Image Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Climate change has been on the cover of countless newspapers and magazines in recent years. With the bushfires in Australia in recent months and the flooding and storms ripping through Britain, the catastrophes of climate change have been widely reported. The work of activists like Greta Thunberg and her School Strikes for Climate are taking over the world. It’s unsurprising that discussions of our endangered habitats are causing a stir of interest in all forms of media, including cinema with the emergence of the “cli-fi” (climate fiction) genre. With stopping climate change being the motivation behind evil villains’ plans in films like Avengers: Endgame and Kingsman, and global warming being the focal point in exaggerated disaster movies like The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, our changing climates are becoming the new stars of Hollywood.
Climate change is frequently explored in exaggerated ways with a strong lack of scientific fact: it is used as shock tactics for apocalyptic storylines, maybe to incite change and open the eyes of ignorant individuals but are ultimately scolded by environmentalists for fear mongering or spreading misleading information. This can be seen in films like 2017’s frivolous disaster film, Geostorm. Set in the entirely unrealistic future where humans can control the weather, Geostorm attempts to explore the dangers of extreme geoengineering as a response to global warming - while completely missing its mark in the fact-checking department. The Day After Tomorrow follows a similar route of replacing science with fantastical special effects in a world where a catastrophic ice age ravages the earth in the timeframe of a matter of days - and believe it or not, I was forced to watch this film in a crappy social studies lesson.
However, the environment and discussions of climate change in film are not just limited to theatrical blockbusters. The Boy who Harnessed The Wind, based on the autobiography of the same name, presents explorations of the environment founded more firmly in science. Rather than throwing our changing climate down the throat of consumers, it instead generates discussions of sustainable energy and thus by proxy, our reliance on the environment. Additionally, 2012’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, while fictional, highlights the consequences of the melting of glaciers and increasingly destructive storms on a coastal town in Louisiana. Yet, the film does not use it as the star of the film and instead as a side character to discussions of familial love and compassion. Utilising climate change in this respect, as a catalyst or an amplifier to surrounding themes, allows films to deliver their viewpoint on such topics as intended.
Documentaries must not be forgotten here when searching for climate change being depicted truthfully on screen. Documentary films like Chasing Coral have received critical acclaim through their emphasis on the science behind our changing environments and gorgeous cinematography and captivating narratives. The Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth and its 2017 sequel An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (which are in my opinion best watched together) illustrate the dangers of global warming, with the sequel offering a more hopeful outlook while still exploring what we need to do now, particularly in a Post-Trump, ‘fake news’ era. These documentaries highlight the fact that climate discussions don’t need to be founded in toxicity and accusations, and can simply deliver truths to promote change.
Themes of climate change are a vital tool in opening discussions around the environment and exploring the possible consequences of a lack of response from governments. However, a lack of science in some depictions of this issue may simply misguide or subtract from the truths of the dangers we face. Although global warming might not be as dramatic as every Roland Emmerich film suggests, it most definitely should be a prime concern of today’s world leaders. Realistic depictions thus allow a more rational exploration of the environment and promote a healthier debate on the topic. Climate change is a very real issue and the rise in appeals for discussion and change from activists across the globe illustrates how the climate change debate is not going to die down any time soon.