Posted in extra credit

Conservation Follow-Up: The Evils of Capitalism

(By Martha S.)

Can you have progress, can you have capitalism, without the destruction of the natural world?

This is the question we dance around in our eighth episode, without really coming to a solid conclusion. My opinion then and now is that pop culture certainly doesn’t think so. The villain in the stories we discussed is invariably a version of Giovanni Ribisi’s  Avatar caricature, in varying degrees of complexity. But we are a people based on progress – we celebrate scientific advances even as they contribute to the capitalistic society that demands the development of our land into factories, the degradation of our air from pollutants, the poisoning of our water from…well, a whole bunch of stuff. Am I falsely equating scientific and capitalistic progress? Perhaps, but you don’t get the latter without the former, and many scientific advancements originally intended for good get monetized in the end. So I guess what I’m really coming around to is –

Are the ideas of conservation and scientific advancement mutually exclusive?

I don’t have an answer for you. But I do have some supplementary materials for you to read that might help.

Batgirl Annual #2 by Gail Simone
Someday we will do an entire episode on lady superheroes and you’ll get to experience the actual sound of my being radiating with joy, but until then, please pick up Simone’s Batgirl Annual issues. No. 2 does two relevant things: it pairs Batgirl with Poison Ivy, who (like Swamp Thing) is a physical embodiment of Nature Bites Back; and it tells an interesting story about a man using plant cells to grow organs in people that he sells at high cost to rich people who need transplants, effectively corrupting the natural world on a microscopic level. I like this one because it doesn’t describe sweeping geological destruction, but the subjugation of the natural world for (what else) capitalistic gain.

And then Poison Ivy Bites Back.

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Captain Planet
Listen. The main villain of this show was named Hoggish Greedly, which is too good for even me to make up. Regardless, the show gets a lot of credit for how hard it worked to instill a sense of both obligation and empowerment in its viewers – yes, we were told it was generally humanity’s fault for how bad we were messing up Gaia, but we also had the power (“You have the power!”) to fix it. That call to action is missing in a lot of these works; a problem is presented, and perhaps solved, but without a specific call-out to the consumer of the media.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky
As discussed in our episode, Miyazaki has a preoccupation with the relationship and causality between man, science, and natural destruction. Castle in the Sky is a lovely movie about people who created a paradise floating above the earth – its central thesis is basically that when presented with something powerful, mankind will inevitably turn it to destruction, rather than something useful or beautiful. (The exception being, of course, young teens who are still pure enough of heart not to be tainted by masculine ambition.) The opening credits also feature some truly excellent schematics of flying machines.

The Lorax
He speaks for the trees, ok?

Man of Steel
Not the central storyline, but it is worth noting that Krypton implodes because the core of the planet has been mined to the point of internal collapse. Even Kryptonians, smarter and more evolved than simple humans, are prone to hubristic destruction.

Pacific Rim
“We practically terraformed it for them.” One of the things I love about Pacific Rim is that there isn’t really a specific bad guy (other than the kaiju, natch). Unlike Godzilla, it’s not REALLY about how we destroyed the Earth with nuclear power – except that, very subtly, it is. Newt Geiszler (played by Charlie Day) drops a few lines about how the kaiju tried invading during dinosaur times, but the world was too pure, and now that we’ve poisoned it up a bit it’s ready for their take-over. And then Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi save the world…through the power of friendship.

Paolo Bacigalupi’s novels Ship Breaker and The Water Knife
Bacigalupi’s works are interesting in the context of this conversation because they are predominantly about the capitalistic nature of ecological destruction. In Ship Breaker, we meet our main character Nailer on a polluted beach, stripping a beached oil tanker of resources. The United States is a distopic wasteland, with portions covered by global-warming induced flooding and the population divided sharply along economic lines. Nailer makes his living by plundering the ecologically disastrous oil rigs that have been lying dead on his beach for decades.

Similarly, The Water Knife is secondarily about how a large portion of the United States is experiencing deadly dust storms and lethal drought, and mainly about the commercial fight over water and the land it comes from.

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