CalTech scientists discuss Pandora with James Cameron.
Avatar's director James Cameron is busy following up his monstrously successful film with an environmental campaign, from visiting the Amazon with Al Gore to CalTech last week to join a panel of scientists discussing the film and its "powerful environmental messages and impact." The event showed film clips with an annotated talk of whether that world is just a fantasy or if the lessons are applicable. We learned the environmental problems both Pandora and Earth face are similar and significant to overcome.
The sacred Home Tree of Pandora in Avatar. Image courtesy 20th Century Fox 2009
NASA astronomer Dr. Robert Hurt moderated with environmental microbiologist Dr. Jared Leadbetter, plantetary geologist Dr. John Grotzinger with the Mars program, and oceanographer Dr. Jess Adkins. They spoke of how Pandora's intense magnetism might create its floating mountains, how the Home Tree seeds resembled bioluminescent creatures, that termites' digestive systems lack oxygen, too, and that corrosive toxicity in the atmosphere could be worse than not having oxygen.
On the campus of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, students and professors in the audience followed along the discussion as the rest of us listened to the fascinating and complex backstory and science-based theories behind Cameron's imaginative world which required 300-pages to describe.
The microbiologist addressed the Home Tree's nervous system and chemical interactions of bacteria, the geologist discussed the likelihood of volcanoes on Pandora and the effects, and the oceanographer spoke of Sigourney Weaver's character Dr. Augustine's ethics in taking samples, asking, "How do we learn without destroying nature?" (Behind the scenes, Cameron is selling his high-resolution 3D camera for the next Mars rover, Curiosity.)
The scientists and audience members wondered: why a moon, why blue skin, and why unobtainium is coveted. Cameron explained that as a superconductor, the mineral is an "energy enabler" and so a key to earth's energy economy. His idea was to create a near-future environment (not a world that's warp speed away) with tropical forests, so it would look familiar, seem real and believable, in order to drive home his points about delicate ecosystems.
Avatar's director James Cameron at CalTech.
"The reason I made the film is to connect people back to the wonders of nature which we've lost with technology. Nature fights back - as we see, it melts ice," said Cameron, who feels the film can provide a deep impression than talking about it. "We have a responsibility to do something about the environment and not everyone appreciates the urgency of the problem."
"We don't need some new machine that sucks up CO2 and puts it in the earth. We already have one. It's called a tree," said Cameron, on Earth Day when he planted a Crape Myrtle tree in Los Angeles. Part of his Avatar Home Tree Initiative with 20th Century Fox, a million trees will be planted in 2010 in partnership with the Earth Day Network's Billion Acts of Green program.
The adopt-a-tree campaign commemorates the 40th anniversary of Earth Day in 2010. Avatar's DVDs and Blue-rays, released April 22, have codes to register on the Home Tree website where a map shows how contributions break down around the world (Australia has contributed 6,643, California 13,199 and the Northern Rockies 1,040). So far, 200,000 trees are being planted in Brazil, with 15 more countries to follow to reach the million mark.
Cameron admits reforestation with one million trees is just a start toward "saving the natural world from ourselves. We need a thousand times more trees -- and we must focus efforts on stopping deforestation first."
The Avatar sequel, which Cameron's estimates won't be done for about three years, will take place in Pandora's oceans environment, tapping into his hundreds of hours in underwater dives. No doubt, that film's eco-campaign will focus on protecting marine environments.
More on Avatar's eco-campaign:
James Cameron: Oil and Coal Lobbies Engaged in "Disinformation Campaign to Discredit Science
James Cameron on Why Earth Day Matters and What We Can Learn From the Amazon
Cameron and Gore Discuss the Amazon, Avatar 2
4 Green Lessons You Should Learn from "Avatar"