How film and television can help in the battle against climate change

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Paris (AFP) – Fictional movies and television have immense power to change attitudes about political issues, but they remain underutilized in climate change debates.

Analyzing a database of 37,453 film and television scripts from 2016 to 2020, researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) found that only 1,046, or 2.8%, included keywords related to weather, and only 0.6% mentioned “climate change”. specifically.

A similar British study by Albert, a sustainability NGO, found that “cake” was mentioned 10 times more than “climate change” in television subtitles in 2020.

“The vast majority of the movies and shows we watch exist in a different reality, where climate change doesn’t exist. This allows viewers to live in a fantasy,” said Anna Jane Joyner, founder of Good Energy, a consultancy that helps the scriptwriters to address the problem. theme.

Screenwriters have been interested in tackling climate change, Joyner said, but felt that others would not be interested or would be branded as hypocritical.

“A lot of writers feel guilty about their own lifestyle: unless you’re a perfect climate citizen, you can’t authentically write about it,” Joyner said. “But we need less shame.”

It helps that public concern is rising.

The number of Americans who see climate change as a big threat rose from 37 percent to 55 percent between 2017 and 2021, despite denials from the right.

In Britain, it jumped from 37 to 65 percent.

‘Parasocial relations’

Television has helped change political attitudes over the years, especially around race and sexuality, from the first interracial kiss on “Star Trek” in the 1960s to the gay stars of sitcoms. from the 1990s “Ellen” and “Will and Grace.”

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The latter was even cited by then Vice President Joe Biden in his decision to support equal marriage in the United States in 2012.

“People tend to see entertainment as frivolous … and writers who care about climate change may think that audiences won’t be receptive,” said USC’s Erica Rosenthal. “But that’s false.”

His work has shown how viewers form “parasocial relationships” with screen characters, exposing them to new ideas and people.

DeGeneres helped shape the debate over LGBTQ rights, appearing on her show in 1997.
DeGeneres helped shape the debate over LGBTQ rights, appearing on her show in 1997. Chris DELMAS AFP

“Even if climate change only comes up in passing on a show we love, it subconsciously validates that this concern is normal,” Joyner said.

“You need that sense of connection before you get to an agency place.”

However, some citations are more useful than others, he added.

Two common tropes are the apocalypse, which is demoralizing, and characters harassing others over their SUV or plastic straws. “Nobody likes a scolding,” Joyner said.

Simple gestures can help: characters expressing concern about the weather, using public transportation, or minimizing food waste.

“We see a lot of stories about extreme weather, but they are rarely, if ever, linked to climate change… That would be easy,” Rosenthal added.

conquering nature

Hollywood has long explored humanity’s relationship with nature, going back to the grand vistas of early Westerns.

“Initially, Westerns were trying to conquer the earth, but we quickly realized that taming nature shouldn’t mean destroying it,” said Veronique Le Bris, who compiled “100 Great Movies for the Planet” in France.

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Horror over nuclear weapons spurred change after World War II, he added.

'Wall-E' is one of the few films that directly addresses human destruction of nature.
‘Wall-E’ is one of the few films that directly addresses human destruction of nature. YOSHIKAZU TSUNO AFP

As early as 1958, celebrated director Nicholas Ray made “Wind Across the Everglades” about animal conservation.

There have been plenty of examples since then, from “Erin Brokovich” to “Wall-E” to “Don’t Look Up.”

But the current focus on global climate change is tricky for filmmakers, Le Bris said, perhaps because we’re all complicit on some level.

“The LGBT debate was quite clear. Either you are tolerant or you are not,” he said. “But no one is perfect when it comes to the weather.”