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Hollywood pushes climate stories and solutions toward center stage

The four-day event held this week highlighted how the entertainment industry can tell better climate stories while also addressing sustainability on set.
Last Updated : 30 June 2024, 11:00 IST

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By Ali Juell

In a one-on-one conversation about climate change, US Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm talked about growing clean energy production. But her counterpart wasn’t a policy wonk; it was Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins.

It was a typically atypical pairing at the Hollywood Climate Summit, putting a Washington power player with the director of a film that IMDB says grossed more than $824 million. The four-day event held this week highlighted how the entertainment industry can tell better climate stories while also addressing sustainability on set.

“We need help,” Granholm said to a theater of entertainment-industry workers, calling for assistance to accurately portray climate change and tell more stories focused on the energy transition. Doing so would help the public better understand what the future could look like.

The event’s programming also included film screenings and a variety of plant-based snacks, including eggless eggs and lox made from carrots. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences served as the backdrop for the environmental discussions.

“This is the only climate event where you’ll have a conversation about the climate, then get handed a headshot,” said comedian Esteban Gast, one of the summit’s hosts.

Lee Isaac Chung, the director behind the soon-to-be-released Twisters, said that the follow-up film will serve as a more scientifically accurate portrayal of storm chasing, a field that has also faced heavy criticism for needlessly seeking out danger. The movie will also show the effects of natural disasters at a level movies don’t typically portray, he added.

“We had an opportunity to talk about what people in small towns are dealing with,” Chung said, highlighting his own experience growing up in Arkansas. The US, where the bulk of the world’s tornadoes happen, has seen an uptick in the number of days that spawn many twisters, a trend that could be driven in part by climate change.

Accurately portraying the impacts of climate change and the energy transition is a major challenge for Hollywood. But so, too, is reducing the entertainment industry’s emissions. The Producers Guild of America released a call to action in 2021 about the need to address “sporadic and wholly inadequate” sustainability efforts on sets.

The average major movie production emits about 33 metric tons of carbon per day, according to a 2021 report put out by a group that includes Netflix Inc., the Walt Disney Co. and Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc., among other movie industry titans. That’s more than seven times what the average US vehicle emits annually.

Even though introducing sustainability on set can feel daunting, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees members Max Schwartz and Allison Elvove said sustainable alternatives for production equipment have grown significantly in the past year, including innovations like renewable diesel and electric generators with enough wattage to power portions of the filming process. Electric vehicles and other everyday solutions could further cut the industry’s carbon footprint.

While production emissions are a challenge Hollywood will have to overcome, an even bigger one is addressing climate pollution associated with streaming. That accounts for the vast majority of the entertainment industry’s emissions. Lowering those emissions is an ongoing struggle for companies. But despite the slow progress, Granholm highlighted the importance of continuing to work on cutting carbon from all facets of the industry — and the rest of the economy.

“May we all bear the scars of the most important fight,” she said.

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Published 30 June 2024, 11:00 IST

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