06/12/2014 07:29 pm ET Updated Aug 12, 2014

The World Will End This Summer -- According to Hollywood

In portraying our response to climate change, Hollywood has made an enormous - and erroneous - assumption. The apocalyptic visions presented by the movies - endless landscapes dotted with the hulking skeletons of our SUVs and station wagons, piles of our collective junk smoldering under a brutal sun, no trees for miles, wild-eyed survivors scrabbling for old food - pre-suppose the collective failure of humanity in dealing with the climate-change emergency that is already upon us.

As usual, summer at the cinema promises a hefty dose of the post-apocalypse, from a radioactive lizard (Godzilla) to melting ice-caps unleashing a mysterious red liquid (Blood Glacier) to a snowbound Earth (Snowpiercer). Back-to-back dystopian portrayals have taken customary place next to cookouts, fireflies, and sunblock in defining the season.

In this string of dystopian films, we are blasted with a sense of desperation and futility concerning climate change that is, at its core, self-actualizing. Sure, it's just summer movie fare, but how many times can we stare mindlessly at these bleak scenarios, then exit the theater, blinking into the sunlight that is a normal afternoon in 2014, and summon the gumption to "fight climate change"?

When everything changes, Hollywood tells us, we are going to fail.

Hollywood's dark portrayals offer up little more than an escape from the heat - and an escape from the reality that, as hard as it may be to swallow, we can take action that can affect climate change - that The Hunger Games need not necessarily be our future.

But as it was famously described, such action is inconvenient. And it's complicated: a solution-oriented vision of dealing with climate change that is at once more vast and more dramatic than what has so far come relatively easy to us.

Instead of dystopia, imagine a movie in which the president of the United States and a Congress, populated by rational, thinking people, decide to make a wholesale transformation of society. (Like President Snow in The Hunger Games, only the opposite!) What if, for instance, the landscape of the movies showed a future in which all food is sustainable and biodiversity is treasured, not threatened?

What if Hollywood told great stories featuring protagonists based on real-life heroes Almir Surui and Tashka Yawanawa, indigenous leaders in the Brazilian Amazon. For years, these leaders have been seeking partnerships to develop viable economic activities for their communities without causing harm to their culture and the environment. What if Hollywood showed a future in which the governments of Brazil and the United States, because they recognize the great value of these communities' knowledge and stewardship of the "lungs of the planet," are in partnership with indigenous people to protect a forest that is vibrant and living many years from now? What if we could envision a future in which large companies followed suit in support of these communities, like the IKEA Foundation is doing now?

Such depictions need not be so far-fetched. Remember, when John F. Kennedy declared the goal of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade, very few of the technologies required to accomplish that vision were even invented yet. What he did in putting forth his bold new idea was to energize a nation to focus resources and organize an entire generation of people to visualize, research, engineer, and achieve a historic goal.

Dealing with climate change requires a massive shift in our collective cultural consciousness, and the task seems especially suited for the giant communications machine that is Hollywood. Its power and relevance transcend the U.S.; movies can impact the decisions and attitudes of not just industrialized countries but also developing nations, where people may have little to no awareness of the impact of climate change in their lives. We'll certainly need to develop new technologies to reduce industrial emissions, but we can also achieve immediate reductions now by supporting companies like Unilever and Nestle, which seem to be making sincere efforts to source their products sustainably.

National paradigms do shift. For decades, for example, the tobacco companies lied to us. We smoked. Our heroes smoked. Smoking - and the power of the tobacco companies - was part of our national fabric. It seemed unthinkable that we would have to stop smoking, or that Big Tobacco would fall. Yet enough people died, the national consciousness shifted. A new paradigm was born.

Can we not tear our eyes away from the dark dystopias onscreen this summer - as compelling as the scene of a car crash - and imagine a different albeit more difficult to obtain future? In such a paradigm shift, things that seem so removed from our everyday lives and frankly impossible - like saving the Amazon from destruction - will become part of our mission, part of our fabric. We will put down the fatalistic pessimism (as oddly tempting as it is), the same way we put down the cigarettes. We will face climate change and fight those who live in the greed of the now and are counting on Hollywood's nihilistic, hopeless vision of the future, who shamelessly trade the future for the present.

It's easy to limit our vision of the future to one shaped only by our fear of what may come, as Hollywood portrays it, and our shame of what we've done wrong. What if we were emboldened and inspired - and transformed - by what we could do right?

Sounds like a blockbuster to me.

This report was filed by Ann Espuelas.

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