Climate Change Denial

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December 8, 2006


George Marshall @ 2:07 pm

Our guest blogger Martyn S. Carless is aghast at the penguin madness sweeping the US due to the current hit film Happy Feet.

As global warming continues its merciless and unabated advance, destroying vast swathes of the earth’s fragile surface, bad tidings are already coming in of the first unfortunate victims to fall to its dire consequences.

In the Antarctic – where temperatures in some regions have risen by an extraordinary 9°F in little over five decades – alarm bells are starting to sound as the ice sheets go into retreat and with them the rich and abundant species that have inhabited these far flung places for many thousands of years.

It is with this disturbing prospect in mind why I find it all the more ironic that Hollywood, remaining faithful to its festive season profits tradition, should decide to go ahead and release another feature-length animated extravaganza, this time featuring penguins.

not-so-happy-feet-2.jpgThe movie, not-so-aptly named Happy Feet, revolves around the life of a hapless penguin called Mumble who, unable to fit into the Antarctic world around him endeavours to find his place and during the process, discovers a unique talent for tap-dancing – hence the movie’s title.

And strangely, it is not lacking in its own environmental perspective. The penguins, threatened by the deep-sea trawlers helping to remove the oceans of their only food source, find an unlikely hero in Mumble, who takes it upon himself to uncover the truth behind the fishes mysterious disappearance and thus stave-off certain starvation for the entire colony.

Not surprisingly, the film has proven to be a festive hit with moviegoers everywhere and has stormed to the top of the US box office in its opening weekend. It would appear the world has all of a sudden become struck by penguin madness.

So what could possibly be amiss about a film that, after all, delivers its own virtuous environmental message? Well, if it has not already dawned upon you, here are some points to consider:

  • Cinema audiences, in their rush to see what are, after all, but cute and cuddly, CGI animated characters, appear to be losing sight as to the true sorry plight of their real living, breathing, flesh-and-blood equivalents, to which climate change now represents a very immediate threat to their continued existence.
  • The movie’s title – Happy Feet – one could be forgiven for thinking, gives the misleading impression the future survival of this species is certain and sure, when, in all actuality, the ice below these so-called ‘happy feet’ is actually melting away, making the penguin one of the most endangered of all the earth’s living things.
  • The unnecessary emissions released during the production of, and the subsequent viewing of the movie; when these are taking into account (not including the additional emissions that are emitted a result of the pre- and post-release merchandising of the film) this can only contribute to the species demise still further.

polar-opposites-2.jpgIn March of this year, a brand new BBC wildlife documentary series called Planet Earth was received into our homes. Featuring some never-seen-before footage, the nation gasped in awe at the breath-taking scenes the documentary contained.

Along with the other natural delights was stunning new video footage which captured a female polar bear and her cubs as they emerged from their snow-covered retreat into the spring sunshine for the first time. Such scenes of jubilation, as the mother bear rolled contentedly down the snow-strewn peak, her cubs following in pursuit; few could have been untouched by the heart-warming scene.

Yet the same polar bears, contrary to our misconceptions of them at the time, now face an extremely uncertain future in which their very existence is called into question.

Will we ever wake up to the sobering realisation that if we continue to live in our present state of climate denial all that will remain of the natural world we once knew will be but silly CGI creations, brought to life on huge cinema screens, or reels of endless celluloid to be stored in video archives? Such films, however breath-taking and wonderfully choreographed they may be, can never be compared to the natural beauty and wonder of the world we, in our destructive wantonness, are so recklessly destroying.

Martyn Carless is a committed environmentalist, writer and designer for the World Wide Web. A practicing Christian, he seeks to raise awareness of individual responsibility as regards the climate crisis. Martyn can be contacted at the following address:

[ps January 2007. BBC World recently posted a news item making a very similar point to Martyn- the Rockhoppper penguins have had two major population crashes and their decline is believed to be directly related to climate change. Click here to see news item]


hague-penguin.gifThe COP 6 climate negotiations in the Hague in 2000 had a rousing slogan ‘Work it Out!’ and a logo of a penguin in a sombrero with sun glasses. It seems that anthropomorphic penguins are regarded as universally engaging. Try as I might I could feel no humour in this logo- it felt pathetic and tragic in equal measure. – George

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  1. chris smith says:

    I really think the author should lighten up. Unfortunately, hand wringing environmentalists and other greens who blame the public for their ‘denial’ only serve to alienate themselves further from society and help politicians sideline greens as out of touch bah-humbug wierdos. Whether your comments are true or not is not really the point. Coming out against feel-good Christmas films like is the equivalent of trying to ban Christmas decorations not made out of recycled yogurt pots. Please, for the sake of the issue you care about, keep your thoughts to yourself.

  2. Martin says:

    why should someone keep their opinions to themself? In this case they are not offensive or rude. they may be challenging and we may disagree with them but do we not want to support a society where contrary opinions are viewed, debated and shaped? Seems hypocritical to take one stand and then say that someone with the opposite should keep their thoughts to themself?

  3. Mark Ritzenhein says:

    I have only recently learned that countries with large fishing fleets, such as Japan, mine the Antarctic seas for krill, which are then used for feed in fish farms and as seafood product for human consumption. Does anyone know any more about this matter, and what scale of impact it is having in the Antarctic? We visited Antarctica in 1992, and even then there were foreign trawlers in port at Ushuaia. I didn’t know that they were after krill then–and I didn’t know the scale and impact of GW, along with everyone else, either.
    The one question posed by the author, asking when will people wake up, is a valid one. Cutesy penguins or not, common people will not recognize the tidal wave of disaster looming over our heads until it sweeps over their everyday lives. None of us will feel any direct impact by the demise of polar bears and penguins, so it remains an abstraction. Warmer winters don’t really bother most people (I find myself a hypocrite on this matter, for the sake of comfort).
    Perhaps it would be interesting to know what others think would be such a direct impact which would make people pay attention? No vegetables at the market? Severe drought which burns one’s garden or yard to a crisp? What would the average person notice? MR

  4. daharja says:

    MR – no veggies at the market (bananas costing over $28 a pound/$14 kg) and our grass turned to dust is *exactly* what we’re experiencing right here, right now, in southern Australia (Melbourne), where I live.

    Our state is currently ablaze with bushfires, and there has been little rain. More fires are expected this season, and the summer has only just begun. Yesterday topped 44C (over a hundred degrees in your measurement), and more days like that are expected.

    I can totally understand the ‘gloom and doom’ mood of the writer of the article, because that’s what we’re feeling here in Australia.

    But my questions are: what will it take to stop people eating fish, and forcing starvation on the penguins and devastation on our seas? Demanding that more land be cleared so they can eat cheap burgers? Demanding more cotton clothing so our rivers are diverted and dry up?

    When will people see the connection between our vast consumerism and the devastation of our planet? What will it take for people to stop demanding new clothes every year and meat/fish every day?

    You decide. It’s your planet too.

  5. Chris Keene says:

    The problem with climate change is that nearly everyone contributes to it since nearly everyone uses carbon based energy. If I reduce my use of it, it won’t do any good unless others do as well. Just pleading with them to do it won’t do much good, so we have to have rationing. But our energy use is so variable that it would be impossible to have the sort of rationing we had in the last war, where once you have used up your ration then you can’t have any more of the rationed foodstuffs. Instead we should have a tradable ration (as George Monbiot recommends in his book ‘Heat’), so that those who use less than their ration can sell their spare rations and thus be rewarded, whilst those who have used up all their ration can go out and buy more.

    One problem with this scheme is that it would force ordinary people to be restricted in their use of energy whereas the rich could continue to do whatever they wanted. But this is exactly what happens at the moment, and the way to combat it is to aim for a more equal society by redistribution of wealth through the taxation and benefits system

    Chris Keene
    Deputy climate change spokesperson, Green Party of England and Wales

  6. Martyn S. Carless says:

    I wrote my blog out of conviction that, thanks to movies such as Happy Feet, the true plight of the penguin – and other such creatures to inhabit these far-flung regions – was being hugely misrepresented, even distorted; I was aware how my words might incur such accusations of my being a killjoy and that the film was only meant to be a bit of light-hearted relief. Well, it appears I am not the only one to have spotted the cruel irony that lies behind the movie (especially in light of the true plight that faces the penguins, featured in the film, at this time): even the BBC is covering the story now, as the following video link shows:

    Either we sit back and allow ourselves to be entertained by such inaccurate and misleading representations of the natural world, or we sit up and take notice to the reality these creatures are faced with before it is too late.

  7. In view of all that’s happened over the past 35 years, I have to express doubts about using the tax and benefits system to try to achieve a more equal society – at least until we have formalised the global economy to the point where there isn’t always somewhere else with lower taxes (or none) the rich can escape to. In any case, climate change requires a global policy and system simply because of its scale. Since the Chinese and the Indians will (naturally) refuse to cut back unless the West has done so, the best chance on a cynical basis might be for them to reach the point of being able to dictate terms. After all, they have plenty of low lying land and other good motives for acting on climate change.

  8. I agree with Chris Smith. I think it is very important for environmentalists to focus on winning allies in the mainstreatm, which means focusing on doing things that appeal to a mainstream audience without creating any bad feelings.

  9. CO2 tax says:

    My 9 year old daughter has no interest in seeing this CGI entertainment, recognizing this is as ridiculous distraction. It costs nothing to see all the denial ostriches sticking their heads in the sand. The mainstream faux news audience will unknowingly be a significant portion of the die-off to get the population of the earth back to a more sustainable level.

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