No, Interstellar doesnt mention climate changebut it could still do the problem a lot of good

by Brian Johnson

November 12, 2014

Like so many of us, I am really concerned about climate change. So imagine my excitement upon hearing that writer-director Christopher Nolan (of recent Batman trilogy fame) might be tackling the issue in his newest film, Interstellar.

The movie came out this weekend, and, despite working as an overall captivating thriller, the words climate change are never explicitly mentioned. Still, Interstellar has the potential to play a positive role in the climate movement. It can urge those who already see the impact of climate change to take activist action. And for others who have up to now have ignored the science, they may think again.

Interstellar follows Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), an engineer-turned-farmer making do in a land ravaged by environmental crises. Blight has wiped out wheat and okra crops, while dust storms threaten corn. Facing food shortages, governments now assign farming careers to children by age 15, and early on in the movie, Cooper learns that his son will have to join him on the farm.

Then, through a mysterious message, Cooper finds himself at the headquarters of NASA, where he is called by scientists (Michael Caine and Anne Hathaway) to embark on a space odyssey for a new habitable planet. Here even famine and dust storms take a back seat, while the remaining two thirds of Interstellar depicts worm holes, relativity and other cosmological topics fitting of the movies title.

One could certainly infer that Interstellar is intended to portray climate change. Climate scientists have linked climate change to the Dust Bowl-like conditions depicted in the movie. And anyone concerned about climate change will feel the power of certain lines. Once youre a parent, youre the ghost of your childrens future, Cooper tells his daughter before departing Earth.

But climate change allusions or no, why am I so hopeful Interstellar could do some good for climate change as an issue? Because the most effective movie on climate change wasnt Al Gores An Inconvenient Truth. It was the 2004 disaster movie, The Day After Tomorrow.

Thats according to research by Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. Leiserowitz conducted surveys before and after the release of The Day After Tomorrow, sampling views on climate change between those who had seen the movie and those who had not.

The results? Leiserowitz found that those who watched The Day After Tomorrow not only showed increased concern about climate change, but increased interest in taking political action around the issue.

Granted, The Day After Tomorrow was explicitly about climate change. The movies makers even said that raising awareness of climate change was one of their goals.

At the same time, this climate campaigner would never suggest that Hollywood-style movies should replace hard-fact documentaries as avenues of climate change awareness. I still remember the day that An Inconvenient Truth launched climate change to the front of my consciousness, where it has obviously stayed.

But for what Interstellar lacks in climate change mentions, it makes up for in powerful images and sympathetic charactersimages and characters that could make real the inferable threat of climate change for some viewers, where news and documentaries may have not. And for that, the climate-concerned viewer should appreciate this movie.

Leiserowitz adds an additional caveat to his research. The influence of movies like The Day After Tomorrow extends only as far as their ticket sales. Fortunately for that movie, it was an international hit, grossing more than half a billion dollars worldwide. Interstellar had a fine opening weekend, but its overall success is yet to be seen.

If you’re heading to Interstellar, expect an effective-enough drama that conveys a sense of what our future can hold if we dont address climate change. And don’t be surprised if you and your friends walk out a little more ready to take action.

Brian Johnson

By Brian Johnson

Brian is a campaigner with Greenpeace's Climate and Energy Team. Follow him @BFWJohnson.

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