Avatar: Big Movie with Big Environmental Themes


Image: 20th Century Fox

Update: Y'Know the Flying Dragons in Avatar? Tiny Real-Life Version Photographed in Indonesia

Dances With Wolves in Space?

I haven't seen James Cameron's Avatar yet, but after reading many of the reviews that came out yesterday, it's pretty obvious that the movie has an important green theme. Warning: This post will include no spoilers except for what is revealed in the theatrical trailer and in the average review (for more reviews, see links below). But before we get to the green angle, a bit of background: Avatar is a science-fiction epic that was made using cutting edge technology (a lot of it is computer generated). The story takes place in 2154 on an exomoon called Pandora (Discovery has a good article about exomoons) where humans have discovered very valuable natural resources. But before they can extract them, they first have to deal with the native Na'vi humanoid aliens, and this leads to conflict. So far it sounds like the classic storyline of industrial greed vs. traditional harmonious lifestyle. But there's an important point to make as we translate this lesson from fiction to reality.


Image: 20th Century Fox

Let's Not Generalize From Fiction

In most fiction, it makes for a better narrative to have a clear antagonist, some enemy or external force to oppose the main characters. We've been trained almost from birth to find someone to blame when something goes wrong, which might explain why a lot of people aren't very good with situation where everybody's or nobody's is to blame (gray areas).

But in the real world, things aren't so clear cut with most of the current environmental problems we face. Take oil companies for example. Many consider them villains of the first order - and indeed many of them are doing unethical things (ie. Exxon funding biased studies to confuse the public) - but fundamentally, the reason why those companies are producing 80-something million barrels of oil each day is because most people have cars and drive around, and buy products that have been shipped from far away, etc. Oil companies don't burn all that oil by themselves, we do. We're paying them for it, creating the demand.

I'm not saying that we should live like the Na'vi in Avatar or the Native Americans in Dances with Wolves. I'd much prefer for us to find ways to keep most of the benefits of an energy-rich society (and those benefits are numerous, including bringing hundreds of millions of people out of abject poverty) while fixing the problems. But to do that, we must be a lot more pro-active and actually work on solutions. Apathy is not neutral, it is part of the problem.

Avatar: Not So Simple

Unlike in Avatar, there isn't an external enemy that comes in and tries to ruin everything. All of us are deeply entangled in a system that produces a mix of good and bad outcomes, and we are all partly responsible for both. What we must do is maximize the good and minimize the bad.

The short version: "We have met the enemy and he is us." At least until we decide to be part of the solution...

Reviews and 'Making Of' of Avatar
If you're interested by the movie, here's a bunch of reviews I found:

Discovery Channel Videos about Avatar
Check out this video of the 'making of' of Avatar at Discovery.com.

Also, there's a short video (2:39 min) about the science behind Pandora, and a longer (20:54 min) interview with James Cameron about Avatar and Pandora. (I recommend the longer, uncut interview)


Image: 20th Century Fox

If you like this article, you can follow me on Twitter (@Michael_GR) and Stumbleupon (THMike). Thanks.

Tags: Conservation | Television