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Movie Monthly: Climate Change Movies

By RA - Posted on 02 January 2013

Recently, I’ve been filming University of Victoria climate scientist Dr Andrew Weaver, who is campaigning as the BC Green Party candidate for the Oak Bay Gordon Head riding in Victoria in the May provincial elections. As I research the project (I'm calling it "Running On Climate"), I’ve been looking back at how climate change has been covered on screen in the past.

Moving chronologically, first is Soylent Green (1973).

It would be another 15 years before NASA climate scientist James Hansen (see below) would give his seminal testimony to Congress, but here was that icon of greenie leftism Charlton Heston sweating on a bike-powered generator to keep the apartment lights on as he cursed the “Greenhouse Effect”. As Detective Heston tracks down the source of a miracle “green” food, we see a futuristic urban dystopia teeming with street people and littered with Seventies gas guzzlers. Wonderfully dated sci-fi.

An Inconvenient Truth (2006) is the climate change movie that the deniers love to hate. Yet, for all the (mostly unfounded) criticisms of selective use of data, Al Gore’s Oscar winning documentary remains a historical landmark, a film whose message we should all be conversant with.

With glaciers and ice caps receding at an accelerating rate, the film's prediction for an ice free Arctic in the Summer by 2050 looks positively conservative. Extreme weather events are more common. The documentary gave us ten years before we reached the tipping point. It’s looking a mite close for comfort.

Picking up where An Inconvenient Truth leaves off, Everything’s Cool (2007) looks at how climate deniers, with fossil fuel lobby funding, have suppressed scientific evidence and created confusion among the public.

It uses humour and a poppy editing style to illustrate the difficulties faced by a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and climatologist for the Weather Channel, among others, in getting the message out. Considering that the recent US presidential election campaign passed with a deafening silence surrounding climate change, the issues that were vexing campaigners almost a decade ago (the storyline turns on Hurricane Katrina in 2005) are still, sadly relevant.

Released before the climate summit in Copenhagen, Home (2009) is a beautifully shot and quietly moving poem on humanity’s impact on the planet.

Glenn Close’s narrative takes a little time to work its spell, particularly given it’s sombre, elegiac tone, but with its swooping helicopter footage this provides a much more evocative explanation of our place in the carbon cycle than any PowerPoint presentation could. The full film is free to watch on YouTube. Go to 59:14 for the section linking the tarsands with climate change and melting of the polar ice caps.

No round-up of climate change films would be complete without mention of James Hansen’s recent Ted talk “Why I Must Speak About Climate Change”.

In the 20 minute talk (free online), the NASA scientist explains why he is being carted off by the police at climate protests when he should be enjoying his sunset years in quiet retirement, and how we can avoid a sea level rise of 5 metre (18 foot) "this century, or shortly thereafter".

Also, look out for screenings in 2013 of Chasing Ice, about photographer James Balog’s heroic endeavours to capture the rapid retreat of glaciers and the Arctic ice cap on film.

Another, new climate change movie, which I previewed at VIFF is Revolution, Sharkwater director Rob Stewart’s rallying call to tackle climate change and the catastrophic consequences of ocean acidification caused by increased CO2.

Also look out for The Message (2013), a post-Sandy documentary based on the concurrent book by Naomi Klein, directed by partner Avi Lewis, which will apparently feature the “Do The Math” campaign headed by’s Bill McGibben.

Another that deserves a mention is Age of Stupid (trailer) (2009), Spanner Films docu-drama in which Pete Postlethwaite plays an archivist, sometime in the future, looking back at a world ravaged by a hostile climate.

For completion sake I should also mention The Day After Tomorrow, the climate disaster movie which came out in 2004. I just watched it recently. The special effects are fun, even if the Science and the storyline are the usual Hollywood hokum.