7 February 2016

Two Films : One Problem

Before we plunge into this week’s cri de coeur I would like to apologise for the recent emphasis on philosophical matters. I too miss happy little posts on courageous bees or curious cats or unexpected butterflies, but we must bide out time until spring and her more charming subjects appear. Consider these winter posts as fireside stories told to pass the time while winter rains itself outside.

This week we are going to pick over a couple of films recently released by climate change charities.

One is the ‘I wish for you’ film made by a British charity The Climate Coalition, and the other is really a series of films called Nature is Speaking, but I particularly like the Mother Nature film. These are from an American charity Conservation International, which is huge, with Harrison Ford and the President of Botswana on its board. I’m puzzled why I haven’t heard of them before. The Climate Coalition is also a large organisation, but is more a grouping of many charities rather than a single entity. Its steering group includes Oxfam, Greenpeace and Christian Aid.

The ‘I wish for you’ film involves Jeremy Irons being the grandfather of a little girl who is played as an adult by Maxine Peak.

It begins with Maxine finding a letter written to her by the now deceased Jeremy. The letter, in reality written by Michael Morpurgo, remembers happy times in his garden, then goes on to say what he wishes for her, and all the children of the world, and the polar bears, and the whales, and then we all start blubbing. I warn you now, if you a woman of a certain age with joyous memories of children playing in the sunshine this film is hard to watch. The letter says “We have to learn to love our earth again, love her as much as I love you and you love me.” *Sniff*

At this point, as I reached for a tissue, my inner cold-hearted witch stepped in. “Just stop it. Pull yourself together woman. You’re being manipulated”

She was right. The whole purpose of the film is to create emotion.

I blew my nose, and looked at the film again. This time using my newly acquired Environmental Humanities viewpoint. What is the film really doing?

The accompanying campaign is called For The Love Of. We are encouraged to make a green heart, using any method we want, and wear it this Valentine’s Day to #showthelove.

Note the emphasis on love. The Climate Coalition is using love as a tool, not statistics and numbers. It is an appeal to emotion not reason. Charities, of course, have always done this, think over-laden donkeys and scabby dogs behind bars, and environmental groups have done their share of it, but this film and its heart motif has no other call to action other than to demonstrate your emotion.

The campaign’s website says “unless politicians know this is something we all care about, they won’t have the mandate to act”. I think that is an odd thing to say. Politicians won’t act on the science of climate change because their citizens don’t seem to care about it? Being cynical, that probably is true, but what is a possible consequence of saying climate change won’t be stopped unless you really really want it to? It puts the blame of all the predicted chaos onto the shoulders of the powerless.

“Your house is flooded because you didn’t care enough.”

“You can’t afford chocolate anymore because you didn’t show your love?”

That is a scary responsibility.

It turns the issue of climate change into one of human concern not one of simple fact.

We have to remember activists of any political persuasion are clever people. A lot of money and consultation time has gone into the design of this ‘For The Love Of’ campaign. Those people are cleverer than me. I don’t know exactly what they are doing, but I think it is interesting, and important to be aware, that large NGO groups are placing the 'problem of Nature' into the human realm of emotion.

On the face of it our second film does the opposite. The tagline is “Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature.”

In this film Julia Roberts is the voice of Mother Nature. At first I scoffed. Self-indulgent Hollywood nonsense I thought, but after I watched it I changed my mind. I think it’s magnificent. My inner witch loves it. If you’re a woman of a certain age who feels over-looked then you may enjoy it too.

The message is Nature will carry on without us. “Your future depends on me.”

“I have fed species greater than you and I have starved species greater than you.”

“Your actions will determine your fate. Not mine.”

“I am prepared to evolve. Are you?”

So what is this film doing?

On one level it is saying we are not responsible for Nature, it is separate from us, but if we want to survive we had better stop climate change.

I know my new Environmental Humanities friends wouldn’t like the suggestion we are not part of Nature, but I think the message is subtler than this. If Julia is right and we do need a healthy Mother Nature then we cannot be separate from her.  The human race cannot evolve in some sterile mechanistic world. We need to recognise we’re part of her, and therefore have to change our ways for our own good as well as hers.

Also note the personification of Nature.

Love and emotion are not overtly appealed to in this film. It appears cold and matter of fact, but those clever marketing people know the final outcome is an emotion. And they hope it is fear.

So here we have two climate change campaigns that use the glamour of well-known actors. Both are trying to place us in some emotional relationship to Nature. However, one suggests we take a paternalistic, nurturing standpoint, the other that of a frightened child worried mummy might abandon us.

I wonder if there is any significance in the first being British and the second American. Could we on our tightly managed island conceive of Nature as being powerful enough to destroy us?

Mildly humorous after thought:

Seeing Jeremy pretending to be a gardener reminded me of Monty Don. If I had to make a similar film I’d have an arty shot of Monty breaking his heart in a dark corner of his potting shed. I’m sure that would persuade people to champion renewable energy or do whatever we are supposed to do stop climate change.

Perhaps I’d also have a shot of Dan Pearson sweating as he has a green heart tattooed on his arm. Dan’s showing the love. I bet that man has got secret tattoos.

Conservation International

All of the Nature is Speaking films

The Climate Coalition