Film, media fight
global warming

Posted May 11, 2007

Green is the scene.

After the release of “An Inconvenient Truth,” Al Gore was at the center of jokes and parodies concerning global warming. In May 2006 Gore starred in the opening skit on “Saturday Night Live,” joking about how his last six years as “president” have changed the world for the best.

“In the last six years we have been able to stop global warming. No one could have predicted the negative results of this. Glaciers that once were melting are now on the attack. As you know, these renegade glaciers have already captured parts of upper Michigan and northern Maine, but I assure you: we will not let the glaciers win.”

South Park was also quick to jump on the former vice president with its parody of Gore, “ManBearPig.”

Gore is seen trying to convince the residents of South Park that a “ManBearPig” is on the loose and needs to be stopped. Randy Marsh, a geologist in the cartoon says, “There’s no such thing as a ‘ManBearPig,’ the vice president is just desperate for attention.”

In conjunction with the theatrical release of “An Inconvenient Truth,” there has been an awakening of environmentalism in American culture.

Films, television shows, musicians and clothing designers have all jumped on the environmental trend.

“Certainly public awareness is becoming evident,” Jay Jones, professor of biology, said. “The fact that ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ won an Oscar; I can’t think of any other film that’s been quite like it. It’s the right message at the right time.”

At the University of La Verne Jones, still wearing his lab coat, sits in a swivel chair in his small office.

“The things you would see on PBS, Nature, those expository films, films that showed how things are but not making projections in terms of deforestation, atmosphere changes, through the years we’ve seen more and more of those,” Jones said.

“An Inconvenient Truth” and other films may soon turn the film industry from amusing to informational and audiences may be looking to movies as a form of education in addition to entertainment.

A recent New York Times article looked at how big-budget studios will now feature films where the environment is the victim and humans are the villains.

Several films set to be released this summer including “The Simpsons Movie,” “Transformers,” a remake of “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” and “Avatar” will all feature environmental themes.

“In the 1950s, one of the big issues was about nuclear attacks,” Professor of Communications Don Pollock said.

Many horror movies released during that time tackled the fear of the aftermath of nuclear attacks. As a result nuclear attack movies and radioactive themed classics like “The Blob,” “The Thing” and “Them” emerged from this hysteria.

“‘An Inconvenient Truth’ definitely helped launch resurgence in interest in protecting our planet,” Kristina Johnson spokeswoman for the Sierra Club said. “Two years ago, people were saying environmentalism was dead.”

The documentary has moved the issue of global warming from the desks of scientists in the homes of today’s citizens.

“To deny global warming is absolutely absurd,” Jones said.

J. Emil Morhardt, a biology professor at Claremont McKenna College, agrees.

“Global warming is going to get worse; it’s bound to be the topic of films,” Morhardt said. “No one thought about environment until the 1960s. There weren’t environmental laws until the 1970s.”

Flash Back to the Future

Not since the 1950, with the threat of nuclear attacks – and briefly in the late 1980s – has the film industry become so politically conscious or has an environmental film made it to the big screen and had an astounding effect on the nation.

The horror films about nuclear attacks in the 1950s weren’t primarily for entertainment.

“It really struck a chord with people,” Pollock said. “It made it so we haven’t built a nuclear power plant (in America).”

“Some films have had such a great influence on the public that it has shaped the public’s view,” Pollock added.

“We had a few movies on farms and farmers.” Pollock said. These films include “The Plow that Broke the Plains.” (It) was hugely popular. (It) made the case that is OK to make a social security system.”

However Mark Meisner, assistant professor of environmental studies at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, disagrees that this new environmental consciousness among the public is a growing trend.

“I don't think it's a trend any more than is general environmental awareness and concern in the public's mind,” Meisner said. “I think these things go up and down.”

The Washington, D.C. Environmental Film Festival has witnessed the popularity of the film.

“We had two screenings and both were completely full,” Annie Kaempfer, executive director for the Environmental Film Festival, said. One facility seated 400 people. “If you take An Inconvenient Truth, it made millions all over the world.”

Kaempfer notes that the DVDs were sold out everywhere.

“I think because that movie really brought the issue to the forefront,” Lisa Barnet, representative for the Environmental Media Association said.

Following the Trend

Some television shows are either already on the small screen or making their way there. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio has been working since October to develop “E-Topia,” a show that will transform an ordinary American town into an eco-friendly community.

The Popular MTV show “Pimp My Ride” also aired an Earth Day special featuring Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and a ‘65 Chevy Impala designed to run on bio-diesel.

“I am not sure how much of this is environmental conscientiousness and how much is timely story telling and catching the public's interest,” University of Southern California Biology Professor Anthony Michaels said. “That said, many in the industry are very liberal on these issues and have no qualms about some proselytizing through their shows.”

MySpace has also launched its “Impact” section to inform a younger audience about environmentalism, the upcoming election and other world issues.

Impact awards are given to MySpace members who display a positive impact on the changing culture. In April, Myspace recognized those who have impacted the area of environmentalism.

Even Discovery Communications, which manages the Discovery Channel, home of the “Planet Earth” series is reported to be transforming “Discovery Home” to a green channel. The new “Discovery Home” (which will also be renamed) will feature tips to living an environmentally-friendly lifestyle.

“Planet Earth” has also taken the environmental trend beyond the thought of global warming and emissions. “Planet Earth” is an environmental series that displays various aspects of life on Earth.

The series features animal habitats, global warming, natural disasters like volcanoes and tsunamis and a look at Pompeii. “Planet Earth” was an 11-part series shown every Sunday through April 22.

Many clothing designers, too, have taken steps toward being environmentally friendly, yet chic.

In March, H&M launched its spring collection featuring dresses, blouses, jeans and sweatshirts made from organic cotton.

“As awareness grows, so does the consumer demand for environmentally sustainable products and services,” said ULV associate professor of biology Christine Broussard. “I believe businesses are getting the message that environmentally sound practices and products are profitable.”

Environmentally conscious music is also in vogue. Jack Johnson and Live Earth are the two main concerts moving forward the agenda of helping and protecting the earth.

Johnson hosted the fourth annual Kokua Festival on Earth Day weekend in Honolulu. The concert featured environmentally-safe clothing and shoes as well as organic yogurt. It also had alternative energy demonstrations, products and services from “green” companies and information on environmental groups in the area.

Sheryl Crow had a two-week-long Stop Global Warming College Tour in hope informing college students about their part in stopping global warming. Crow’s tour bus ran on bio-diesel fuel.

Even corporate giant General Electric has also jumped on the green band wagon,with new commercials pushing alternative energy including solar and wind energy.

The “ecomagination” advertising is designed to “put into practice GE’s belief that financial and environmental performance can work together to drive company growth, while taking on some of the world’s biggest challenges,” according to GE’s Web site.

“Green is in again,” Michaels said. “There are more and more environmental themes on TV and in movies. This is both in content and advertising.”

Prestigious magazines like Vanity Fair and Fortune have launched their own environmentally-aware issues. Vanity Fair published its second annual “Green Issue” for May featuring Leonardo DiCaprio on the cover.

Fortune magazine released its April 2 issue featuring Yvon Chouinard, founder of “The Coolest Company On The Planet,” Patagonia. Fortune magazine claims this is “The Only Green Issue That Matters” on the cover.

"The showcasing of environmental causes in the media is not new,” Broussard said. “What is new is that the public has become more aware of the real dangers of our environmental irresponsibility.”

Subtle Messages

“Up until ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ I really hadn’t seen Hollywood take initiative on the subject,” Michelle Lopez, a film student at USC said.

Other recently released films and animated films have also tackled the issue of environmental destruction. These films with environmental themes include “Cars,” “Over the Hedge,” “March of the Penguins,” and “The Day After Tomorrow.”

“The Day After Tomorrow” released in 2004, tried a theatrical approach to warn people about global warming.

“Are people open to movies that deal with environmental issues in a serious way?” Pollock said. “I hope so.”

Jones believes Americans might be seeing more documentaries that deal with environmental themes in the future.

Other Inspirations

At Target stores, printed on the side of the bag is “10 Ways to Reuse Your Target Bag.” Stater Bros. patrons can also do their part by purchasing canvas bags printed with the Stater Bros. logo to carry their groceries home.

According to the Sierra Club, ”When one ton of plastic bags is reused or recycled, the energy equivalent of 11 barrels of oil is saved.”

Some grocery stores provide a recycle bin for used bags. The Sierra Club also notes that “A sturdy, reusable bag needs only be used 11 times to have a lower environmental impact than using 11 disposable plastic bags.”

“I sense that there has been a real change in the mood of the country towards conservation over the last year,” said Chris Palmer, director for the Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University. “More and more people are seeing conservation as both a moral and an economic issue. In other words, people can save money by doing the right thing.”

Some media outlets including www.treehugger.com and The Toronto Star are predicting eco-friendly proms will become a trend among the younger generation.

Churches may also follow the trend of promoting the environment in their services. The La Verne United Methodist Church held its Earth Day celebration one week early. Their sermons and hymns were all devoted to “creation” and protecting that creation.

“Christians have a responsibility to save the earth,” Alma Roberts, chairwoman of education at La Verne United Methodist Church said. “We need to be active. With global warming, the earth is in crisis right now.”

The Academy Awards also took many steps to provide an environmentally-friendly atmosphere.

All supplies, resources and services chosen by the Oscars organizers were selected in order to reduce the ecological footprint of the Oscars. Organic food was also served at the Governor’s Ball.

“Some businesses are recognizing that they will lose money if they do not adopt environmentally sound practices and sell environmentally sound products,” Broussard said.

Convenience Fee

Morhardt believes the more the public hears about these kinds of documentaries similar to “An Inconvenient Truth,” the more people will understand the seriousness of issues like global warming.

“Hollywood studios generally expect the films they invest in to produce a return, so they must believe that environmental themes hold some appeal for audiences,” Meisner said.

Jones believes that the science for global warming is evident, but if it turns out there is no global warming and the skeptics were right, “It wouldn’t matter; we still need to conserve our resources. It’s a matter of national security to make us energy self-sufficient.”

“There’s so many things that individuals can do: walk, carry canvas bags, use fluorescent lights,” Barnet said.

In addition to educating themselves on the subject of global warming and other environmental issues, the public should go out and do what they can to utilize their knowledge.

“I’ve seen a little change around here,” Jones said. “I’ve seen people actually internalizing the problem, rather than just going through the motions. They have to see the picture with clarity and their actions are contributing to it.”

Alexandra Lozano can be reached at alozano@ulv.edu.

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