosystems on earth.

I think that movies is a good medium to propagate ideas far and wide. Recommending a good environmental movie (such as those I have talked about) is an easy and effective way to spread the word.

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