Film poster from Wikipedia
I was lucky to go to the cinema this week and as usual in the few opportunities I have, I watched a science fiction film: Elysium.
Maybe it is not a trendsetter film but I kept me enjoying the action for almost two hours. It mixes some science fiction topics that appear credible with a lot of action and social drama.
Anyway, this is not a cinema blog and I am not more than a science fiction lover in different formats. The topic for me is: Was climate change present in the plot?
Not explicitly. It was not mentioned in any moment. However the Earth was a nightmare in the 2154, as in many other cases, a hot nightmare in this case, with a LA suburb that could be identified with any big African suburb nowadays. Meanwhile the few rich were living in a space station that seemed a giant holiday resort, no place in the planet seemed secure enough for them. So climate change is compatible with the disaster Earth shown in the film.
Book cover, Image from Wikipedia
I recently finished reading this wonderful book, located 199 years from now, more or less. This science fiction novel describes a solar system vastly colonized and terraformed with many new worlds (Mars, Saturn league, Venus) starting to compete with an overpopulated and at the same time desatrous Earth planet. In many senses it is a continuation of the famous and successful Mars Trilogy from the same author: Kim Stanley Robinson. Many of the future trends are similar in both as the flourishing solar system colonies with a decadent but still strong Earth, the differences between spacers and terrans, the struggle between Earths capitalism and new Mondragon based cooperative economies, the longevity treatments and consequent change of living ages, relationships, social structures,… But there is an important difference, at least from this blog point of view, in Mars trilogy the Earths disaster explodes due to a volcano eruption in Antarctica, in 2312 it is climate change the main factor for social unrest and hunger in Earth due to sea level rise, loose of arable land, ocean acidification, extreme weather,…
Each time the book action closes to Earth the explicit climate change mentions are clear and countless (I have noted more than 15), for example:
- Description of fife in the new Manhattan built over flooded streets is spectacular.
- Same situation in other cities as Shanghai is mentioned.
- Africa is suffocated by heat waves.
- A terraforming project in Greenland is explained to stop ice cap melt.
- The reanimation mentioned in the book consists of reintroducing several wild animals extinguished for loose of their habitats (animals struggling to survive nowadays).
This could be a the great book explicit and scientifically sound in climate change as Joe Romm asked, even if there are others from the same author more focused on that, I cannot talk about them because I have not read them, for the moment. This one is very clear and precise, considering what current scientific consensus thinks, and it is a great novel, already awarded a Nebula and nominated for the Hugo. And shows the importance gained by climate change challenge in the well informed Kim-Stanley-Robinson-future-world-prespective from the mid-nineties up to know (Mars trilogy was described as hiperealistic science fiction).
This nobel was nominated to last year Hugo awards and I could not read it then, but I found another good opportunity this year as the continuation is nominated for 2012 Hugos, it is titled Deadline. I really liked both of them, more the first, even if I am not too fond of Zombie stories, in fact, I have started reading the third book in the trilogy: Blackout.
Apart from my reading tastes, in this post I wanted to note the splicit mention about global warming in the first book. The book is a distopia describing accurately and plausibly a world deeply changed due to a virus that makes dead go live again in form of hungry Zombies. This is the mayor problem in that scenario, it affects everything and have killed a lot of people from the initial raisings of 2014 (the action begins in 2039). But some other big issues of the world are mentioned in one moment and one of them is global warming. So, the author considers it a big issue even in a world severely underpopulated (for example, the whole India is left for the “infected”, and those ones live in a very low carbon style, do not use cars or lighting, or computers,…). That means that een in the case of drastic emission reduction path, Mira considers there is enough inertia to go on with climate change. It is true that in the rest of the book it is not mentioned again or noticed in another way.
In the second book, just one year later the most explicit effect of the climate is the last terrible storm, undoubtfully an extreme weather event.
In summary, two very nice science fiction books, not closely related to climate change but firmly believing in it.
Last week I watched in the TV this film from the beginning of this millennium (2001) Artificial Intelligence. .
As usual, I enjoyed the film. The concept of the robot wanting to become human and the limits of humanity is always a fruitful subject. It was brilliantly covered in Asimov’s novella Bicentennial Man, filmed two years before; although loaded in this case with the emotional charge of a child and the cruelty of a bunch of fearful humans towards the robots (the scene of the mix between roman circus and rodeo with the only amusement of destroying undefended old robots).
The final robot victory does not seem a consequence of any war but just a better adaptation to difficult circumstances, making it more interesting. Two personal comments: the role of the film for me is the teddy bear, and the robots are too perfect, even too perfect to be human.
Regarding climate change (this is the reason of this post) it has an indirect but noticeable presence, as Manhatan is underwater at the initial time in the film. So dramatic sea level increase is supposed more or less in 2100 (this is my educated guess). The “small contradiction comes just later, when all this water over Manhattan freezes in an apparent very cold climate. How it is possible to have everything frozen in New York but at the same time a sea level of a very warm climate, and all this in a 2000 year period. The only reasonable explanation is that Hollywood loves freezing New York.
The end could also be correlated with climate change somehow. The humans have disappeared leaving the planet to very polite robots. They do not seem angry with humans nor interested in their destruction, so it seems only a question of adaptation to catastrophic circumstances, and surely there have been severe climate changes as shown in Manhattan. So the film could suggest a complete destruction of human beings by climate change, or maybe it was necessary to get rid of the humans to get the final recognition of humanity for the robot-child.
If there is one film showing climate change and talking openly about it this is The day after tomorrow.I saw some moments of it in the TV recently and in the cinema 8 years ago (incredible!!!)
Joe Romm did not like it, nor its message. May be I am less exigent or just am lucky enough to enjoy most of the times I go to a cinema (scarcely nowadays, it is a pity), I enjoyed it and consider it valuable to make us think about climate change. Why ?
Because even if the story is not terribly original it is easy to follow and get engaged with it. Because it mentions some of the issues of climate change, it is not only about warning the planet and using less heating, it is about changing the weather patterns dangerously, about changing ocean currents,… (OK it is not scientifically thought and can generate a confusion about climate change and ice age, but it is Hollywood and people know that films are not always accurate).
And the last reason to like it to some extent, is that it is the most explicit commercial film clearly related with climate change, comparing with many others that are just subtly related, this is a great positive argument. Many times films are great door to more elaborated knowledge for many, many people and we need a lot of people interested in learning about climate change.
I am going to start my small, personal review of science fiction and climate change with Matrix. Although this is not a film anyone would relate with climate change it deserves a place in the hearts of science fiction lovers, at least for me. The nightmare of being harvested and artificially entertained by a quite imperfect world not so different from the real one was terrible and fascinating at the same time and the visual effects were a step beyond in 1999. Incredible.
But I am not here to comment the film, just to find a subtle connection with climate change. Lets read the scrpit:
Morpheus : A singular consciousness that spawned an entire race of machines. We don’t know who struck first – us, or them. But we know it was us that scorched the sky. At the time they were dependent on solar power and it was believed that they would be unable to survive without an energy source as abundant as the sun. Throughout human history, we have been dependent on machines to survive. Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.
In this case not exactly climate change but solar energy. As Morpheus explains to Nero the machines were powered by solar energy, all of them, and humans induced a kind of black out of it to destroy the machines. The situation in the film of humans as energy sources, comes from that. Of course, scientifically a human body is not very effective to produce energy, it produces heat but wasting energy that comes from plants, and eventually from the sun. So this idea is nonsense but the faith of solar power in the late nineties is remarkable. I wish it was more widespread now.
Image from wikipedia
Recently, Joe Romm wrote a very interesting autocritic post , where he complained about the low coverage of climate change in media and particularly in cinema.
In the first moment I thought I disagree with this opnion. After a second thought I am not sure. But doubts are frequently a good opportunity, so I am going to try to use it to do something I had in mind since some time: to look for links between climate change and Science Fiction, books and cinema in a broad and not too systematic sense.
I know this is not a key issue. Science Fiction is a hard to define combination of science, technology, expectations, fantasy and literature. Because of that, it does not prove any scientific fact, but it can be an index of the interest of a subject in a moment and I love it.
Finally, in spite of it’s lack of provatory value it can exert an influence in public opinion and help us make more conscious of climate change or other topics, particularly in the case of cinema.