by on Jul.21, 2008, under environment, movies

A few weeks ago I took my kids to see the latest Disney/Pixar production, Wall-E.  As was to be expected, it was amazing – stellar CG work combined with a heart-warming story that both kids and adults can enjoy.  But I can’t help but continue to ponder the sub-text of this film (I will do my best not to ruin the movie for those who haven’t seen it yet, but procede with caution).

The setting of the movie is Earth some 800 years in the future.  And what we find is a landscape riddled with garbage.  And it would seem that the failure of society to avoid such a fate is directly tied to the success of american consumerism.  And what is truly scary about this nihilistic outlook is that it may not be much of an exaggeration.

While our behavior as Americans is not necessarily a precise mirror of the rest of the world, areas with small ecological footprints are in the minority among most cultures.  As a result of recent rhetoric (and unfortunately moreso due to movies like this one), the idea of living cleaner and greener is becoming more mainstream, but it will take more than a couple years of bashing the world over the head with the club of awareness to turn around millennia of unbridled growth and consumption.  We are like a caterpillar chowing down on leaves and only now realizing we may run out of leaves.  While we can try to manage our appetite to an extent, we are bound to grow or die and we can’t exactly switch trees.  In Wall-E, we found a way to build a cocoon – in many ways, I don’t think we are there yet.

One idea that I’ve long held that this movie affirmed was that whatever happens to us as a species – whether we recover and find balance or continue to consume and ravage the Earth until we collapse – the Earth will live on in spite of us.  This world we live in came to be through billions of years of coalescence and millions of years of evolution under more volatile circumstances than we observe today.  We could manage to wipe the slate clean through a nuclear holocaust or some other machination of destruction not yet imagined and it will simply mean a new chapter in a much longer story.  I’d like to think that we can find a way to continue beyond the chapter we are in.  I guess only time will tell.  If some of us can imagine a version of our future where in a world ravaged by our carelessness can result in an unlikely romance between a pair of robots that manage to wake up humanity by overzealously trying to do their jobs, then made there is hope.

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4 Comments for this entry

  • Corina

    Here is a point that I think that you are missing. The Earth will not live on in spite of us. The Earth does not live. It is a rock, a dynamic rock, spitting fire, out gassing, active, yet it does not live. The ecology of the earth is a delicate balance. It is an extraordinary thing that the factors to support life came together on this tiny rock. If, as you suggest, manage to wipe the slate clean through a nuclear holocaust, do you honestly think that those amazing combination of factors might once again present itself, life returning? It may, but I think that you take for granted the true amazing journey the earth took coalescing during those billions of years. And is it the point? You simply are giving ammunition to those that believe that those of us trying to limit our footprint (and I know that you try to limit yours as well), are hindering their civil liberties and their way of life. To them, simply the words “living green” is a threat, a personal affront to them. So, while I understand your point in saying that sometimes we give ourselves too much importance, I respectfully disagree in this case. We have more power than we should when it deals with the health of the planet. It is in our hands what we do with that power.

  • SilentBen

    Your points are salient, but I think you are taking me too literally. When I speak of the the living Earth, I refer to more than just the rock we are sitting on, but the ecosystem that has developed on it. And I don’t mean to trivialize efforts to preserve a balance, but rather point out that the balance we need to preserve is not so much to save the Earth, but ourselves. Certainly if we wipe ourselves out, the ecosystem will not be the same, but I doubt it would be desolated by our doing (although it is possible) – there will still be some life left and that life will heal and evolve and the Earth will “live” on. But the important point here is that if we continue to live as we do, we most likely will not be able to sustain ourselves for as long as we’d like to think we can. In a way, I think that the outlook of Wall-E is optimistic. But I hope that it is realistically so, because if we don’t make an effort soon, no amount of technology may be able to turn the tide.

  • AlexM

    Your blog is interesting!

    Keep up the good work!

  • Olaf

    Big thanks. Good idea. I’ll become your regular reader and subscribe on RSS.

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