How Movies Are Addressing the Threat of Climate Change


Climate change is one of the biggest social and political issues in modern times. Carbon emissions, the rapidly increasing global population, and food production and waste all contribute to climate change, which is described by the UN as “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere.”

As the issue is so relevant, many Hollywood films in recent years have tackled the subject. Some are documentaries, while others are fictional stories of the potential repercussions of climate change, such as Snowpiercer and Interstellar. Some critics believe that the film industry is the perfect avenue for addressing issues such as climate change, as films and TV shows often ignite an intense debate about socially relevant issues. But is Hollywood doing enough?

Despite an uptick in climate change films in recent years, the film industry as a whole has come under fire for the waste it produces, as well as the environmental impact of filming in remote locations. The film industry is inherently wasteful and resource-heavy, which makes one wonder how the industry can successfully address climate change while it remains unsustainable.

Chris Evans with a gun to his head in Snowpiercer

The Film Industry’s Carbon Footprint

The average film production typically involves hundreds of people, from the writers, director, and cast to the catering crew. And those individuals contribute more carbon emissions to the atmosphere than citizens in other industries, by a wide margin. Researchers have noted that the average person generates about 7 metric tons of carbon annually. Among film technicians, that number jumps to 32 tons per year, reports Sara Bynoe at Asparagus Magazine.

Some film productions are more culpable than others. For example, 2015’s The Revenant had a carbon footprint of almost 470 tons, even though it was filmed in a remote corner of the Canadian wilderness. And this is despite the fact that the film’s lead, Leonardo DiCaprio, who won a long-elusive Oscar for his role, has been an advocate of sustainability and environmentalism for the better part of his career.

But the environmental news within the film industry isn’t all bad. Various production companies have taken steps to reduce their environmental impact, often with positive results. Notable examples include Sony, which diverted 52 percent of its waste from landfills during the production of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in 2014. Further, Disney’s 2015 sci-fi romp Tomorrowland achieved a 91 per cent waste diversion rate from landfills by employing an environmental steward to oversee production.

George Clooney in Tomorrowland

Cultivating Climate Change Awareness

As the entertainment industry is so influential within modern society, it is uniquely poised to address complex social issues on a large scale, including climate change. It’s imperative that the public fully understands the impact of climate change so that society can make larger strides towards reducing the phenomenon.

Climate change poses a significant threat to the health and well-being of humans, according to USC’s Keck School of Medicine. Along with rising global temperatures and record heat waves, climate change is expected to cause more frequent and violent weather disasters, an increase in insect-related diseases like Lyme disease and malaria, and poor air quality. Many public health professionals have adopted a framework to better plan for health issues caused by climate change, but those steps do not address or help prevent the root cause of the issue.

Generally speaking, films also do a poor job of providing solutions to climate change. Among non-documentary films, audiences are primarily introduced to characters who are living in a world already devastated by climate change. Thus, rather than focusing on solutions to climate change before it becomes catastrophic, films typically address the aftermath, where humans are fighting for survival in a ravaged world.

In Snowpiercer, released in 2013, the few survivors of a failed climate-change experiment live on a perpetually moving train as the natural world has become too frigid to survive in. The film tackles the issues of social hierarchies and inequality but offers few solutions to the climate change disaster in which the characters are immersed. It’s also too late for the characters of Interstellar, who search for an inhabitable second planet after Earth has become too toxic to live on.

Trying to find an inhabitable planet in Interstellar

Food Insecurity and Climate Change

Another aspect of climate change is the growing threat of food insecurity. Rising global temperatures are impacting crop production, and increased pollution has put the agricultural and meat production industries in jeopardy, especially the fishing industry. In the world’s least-developed countries, fish makes up roughly 27% of dietary protein, and a decrease in fish availability contributes to further food insecurity in those impoverished nations.

Yet few Hollywood films have delved into the global food shortage crisis, with the exception of Netflix’s Okja, a unique film that also addresses the need for sustainable farming practices. In the film, the Mirando Corporation breeds a race of super pigs, designed to be eco-friendly, cheap, and delicious. However, members of the Animal Liberation Front (based on a real international resistance movement) oppose Mirando and eventually uncover the corporation’s inhumane treatment of the super pigs. Okja mirrors reality in that respect, but does little to offer solutions to food insecurity stemming from climate change.

Okja on Netflix

As society becomes more advanced, there are more resources than ever that can help humanity combat the effects of climate change. The film industry should be at the forefront of the movement and produce more films that highlight the crisis as well as offer proactive solutions, rather than retroactive tales of survival. Production companies can also do their part to become more sustainable and reduce carbon emissions, which could prompt similar sustainable actions from moviegoers themselves.

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Written by Frankie Wallace

Frankie Wallace is a freelance writer from Boise, Idaho who contributes to several pop culture blogs online. Wallace currently resides in Boise, Idaho and is a recent graduate from the University of Montana.

One Comment

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  1. From my perspective, informed by the absolute harshest environmental perspectives (, these films are addressing the emotional needs of some viewers, but most are hopelessly out-of-touch with where we are in the course of our predicament, i.e. “What year is this? (piercing scream)”

    There is so much to do, triage to help people and nature. There is so much we cannot foreseeably do, like prevent ultimate catastrophe; nor even delay it considerably.

    The actual need and the opportunity is not to save the planet. That is an imaginary goal. The opportunity is to join together in selfless community for the last few generations. To demonstrate kindness, rescuing each other from rising seas and new deserts. To make art which soothes the pains of climate change.

    But I think this change in attitudes will not happen soon.

    The cursed prophet Cassandra wasted all her effort. Instead of predicting disasters which she knew no one could avert, she should have written poetry to console the survivors.

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