Soylent Green

Climate change, chaos, and cannibalism

Forty eight years ago, a sci-fi thriller predicted a future with all three—in the year 2022.

In the 70s an often-forgotten film predicted climate change, chaos, and cannibalism in America's not-so-distant future.


Well, we're underachieving on the cannibalism, but if you count the coronavirus as "chaos," we're doing fine on the other two.

Soylent Green, starring Charlton Heston, premiered nationwide on May 9, 1973, to mixed reviews. In a year when The Exorcist and The Sting lapped the field, its box office take did not make the top 25 films.

Set in a hungry, desperate New York City beset by pollution, overpopulation, and a climate where the temperature stays above a humid 90° F, life is so awful that euthanasia is not only legal, it's often welcomed.

The year of this future hellscape? 2022.

Aided by Hollywood legend Edward G. Robinson, Heston investigates the murder of one of the city's elite, the CEO of the Soylent Corp. Soylent provides roughly half the world with its nutrition in bland soy-and-lentil wafers marketed as Soylent Red and Soylent Yellow.

When the tastier, protein-rich Soylent Green hits the market, food riots ensue, and Heston sleuths the new, secret ingredient.

A Heston digression 

Charlton Heston's remarkable career is worth a few paragraphs. A World War II veteran, he built a strong Hollywood resume as a 1950's action hero. But Heston became Hollywood royalty through three Judeo-Christian-based epics: He parts the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments (1956); ruins the chariot-racing Romans in Ben-Hur (1959); and trolls the Son of God in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).

Meanwhile, Heston became a liberal Hollywood icon by stumping for the Civil Rights Act, and, in 1968, in favor of gun control. And his signature film work took an abrupt turn from a biblical past to a dystopian future.

Planet of the Apes (1968) starred Heston as an astronaut inadvertently propelled into a future where apes, chimps and orangutans dominate, thanks to evolutionary changes brought on by nuclear war. The box office smash also devolved into four sequels, two short-lived TV series, two remakes, and two more sequels.

Soylent Green never rated any sequels, but it preceded an abrupt political turn by Heston, who spent the last decades of his life as a conservative icon and president of the National Rifle Association.

"We have met the entrée, and he is us."

Soylent green

And now, back to Soylent Green ...

The movie may have sounded ominous warnings about climate change on filthy Manhattan streets, but it also depicted young women as "furniture" at the disposal of the rich.

Clean air and water, overconsumption, resource exhaustion and other 21st century themes abound in this clumsy, dated film.

Oh, and did Mr. Heston ever figure out the secret to Soylent Green's high-protein success? To paraphrase the 20th Century swamp philosopher Pogo, "We have met the entrée, and he is us."

Yes, as Heston shrieks at movie's end, "Soylent Green is people!"

Or, as modern-day talkshow guests are so fond of saying, "Thanks for having me."

Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist and can be reached at pdykstra@ehn.org or @pdykstra.

His views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate, or publisher, Environmental Health Sciences.

Banner photo: Charlton Heston in Soylent Green. (Bill Lile/flickr)

A California vineyard takes the next step in regenerative agriculture

A California site takes the next step in regenerative viticulture, demonstrating the value of animals in the vines, even during the growing season.
Sunrise in the woods

Get our Good News newsletter

Get the best positive, solutions-oriented stories we've seen on the intersection of our health and environment, FREE every Tuesday in your inbox. Subscribe here today. Keep the change tomorrow.

A boxed set for the birds hopes to save them, too

A star-studded, 242-track trove of songs and poems inspired by birdsong is the latest project in a series of releases raising awareness about its own threatened sources.

Europe rethinks its reliance on burning wood for electricity

A new proposal would significantly rewrite E.U. rules on renewable energy, ending subsidies for biomass like wood pellets.

Village uses Indigenous seeds to slow down Cerrado deforestation

Mato Grosso’s Cerrado forest in Brazil is supposed to be protected with set asides when logged for new croplands and pastures. However, farms often get away with protecting less than they’re supposed to.

Coastal Georgians prepare for future hurricanes

Georgians rocked by hurricanes prepare for future storms

More storms, from the Atlantic and the Gulf, prompt cities, homeowners to defend critical infrastructure.
aging Texas power plants
Sam LaRussa/Flickr

Texas power plant broke down after ERCOT asked it to delay repairs

Climate change and other factors are shortening the window when aging Texas power plants can make repairs to run at full strength in hot summer months.
From our Newsroom
environmental justice

Op-Ed: Black gold and the color line

How historical racist redlining practices are linked to higher exposures to oil and gas wells.

Our mothers' gifts: Readers respond

Our mothers' gifts: Readers respond

We asked you to share one "big lesson" your mother gave. And you responded

Lake Mead

Dykstra: A corpse in a barrel in a drying reservoir

And other climate change tales for our age

A mother's gift

Gifts from our mothers

What one "big gift" did your mother give you? We want your story.

Bird photography

Earth Day 2022: Amidst the crises, don’t forget the beauty

Words and images from our founder, Pete Myers, on how bird photography keeps him connected to and curious about a planet in peril.

fracking pennsylvania

Public health in Pennsylvania ignored during fracking rush: Report

A new report outlines the alleged missteps in protecting Pennsylvanians from the health impacts of fracking.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.