Activism and the Leverage of Sustainable Perspectives in Media and Culture
In March, Netflix published the runner-up to 2014’s award-winning film about the meat industry, ‘Cowspiracy’¹. Seven years later, ‘Seaspiracy’ ² zooms into the environmental impact of fishing, and the grave ethical problems within it.
Facing negative news about climate catastrophes has by now become routine. This two-part essay explores why the representation of these issues in the media is so important. Are we really becoming more sustainable, and what can we do as individual consumers to ensure it?
The issue of climate change has not decreased in relevance, on the contrary: Greta Thunberg provided a new spark for environmental activism with her ‘Skolstrjk för Klimatet’³ in 2018. The ‘Fridays For Future’⁴ protests spread like a wildfire and are still a benchmark for global climate awareness creation.
While the Coronavirus pandemic started putting life on pause globally in 2020, it has also distracted from the imminent action needed for our planet as protests were put to a halt. At the same time, the restrictions of movement and lockdowns in various countries have contributed to reduced pollution⁵ and restoring parts of long-unseen wildlife⁶.
As we all spent more time at home, we also spent more time on our phones, tablets, or computers. One could argue that, whether willingly or not, we all did a small part in reducing the collective carbon footprint. In Groningen, for example, stores catered to these needs through the Warenhuis Groningen⁷. There, consumers can buy locally without entering the crowded city, free and sustainable delivery included.
With summer at our doorstep, how we will continue as consumers when life starts returning back to normal soon? Will there ever be another normal, and do we want to go back to it? And how have these considerations for the future become manifest in the arts and entertainment industries?
The Unquenchable Flame
The world seems to have become more outspoken, fierce and powerful when it comes to climate activism. This sense of urgency has resonated beyond protests and manifested itself in culture and media. As we turn to entertainment, Netflix offers several environmental documentaries, such as Cowspiracy, A Plastic Ocean or Before The Flood, featuring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Whereas the latter deals with issues such as climate change denial and the impact of manmade carbon emissions, it is fishing where Seaspiracy joins the conversation. Partially set in Japan, the new documentary by British filmmaker Ali Tabrizi investigates the commercial fishing sector and answers problematic questions, such as what value the Dolphin Safe⁸ labels on tuna cans truly hold, and the lucrative business of dolphin trade.
In an interview with Dolphin Safe Executive Mark Palmer, Tabrizi exposes this label to contribute to dolphin and shark overfishing as a result of bribery on fishing vessels. This finding hit headlines heavily and has since lead to Seaspiracy being accused of misrepresentation⁹ by participants claiming their statements had been taken out of context.
Beyond discussions¹⁰ of whether the Netflix documentary applies an accurate lens in its storytelling, however, the movie does do the important work of raising the issue of sustainability in entertainment. In recent years, various artists and actors have increasingly been addressing the problems we face if we let our ecosystems collapse further.
While the last 18 months were not meant for live music, they did spawn environmentally focused releases from King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, The Hirsch Effekt, Architects, Gojira, and Enter Shikari. Even though all of these acts can be considered very outspoken in their music and at shows, the immediate urgency of the message on their latest records is striking.
In a way, this reflects our collective processing of what ‘sustainable’ means for us as individuals, and how future generations might look back on our actions if we don’t change our habits. Other than performing at Fridays For Future, German act The Hirsch Effekt¹¹ even dedicated an entire concept record (‘Kollaps’) to Greta Thunberg, seen from a dystopian lens in the near future. Track ‘Domstol’ puts a spotlight on environmental disasters resulting from the ignorance of world leaders and far-right German politicians. Spiraling into a twisted narrative that is as much truthful as it is chaotic, heavy music of all kinds is confronting listeners with these considerations.
Take French metal outfit Gojira¹², for example, who created a similar musical snapshot. The LP “Fortitude“ examines the crisis impacting the Amazon Rainforest and its indigenous communities in Brazil on “Amazonia”. The proceeds of this single benefitted the movement Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil¹³ (APIB), and it represents the importance of not simply voicing, but also acting on environmental criticism.
But it’s not solely music that is making enlightenment its mission. Elsewhere, famous celebrities like Zac Efron, David Attenborough, and Leonardo DiCaprio echo these sentiments¹⁴ across several documentaries and public interviews. With strong leverage, strength in numbers at protests and collective willpower to save the planet, who is then standing in the way of setting a sustainable lifestyle in motion?
More next week in part two.
What you can do
If you would like to be kept up to date with environmental issues, or read up on the mentioned documentaries, check out the following NGOs and websites: