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)

Global Plastic Treaty
The third session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution negotiations were held in Nairobi, Kenya last November. (Credit: UNEP/Ahmed Nayim Yussuf)

This will be a big year in shaping the future of chemical recycling

The controversial practice looms large in state environmental laws, federal regulation and global plastic treaty negotiations.

With a presidential election looming, a wave of state-level legislation circulating, an international plastics treaty taking form and fights brewing over proposed facilities, 2024 is set to shape the regulatory future of chemical recycling in the U.S.

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
plastic chemical recycling
Credit: Unsplash+

What is chemical recycling?

When you think about plastic recycling, you probably picture plastic being converted into shiny new bottles, boxes and bags.
Keep reading...Show less

Texas faces increased wildfire threats due to climate change

As the Smokehouse Creek fire rages on, Texas grapples with the escalating wildfire risks fueled by climate change, posing significant challenges to property insurance and homeowner costs.

Delger Erdenesanaa and Christopher Flavelle report for The New York Times.

Keep reading...Show less

Harnessing urban stormwater could revolutionize city water management

Cities in the United States have the untapped potential to capture a significant amount of stormwater, which could lead to more sustainable water resource management.

Matt Simon reports for WIRED.

Keep reading...Show less

Pension funds in Canada are behind on addressing climate-induced financial risks, according to a report

A new report criticizes Canadian pension funds for inadequate responses to the financial risks posed by climate change, demanding more proactive measures.

Taylor Noakes reports for DeSmog.

Keep reading...Show less
From our Newsroom
algoma steel sault pollution

Cleaner steelmaking can’t come fast enough for this Northern Ontario city

Algoma Steel continues to exceed Canada’s standard air pollution limits for cancer-causing compounds and struggles with spills as it pushes toward a “green” makeover.

petrochemical shell pennsylvania plastic

Tracking petrochemical accidents across the US

A new database monitors fires, flares, spills and other accidents at petrochemical plants.

petrochemical houston gulf coast

Lives “devastated’ by petrochemical industry pollution in Texas: Report

New analysis illustrates the climate, environmental, and human rights tolls linked to petrochemical production surrounding the Houston Ship Channel region.

LNG gulf coast

LNG production comes with a price, Gulf Coast communities warn

US takes the global lead on liquid natural gas production and export, as economic promises and environmental worries collide.

LNG gulf coast

La producción de gas natural licuado tiene un precio, advierten las comunidades la Costa del Golfo

Entre promesas económicas y preocupaciones ambientales, Estados Unidos lidera la producción y exportación de gas natural licuado.

Ante la expansión del GNL en la costa del Golfo, la comunidad espera erigirse como un muro de contención

Ante la expansión del GNL en la costa del Golfo, la comunidad espera erigirse como un muro de contención

“La gente no sabe qué haríamos sin el petróleo y el gas. Esto nos sale muy caro”.

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