lois gibbs love canal

Peter Dykstra: Environmental movies screaming to be made

Last year, I wrote about a few of the many, truly bad environmentally themed movies that have been dumped, flushed, and sprayed on an all-too-willing public.


But there are inspiring ones just sitting there, waiting to be made. Here are some of the environmental movement’s heroes—and a few of its villains—ready for the big screen (or the little Netflix, if you prefer).

Lois Gibbs

With all due respect to the formidable Erin Brockovich, the Niagara Falls housewife set the standard for small-town hellraising. If Uma Thurman could sustain the rage that carried her through the Kill Bill movies, and if she’d agree to a dark-haired dye job, she gets the part of Lois Gibbs—who is still organizing in toxic-tainted towns nationwide.

Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson

How about a quiet heroine that saved more species than the entire Marvel Comics crew could save in a dozen sequels? Rachel Carson, the bookish government scientist/writer, came to prominence for her books on the wonders of the sea.

When she turned her focus to the avian holocaust brought on by the pesticide DDT, her book Silent Spring brought her fame and unleashed a smear campaign against her. Were she a few years younger, I’d cast Sally Field as the gallant Ms.Carson in a heartbeat.

Any actress who can play a Flying Nun, Forrest Gump, and Abe Lincoln’s wife is up to the role.

Ken Saro-Wiwa 

Saro-Wiwa was a Nigerian activist who gave his life for his cause. The Ogoni people in the Niger River Delta had long complained of pollution from oil and gas operations, and of violent repression when they complained. Saro-Wiwa and eight others were arrested and charged in the deaths of four Ogoni chieftains.

Although the arrests were widely viewed as a frame job, and despite international protest, all nine were hanged in 1995.

David Oyelowo, whose 2014 breakthrough performance as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, would be perfect as Saro-Wiwa.

Jacques Cousteau

He made dozens of TV documentaries, changing the way we view life beneath the sea. But the closest Hollywood has ever come to telling Cousteau’s life story is a weak parody, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, with Bill Murray in the title role.

If it’s parody we need, let’s try coal baron Bob Murray (no relation).

Bob Murray 

Bob Murray started as a miner at age 16, working his way to the surface to own Murray Energy, one of the largest privately held coal companies in the U.S. Gruff, barrel-chested, and outspoken, Murray was Big Coal’s biggest defender, and one of climate science’s most prominent deniers.

Bob Murray was fond of nuisance lawsuits against activists, journalists, and all those he deemed to be enemies of coal. He never won. He had broken onto the national scene in 2007 when a collapse at a Murray mine in Utah killed six miners and three would-be rescuers. Murray stuck to his story that an earthquake caused the cave-in, but seismologists could find no evidence of a quake.

Ultimately, Murray’s unsafe mining practices were found to have caused the disaster. Slap a fat suit and a shaved head on Jack Nicholson and Bob Murray comes back to life.

Koch Brothers 

Heirs to their father’s oil fortune, Charles and David Koch built an anti-regulatory political machine that helped lead and bankroll the anti-environmental backlash of the past 20 years. Isn’t that enough achievement to rate a Hollywood pic?

But like Cousteau, the Koch Brothers have only gotten the parody treatment. Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow played the eerily similar Motch Brothers in The Campaign, a 2012 sendup of a Congressional race steered by outside money. I can see Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, progressively pickled by aging makeup, in this biopic.

Okay, so maybe my Hollywood casting skills aren’t good enough for me to give up my day job.

But I’d lay down theater money to see any of these.

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: Lois Gibbs, Director of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice. (Credit: chesapeakeclimate/flickr)

Some environmental heroes—and a few villains—ready for the big screen.

'The three climateers' represent a new type of climate hawk on Capitol Hill

Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) are relatively young — at least by Senate standards — and also come from parts of the country that are facing different climate disasters.
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.

Why buying an electric car just became more complicated

The new climate, tax and health law signed by President Biden extends a credit for electric vehicle buyers. But there are new strings attached that kick in at different times.

‘We've been sold out’: Enviro justice advocates slam Biden's climate compromise

Even members of one of the president's advisory councils say communities burdened by pollution are being shortchanged by Democrats' grandest achievement on climate change.

Kentucky coal company faces federal charges for faking coal dust tests

A federal court issued an indictment against a coal company for falsifying coal dust tests. It could mean penalties and jail time.

Big changes are coming for the Colorado River soon—and they could get messy

The seven states that rely on the river for water need to come up with a way to cut about 25 percent of their use next year. That’s an enormous task.

This Dutch design swaps one car parking space for 10 bikes

A ‘fietsvlonder,’ or bicycle platform, lets a neighborhood trial the change from car parking to bike parking to get used to the switch—and see if there’s a demand—before it’s made permanent.

In Northern Mexico, harsh drought compounds water inequality

Poor residents in Monterrey are buying bottled water from companies that extract groundwater from beneath their feet.
From our Newsroom
Colorado fracking

How Colorado is preventing PFAS contamination from the oil and gas industry

And how other states, including Pennsylvania, could do the same.

fracking kids health

PFAS: The latest toxic concern for those near fracking

The “forever chemicals” are used by the oil and gas industry, but a lack of transparency and accountability makes it impossible to know how widespread contamination could be.

supreme court climate change

Op-ed: Reflections on the Supreme Court’s Decision in West Virginia v. EPA

Danger resides in the majority’s having invoked a sweeping “Major Questions Doctrine” to justify its decision in this relatively narrow case.

children health

Derrick Z. Jackson: Children will suffer the consequences of recent Supreme Court rulings

A rash of recent decisions by the high court will irreparably impact our children's health.

summer reading list

Our annual summer reading list, 2022 edition

Happy 4th of July! Here's some summer reading picks from our staff.

environmental injustice

Centering biodiversity and social justice in overhauling the global food system

“The food system is the single largest economic sector causing the transgressing of planetary boundaries.”

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