How film and television can help fight climate change

The screenwriters were keen to address climate change, but felt that others would not be interested or would be labeled as hypocrites.

Pollution and the vibrations of climate change. Image:

PARIS – Fiction films and television have immense power to change attitudes on political issues, but remain underutilized in the climate change debate.

Analyzing a database of 37,453 movie and TV scripts from 2016 to 2020, researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) found that only 1,046 — 2.8 percent — included any climate-related keywords and only 0.6% mentioned “climate change”. specific.

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

β€œThe vast majority of movies and shows we watch exist in a different reality where climate change doesn’t exist. This allows viewers to live out a fantasy,” said Anna Jane Joyner, founder of Good Energy, a consulting company that helps screenwriters address the issue. problem.

Screenwriters were eager to address climate change, Joyner said, but felt others wouldn’t be interested or would be labeled as hypocrites.

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

It helps that public concern is growing.

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

In the UK, it rose from 37 to 65 percent.


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

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

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

Her work showed how viewers form “para-social relationships” with characters on screen, exposing them to new ideas and people.

“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 mentions are more helpful than others, she added.

Two common tropes are the apocalypse — which is demoralizing — and characters bothering others about their SUV or plastic straws. “Nobody likes an argument,” Joyner said.

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

“We see a lot of stories about extreme weather, but they’re rarely, if ever, related to climate change … It would be easy,” Rosenthal added.


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

“Initially, Westerns were about conquering the earth, but very quickly we see that domesticating nature should not mean destroying it,” said Veronique Le Bris, who compiled “100 Great Movies for the Planet” in France.

The horror of nuclear weapons spurred change after World War II, she added.

Back in 1958, the famous director Nicholas Ray made “Wind Across the Everglades” about animal conservation.

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

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

“The LGBT debate has been pretty neat. You’re either tolerant or you’re not,” she said. “But nobody’s perfect when it comes to climate.”

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