Farley Mowat

Green screen: The sequel

A nod to a few environmental movies done well.

Last year, I wrote about some of the worst efforts to incorporate environmental themes into cinema.

One of the all-time stinkers celebrates its 50th anniversary this month. On July 24, 1971, Godzilla versus the Smog Monster made its domestic debut to Japanese audiences.

Primarily known for stomping Tokyo, the giant reptile switched mid-career to saving it. Hedorah the Smog Monster rides to Earth on a meteor, looking pretty much like a flying loogie, feeds on, then globally redistributes pollution while giving audiences someone to blame other than heavy industry.

Now that was insurrection done right. Godzilla prevailed, of course.

But this time, let's focus on environmental movies done well and hand out a few laurels.

Never Cry Wolf

Here's a forgotten favorite of mine: Never Cry Wolf, the autobiographical adventure of Canadian writer Farley Mowat. His character is played by Charles Martin Smith, the diminutive actor best known for supporting roles in such non-environmental classics as American Graffiti and The Untouchables.

Dispatched to the sub-Arctic to prove the Canadian Government's case that wolf populations were a menace, biologist Smith came to a politically incorrect conclusion.

Dark Waters

Mark Ruffalo

In 2019, Mark Ruffalo starred in Dark Waters, a dramatization of the plight of Parkersburg, West Virginia, residents contaminated by C8. (Credit: Gage Skidmore/flickr)

Mark Ruffalo gained fame as the Incredible Hulk, but he's also reached for a high profile on real-world things that make him angry as well.

Off-screen, he became active in anti-fracking politics near his upstate New York home. The controversial oil and gas drilling process is now under a moratorium imposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

In 2019, he starred in Dark Waters, a dramatization of the plight of Parkersburg, West Virginia, residents contaminated by C8, a "forever chemical" used by DuPont since 1951 in the manufacture of Teflon. But Ruffalo does not play a victim, he plays Rob Bilott, the lawyer who waged a 20-year battle to bring DuPont to justice.

Big names in Hollywood

Dark Waters continued Hollywood's affinity for casting some of its biggest names as true-story, crusading environmental law heroes.

In 1998, John Travolta starred as Jan Schlichtmann in A Civil Action. He lawyered on behalf of neighbors of a Woburn, Mass., toxic dump.

And in 2000, Julia Roberts played Erin Brockovich, a paralegal who brings down Pacific Gas & Electric for contaminating rural Hinkley, California, with the carcinogen hexavalent chromium.

Jane Fonda is the undisputed standard bearer for combining acting and activism. A half-century ago, she was a well-established Hollywood superstar and an A-list Vietnam war protestor. But in what she later admitted was a bad overreach, she posed with North Vietnamese soldiers – viewed by many Americans as giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

Fonda apologized multiple times over the years, but to millions of Americans, she had acquired some heretofore unknown immunity to Christian forgiveness. Politics didn't vanish from her films though. In 1979, she played a TV news reporter who stumbles onto a nuclear coverup in The China Syndrome.

These days, at age 83, Fonda is still hellraising, hosting a weekly "Fire Drill Fridays" podcast on climate change. In 2019, she delivered her acceptance speech for a special British Academy of Film and Television Arts award while being hauled away in cuffs at still another protest.

And finally, no list of Hollywood environmental moments is complete without this one:

In this 1958 short from their waning days, the Three Stooges invest in "California smog bags." Really. Click the link if you must and go to 2:10, but spoiler alert: Even if you're a Three Stooges fan, this one's not particularly funny.

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: Farley Mowat at a book signing event for 'My Discovery of America'.' Never Cry Wolf, is the autobiographical adventure of the Canadian writer. (Credit Community Archives/flickr)

30 environmental advocacy groups ask PA governor to veto carbon capture bill

“Putting resources toward carbon capture and storage instead of renewable energy is wasting time we don’t have.”

PITTSBURGH — A group of more than 30 environmental and health advocacy groups have asked Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro to veto a bill that would pave the way for carbon storage in the state.

Keep reading...Show less
Senator Whitehouse & climate change

Senator Whitehouse puts climate change on budget committee’s agenda

For more than a decade, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave daily warnings about the mounting threat of climate change. Now he has a powerful new perch.
Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way
Coast Guard inspects Cameron LNG Facility in preparation for first LNG export in 2019. (Credit: Coast Guard News)

Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way

This 2-part series was co-produced by Environmental Health News and the journalism non-profit Economic Hardship Reporting Project. See part 1 here.Este ensayo también está disponible en español
Keep reading...Show less

GOP convention ignores climate change as heat crisis worsens

Despite record-breaking heat and public concern over climate change, the Republican National Convention focuses on expanding fossil fuel use, dismissing climate science.

Lisa Friedman reports for The New York Times.

Keep reading...Show less

Biden administration considers new oil drilling limits in Alaska

The Biden administration is evaluating further restrictions on oil drilling in Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve, potentially designating more areas off-limits to development.

Heather Richards reports for E&E News.

Keep reading...Show less

Maryland pushes for faster clean energy grid expansion

A new federal order aims to reduce grid bottlenecks hindering clean energy projects, but Maryland officials urge faster compliance from their grid operator, PJM Interconnection.

Aman Azhar reports for Inside Climate News.

Keep reading...Show less
global climate pollution
Credit: Xenia Hübner/Flickr

Clean technology advances help stabilize global climate pollution

Global climate pollution from fossil fuels is showing signs of stabilizing, thanks to advances in clean technology like solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles.

Dana Nuccitelli reports for Yale Climate Connections.

Keep reading...Show less
From our Newsroom
climate justice

Op-ed: Farmers of color need climate action now. The farm bill is our best hope.

Farmers of color who are leading the charge for regenerative farming, as they have done for generations, need our support now more than ever.

WATCH: Enduring the “endless” expansion of the nation’s petrochemical corridor

WATCH: Enduring the “endless” expansion of the nation’s petrochemical corridor

As mounds of dredged material from the Houston Ship Channel dot their neighborhoods, residents are left without answers as to what dangers could be lurking.

US Steel pollution

Nippon Steel shareholders demand environmental accountability in light of pending U.S. Steel acquisition

“It’s a little ironic that they’re coming to the U.S. and buying a company facing all the same problems they’re facing in Japan.”

Another chemical recycling plant closure offers ‘flashing red light’ to nascent industry

Another chemical recycling plant closure offers ‘flashing red light’ to nascent industry

Fulcrum BioFuels’ shuttered “sustainable aviation fuel” plant is the latest facility to run into technical and financial challenges.

nurses climate change

Op-ed: In a warming world, nurses heal people and the planet

Nurses have the experience, motivation and public support to make an important contribution in tackling the climate crises.

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