Why Is Hollywood So Scared of Climate Change?
By Cara Buckley
Humans ruined everything. They bred too much and choked the life out of the land, air and sea.
And so they must be vaporized by half, or attacked by towering monsters, or vanquished by irate dwellers from the oceans’ polluted depths. Barring that, they face hardscrabble, desperate lives on a once verdant Earth now consumed by ice or drought.
That is how many recent superhero and sci-fi movies — among them the latest Avengers and Godzilla pictures as well as “Aquaman,” “Snowpiercer,” “Blade Runner 2049,” “Interstellar” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” — have invoked the climate crisis. They imagine postapocalyptic futures or dystopias where ecological collapse is inevitable, environmentalists are criminals, and eco-mindedness is the driving force of villains.
But these takes are defeatist, critics say, and a growing chorus of voices is urging the entertainment industry to tell more stories that show humans adapting and reforming to ward off the worst climate threats.
“More than ever, they’re missing the mark, often in the same way,” said Michael Svoboda, a writing professor at George Washington University and author at the multimedia site Yale Climate Connections. “Almost none of these films depict a successful transformation of society.”
The trend of linking environmentalism to eco-terrorism is not confined to superhero and genre flicks, Svoboda said. In the 2017 indie “First Reformed,” Ethan Hawke plays a radicalized pastor who plots to blow himself up at a church service attended by a polluting industrialist.
“It plays into conservative talking points that environmentalists are out to reduce the pollution and restrict lifestyles and are genocidal,” Svoboda said. “They create mass murderers who are the only ones fighting climate change.”
In a contrarian piece for The Washington Post, the film journalist Sonny Bunch said as much himself, opining that environmentalists made for ideal bad guys because they want to make our lives worse by banning straws, large families, plane travel and red meat.
“The past 25 years of the environmental narrative is about sacrifice and doom and not doing what you want and not getting what you want,” said Aaron Matthews, head of industry sustainability at BAFTA. “We don’t think that’s the right tone to get people over the line.”