Aronofsky’s “Noah” embraces a brand of faith-based environmentalism that’s increasingly popular with young religious believers.
For a brief moment in Darren Aronofsky’s hit religious epic film Noah, we see the great Flood from space. From that vantage point, it looks much like an atmospheric event of the sort that a NASA satellite might photograph, so we can all share it on Facebook. So what does biblical cataclysm look like from orbit? Beautifully, and yet terrifyingly, the entire Earth appears to be draped in a quilt of hurricanes, each cyclone nestled alongside the next.
“There is a huge statement in the film, a strong message about the coming flood from global warming,” Aronofsky told The New Yorker in an extensive profile. The film also contains a depiction of the Big Bang (something doubted by 51 percent of Americans, according to a recent survey), fins-to-limbs evolution, and the very clear implication that the biblical “days” of the creation were only metaphorical days, not literal, 24-hour ones.
In other words, you might say Noah is waving the red cape in front of fundamentalist Christianity. No wonder, as Mother Jones‘ Asawin Suebsaeng puts it, the film has inspired a “flood of religious freak-outs.”
But the freak-outs shouldn’t get all the attention: No matter what the Christian right may say, Noah is a deeply religious and spiritual film containing an authentic moral message. And that message feeds strongly into a vital and growing religious tradition of our time, one that especially appeals to younger believers: faith-based environmentalism, or what is sometimes called “creation care,” which uses biblically based moral imperatives to impel conservation and stewardship. (Aronofsky and his Noah cowriter Ari Handel will be attending an event later today at the Center for American Progress to discuss just this aspect of the film. You can watch a live stream right here beginning at 3 p.m. EDT today.)
Certainly, you couldn’t fairly call Noah an irreligious movie. Aronofsky himself, whose notable past films include The Wrestler and Black Swan, is a “not very religious” Jew who has said of his spirituality, “I think it’s always changing. I think I definitely believe.”
As for the film itself: Aronofsky and Handel relied heavily on not just the text of the Bible (where the story of Noah encompasses roughly four chapters of the book of Genesis), but also Jewish Midrash, ancient explications of religious texts. The result is creative, sometimes idiosyncratic, heavily influenced by Jewish theology, and above all, deeply environmental. In other words, it’s a film that may tick off people who are very rigid in their biblical literalism, but for other believers, it’s an environmental epic that can be resonant indeed.
Aronofsky has called Noah the “first environmentalist.” The film goes further: It actively interprets the Bible in favor of those who argue that the book of Genesis requires us all to be good “stewards” of the creation—and in strong opposition to those who read its language about mankind having “dominion…over all the earth, and over every creeping thing” as mainly implying that all this exists for us. (Who holds such a view? Well, here’s Rick Santorum: “Man is here to use the resources, and use them wisely, to care for the Earth, to be a steward the Earth, but we’re not here to serve the Earth, the Earth is not the objective. Man is the objective.”)
Noah tells us, bluntly, that that’s what the bad guys think. Those bad guys in the film are led by a figure named Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), who very early on declares, “Damned if I don’t take what I want.” Tubal-Cain represents the line of Cain (Adam’s son, who killed his brother Abel) and thus embodies the biblical “wickedness” of mankind just before the Flood; in the film, that wickedness is embodied, in Tolkienlike fashion, as industrialization, environmental despoilment, and pollution. And most of all, the killing and eating of animals: We see Tubal-Cain and his followers do this repeatedly throughout the film.
In the film, Tubal-Cain’s interpretation of dominion is “more of a conquest, take whatever you need for your own pleasure,” explains David Jenkins, an evangelical Christian and the president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, a group that believes that “the true conservative will be a good steward of the natural systems and resources that sustain life on earth.”
“And that sometimes is the way that people seem to have interpreted the word ‘dominion,’ when actually, if you go back to the Hebrew language, and you understand that in its true context, dominion is basically ‘authority,’” continues Jenkins. “And with any kind of authority…it comes with great responsibility and a sense of stewardship and caring.”
Noah, by contrast, represents the line of Seth (another of Adam’s sons), and their clan’s approach to the environment is vastly different. The key word, as Noah’s father, Lamech, puts it, is “responsibility.” Noah passes that message on to his son Ham: “All of these innocent creatures are in our care,” he tells the boy after Ham wrongly picks a flower. “It’s our job to look after them.”
Later in the film, in a rather disturbing psychological plot twist, Russell Crowe’s Noah becomes so appalled at the evils of men (after watching a hungry mob tear apart an animal and devour it) that he wrongly interprets God’s will to be that mankind should go extinct, leaving only the “innocent” animals on Earth. This leads to plenty of drama, including Noah briefly threatening to kill his own granddaughters because they might some day bear children and lead to a continuance of humanity. But he isn’t actually up to it, and neither is the film. Noah isn’t anti-human; it’s just very strongly in favor of the idea that humans have serious environmental responsibilities, and that the Bible itself tells them so.
The film thus represents pretty strong reinforcement for a social movement that has gathered increasing momentum in the past half decade or more: the “creation care” movement. For just as the film Noah does, followers of this movement interpret the Bible’s language about “dominion” not to mean domination or simple mastery, but rather, to imply responsibility and the need for environmental stewardship.
One reason this movement has drawn such attention is that in addition to its obvious mainline religious appeal, it seems able to inspire at least some evangelical Christians to go against our expectations about the Christian right, and support solutions to global warming. “I think that’s part of the interest—it’s not part of the evangelical stereotype,” says Katharine Wilkinson, author of the book Between God and Green: How Evangelicals Are Cultivating a Middle Ground on Climate Change.
Granted, the majority of that demographic group remains in denial about climate change. According to a 2013 study of evangelicals’ climate views published in the journal Global Environmental Change, evangelicals were less likely than average Americans to think global warming is happening, to believe that it is caused by humans, and to believe that most scientists think it is happening. Consider: 64 percent of nonevangelicals, but only 44 percent of evangelicals, agree that climate change is “caused mostly by human activities.”
Evangelicals are diverse, however: Those who are female, more egalitarian, and overall less conservative in their values are much more likely to believe climate change is real and to want to do something about it, the study found. And as Wilkinson emphasizes, young evangelicals are particularly likely to accept climate change. “You see kind of a gap between evangelicals and the average American, in terms of their belief [in global warming],” she says, “but you see that gap basically disappear with evangelicals under 30. They don’t look any different from other young Americans.”
Overall, then, you might say that a large and growing minority of evangelicals seem very open to messages about why it is their biblical responsibility to take care of the creation, and also willing to apply this view to the climate issue specifically. “I see more and more evangelicals engaged when we talk about creation care,” says the Reverend Mitchell Hescox, president of the Evangelical Environmental Network. “We’ve gone from 15,000 email people to a quarter of a million people who regularly read our messages.”
So how will the film speak to this audience? Hescox is skeptical, worrying that “the message of caring for God’s creation got lost in the discussion over the literary license that was taken in creating and producing the story for the film.”
David Jenkins of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship feels differently, however, arguing that the film is “perfectly consistent with the biblical account.”
“That’s the great thing about a movie as a vehicle, for that two hours, you’ve got them sitting there and that’s what they’re engrossed in, no outside influences come in and influence anything,” says Jenkins. “So I think it’s reasonable to assume that if something is well done and it’s consistent with Scripture, it will have an impact.”
And once again, that will probably be most true of the young evangelicals, a large number of whom will surely see the film. “Young people especially, I think, young people don’t have the same commitment to dogma, or biblical literalism that their parents and elders have,” says the Reverend Michael Dowd, a climate change activist. “They’re living in a milieu, living in a culture where it’s not cool to trash the planet, and it’s beginning to become shameful to hold a ‘the end of the world is right around the corner’ worldview, so therefore, we can do whatever we want to the planet.”
The film is already a major success in Hollywood terms. With a budget of $125 million, it has so far brought in over $300 million worldwide, and has been out for less than a month. In other words, Noah is a big enough cultural event that it could substantially move the needle of public opinion, much like another environmental-catastrophe blockbuster, 2004′s The Day After Tomorrow, was later shown to have done. In one study, 83 percent of people who had viewed that film were “somewhat” or “very concerned” about global warming, as opposed to 72 percent of Americans who hadn’t seen it. (The study controlled for a variety of factors, including political ideology.)
At one point in Aronofsky’s film, Noah tells his family, “We have been entrusted with a task much greater than our own desires.” Whatever your faith and, indeed, whether or not you’re religious, a serious look at science and the state of the planet makes that statement inarguable. If Noah helps to further advance that message, then just like the movie’s namesake, it may also help to save us.
Image credit: Niko Tavernise/Paramount Pictures
If Jay Inslee succeeds in his ambitious climate and energy goals, the impacts will extend far beyond Washington state. (Image: Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons)
When Jay Inslee was elected governor of the state of Washington in November of 2012, climate campaigners rejoiced. As a congressman, Inslee had a top-tier environmental record, and not just that: He knew climate and clean energy issues inside-out. The co-author of the 2007 book entitled Apollo’s Fire: Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy, he also worked closely on the 2009 passage of cap-and-trade legislation in the US House of Representatives and was a co-founder of the House’s Sustainable Energy Caucus. No wonder that upon his election in Washington, the League of Conservation Voters declared that Inslee was poised to become “the greenest governor in the country.”
Sure enough, Inslee’s term got off to a great start: Last October, he joined the governors of Oregon and California and the Premier of British Columbia in endorsing the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy which pledges that those states (or, in BC’s case, that province) will set a consistent price or cap on carbon dioxide emissions (something California and British Columbia have already done), adopt low-carbon fuel standards, and more.
But there’s just one problem: Shortly after Inslee’s election, two Democrats elected to caucus with the Republican minority in the Washington state senate, thus thwarting what otherwise would have been a Democratic majority in both houses. Instead of holding a 26-23 majority in the Senate, Democrats instead became a de facto 25-24 minority. And that razor-thin edge in the Washington state Senate is currently blocking Inslee from achieving many of his objectives.
The partisan tension became apparent with Washington state’s Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup, or CLEW, a bipartisan panel composed of two Republican and two Democratic legislators, along with Inslee as a non-voting member. Their task was to recommend a set of policies that would let Washington state adhere to greenhouse gas emissions goals that had been enacted in 2008: a reduction to 1990 emissions levels by 2020, then 25 percent below those levels by 2035, and finally, fifty percent below by 2050.
The workgroup convened sessions and public deliberations around the state—but reached no bipartisan consensus. “We had over 900 citizens come out speaking overwhelmingly in favor of climate action, and close to 10,000 comments,” says Becky Kelley, deputy director of the Washington Environmental Council. “So, evidence that people really are calling for action.” Yet the Democrats and Republicans on the working group could not find common ground. They issued two separate reports, with the Democrats and Inslee endorsing strong climate action and the Republicans suggesting a variety of options, but not a central policy to cap greenhouse gas emissions, citing a “currently insufficient analysis of costs.”
There has been more friction on the issue of a proposed low carbon fuel standard. In a January 2014 letter, Inslee charged Republican State Senator Curtis King, who co-chairs the Transportation Committee, with having misrepresented the governor’s policy goals by incorrectly labeling the standard a “tax.” In fact, the idea is to require a gradual reduction in the carbon content of fuels through a variety of means, ranging from blending in biofuels to encouraging more electric vehicles. “There is no element of a clean fuels standard that could in any way be called a ‘tax,’” wrote Inslee, later adding that a standard “would include cost containment measures to ensure that fuel prices are not significantly affected.” King responded by asking Inslee to “categorically deny” any intention to impose a fuel standard by executive action, in effect bypassing the legislature. King later charged that Inslee “refuses” to take this option off the table.
And even as Inslee faces Republican resistance at home, his climate action partners may be growing a little impatient. British Columbians, for instance, have already put a price on carbon through a carbon tax, and are waiting for their southern ally to catch up to them. In the meantime, there are frequent charges that drivers who go across the border into Washington to gas up are partially undermining the tax’s effectiveness, and at least some evidence that this is happening, at least to a modest extent.
All of which underscores that if Washington acts strongly on climate, the impact will extend far beyond Washington. For the state will be strengthening and reinforcing what California and British Columbia have already done, and the more these Pacific coast states are unified, the more the United States and even the world will have to take notice. “The sense is that if the west coast as a bloc acts, if we’ve got real climate policy from BC to Baja, that’s the world’s fifth largest economy,” says Kelly of the Washington Environmental Council.
In the meantime, though, Inslee’s position within his state is much like that of President Barack Obama nationally, observes David Roberts of Grist magazine. “He wants to act, but he’s got no Republicans in the legislature on his side,” says Roberts, “so if he gets anything done, it’s going to be through executive powers.”
So what happens next? Eric de Place, policy director of the Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based environmental think tank, thinks that if gridlock persists beyond 2014, there’s a chance that a citizen-led ballot initiative in Washington state could allow the public to vote directly on how to curb carbon emissions. Before, that, though, he thinks that Inslee may ultimately try to opt for a policy, like a carbon tax, that might be made palatable to state Republicans: The tax could be designed so that the revenue that it brings in would go towards other state budget shortfalls, such as in the transportation sector and in education.
In his inaugural address as governor, Inslee declared that on leading the nation in green policy, “It is clear to me that we are the right state, at the right time, with the right people.” But now, that delicate balance may have shifted. “I’m certain the governor feels that not enough is getting done on climate action,” says Eric de Place of the Sightline Institute. The question is what Inslee plans to do about it.
Image: Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons
Climate Desk Live partners with Climate Access and Bloomberg BNA to explore what may be the most innovative climate policy in North America: the BC carbon tax.
Queen Elizabeth Theatre Salons, Vancouver
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In the US context, the idea of putting a tax on carbon is going nowhere fast. While the policy has been championed by liberal legislators and by a few conservative apostates, like former South Carolina Rep. Bob Inglis, mainstream Republican sentiment remains opposed to climate action. For the moment, many lawmakers remain too busy denying the reality of human-caused climate change.
Cross our northwestern border, though, and a carbon tax isn’t just an idea, it’s a reality. Five years ago, the Canadian province of British Columbia joined a small group of local and national governments (still fewer than 20 overall) that have created a carbon tax—setting a price on carbon in an effort to reduce emissions. Today, the tax brings in $1 billion a year in revenue that is returned to British Columbia taxpayers. Assessing the tax’s impact on overall greenhouse gas emissions is a somewhat complicated endeavor, given a number of confounding factors (like the economic collapse of 2008-2009), but it’s clear that when it comes to the use of carbon-intensive petroleum products like gasoline and diesel, there has been a marked decline since the year 2008 in British Columbia. In the first four years of the carbon tax, sales of refined petroleum products per capita in BC declined by 15 percent, according to the Sightline Institute, substantially more than the decline in Canada as a whole.
At a time when carbon tax policies appear increasingly enticing (especially in light of the failure of cap-and-trade in the US), what can British Columbia’s experience teach us about the prospects for solutions to climate change? How is the tax working? How do British Columbians feel about it? And has it prompted a desired growth in the clean energy industry?
To delve into these questions, Climate Desk, Climate Access, and Bloomberg BNA are partnering to present “The Carbon Tax Return: Lessons Learned From British Columbia’s First Five Years of Taxing Emissions.” This distinguished panel, preceded by a cocktail reception, will take place on Thursday, March 27, at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Salon C in downtown Vancouver, with doors opening at 5:30pm PDT. For tickets, click here. To join the event on Facebook, click here. The event will also be livestreamed at this page starting at 6:00pm PDT.
Featured speakers include: Spencer Chandra Herbert, a member of BC’s legislative assembly and the New Democratic Party’s designated voice on the environment; Merran Smith from Clean Energy Canada; and Ross Beaty the chairman of Alterra Power Corp. Best-selling science writer and Climate Desk Live host Chris Mooney will lead these policymakers and thought leaders in discussing the innovations, pitfalls, and promise of the first five years of the carbon tax in British Columbia.
Spencer Chandra Herbert, Environment Critic and Member of the BC Legislative Assembly
Spencer Chandra Herbert was re-elected to represent Vancouver West-End in 2013. He is the official opposition environment critic and previously served as the opposition voice on Tourism, Arts, and Culture and the BC Lottery Corporation and Gaming Policy. Spencer served as an elected Vancouver park board commissioner from 2005-2008, where he worked to improve environmental sustainability in Vancouver’s Parks and accessibility to programs for youth and low-income people.
Merran Smith, Director, Clean Energy Canada
Merran Smith is the director of Clean Energy Canada at Tides Canada. She leads a team working to diversify Canada’s energy systems, cut carbon pollution, and reduce the nation’s fossil-fuel dependence, and she writes and speaks extensively on the opportunities for Canada in the global low-carbon economy.
Ross Beaty, Chairman Alterra Power Corp.
Ross J. Beaty is a geologist and resource company entrepreneur with more than 40 years of experience in the international minerals and renewable energy industries. In early 2008, Mr. Beaty founded Magma Energy Corp. to focus on international geothermal energy development. In 2011, Magma and Plutonic Power merged to create Alterra Power Corp. Mr. Beaty also founded and currently serves as chairman of Pan American Silver Corp., one of the world’s leading silver producers.
Jeremy Hainsworth is a contributor internationally to Bloomberg BNA (BBNA) and the Associated Press. Jeremy has worked with BBNA for over three years on legal, regulatory, and policy issues in western Canada for BBNA’s wide-ranging stable of international publications.
Image: English Bay, Vancouver. JamesZ_Flickr/Wikimedia Commons
Journalists from Slate, the Guardian, the Atlantic Cities, the Huffington Post, and Mother Jones meet up at SXSW Eco in Austin, Texas, to hold the press to account.
Climate Desk’s SXSW Eco panel will examine the media’s coverage of climate change. Watch it live here at 4:30 pm Central Time on October 8.
This past month should have been the biggest month for climate change journalism in six years.
With the release of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report in Stockholm, there were a wealth stories for journalists to pursue. Scientists are now more certain than ever that humans are causing global warming. Sea level rise projections have been increased—extremely bad news for coastal mega-cities. And researchers have given a stark warning about the irreversibility of much of global warming, and how it will literally play out over a millennium.
But in recent weeks, we’ve seen a flood of media coverage advancing dubious claims pushed by global warming skeptics, including:
* A large number of news article headlines framed around an alleged global warming “pause” that scientists have dismissed as statistically meaningless and insignificant.
* A British tabloid, The Mail on Sunday, portraying the sixth lowest Artic sea ice level on record as a “rebound” that undermines climate science—a claim that then reverberated in conservative media and even made its way to the halls of Congress.
Granted, this problem isn’t new: There’s a long history of the press relying on phony “balanced” coverage to cast doubt on what scientists know about the climate. That was the case even before the major cutbacks in science and environmental reporting at many media outlets over the past decade.
At SXSW Eco, the acclaimed environment and sustainability conference, Climate Desk is convening a panel of top climate journalists to diagnose and address the media’s chronic failings in covering this issue. The event, part of our Climate Desk Live series, will be at 4:30 pm Central Time on October 8, 2013, at the Austin Convention Center, and will feature journalists Kiera Butler from Mother Jones, Suzanne Goldenberg from The Guardian, John Metcalfe from The Atlantic Cities, Phil Plait (aka the “Bad Astronomer“) from Slate, and Kate Sheppard from The Huffington Post. It will be hosted by Climate Desk’s Chris Mooney (me).
The conversation will focus on why the media at large has struggled when it comes to reporting on climate change, and on why there is so little apparent interest—from the media, politicians, and public—in understanding and addressing the climate crisis. The panelists will also cite examples of good climate journalism and explain how the media can do a better job in reporting climate change.
This post has been updated since publication.
Climate Desk Live teams up with thirst DC and ScienceOnline Climate. The event is sold out, but you can watch it live here.
Livestream to begin Thursday, August 15, at 7:30 pm ET.:
People are getting tired of the same old story about global warming. They often tune out warnings of impending catastrophe; but it’s not like they trust the deniers, either. The trouble is, the standard global warming narrative is stale and alienating—and perhaps worst of all, stuck in the technical weeds.
That’s why it’s time to apply lessons from the theory and practice of high quality science communication to this pressing issue. And in a new collaboration called thirst:Climate, Climate Desk Live is co-sponsoring an event to feature frame-breaking talks on climate—talks that are both innovative and thought-provoking. The goal is nothing less than to force us to think differently about the planetary future into which we’re hurtling.
Created in collaboration with thirst DC—an innovative science-based creative agency—and ScienceOnline Climate; (a special DC-based iteration of the highly successful annual ScienceOnline conference for web-savvy science communicators), this event will take place on August 15 in Washington, DC. The venue will be 1776, at 1133 15th St NW (just blocks from the White House). Doors open at 6 p.m., and talks start at 7:30. The event is sold out, but you can watch it live right here.
You can also join the conversation on Twitter using #CDLive.
All talks have been specially developed in collaboration with thirst DC’s presentation trainers. The speakers will bring fresh, unconventional storytelling about global warming. The speakers will be:
Kate Sheppard, Mother Jones magazine/Climate Desk: “How to Talk to Your Republican Dad About Global Warming”
Jamie Vernon, American Association for the Advancement of Science, science & technology policy fellow: “How to Get Rich Off of Global Warming”
Liz Burakowski, University of New Hampshire, PhD student in earth and environmental science: “How Global Warming Is Melting the Ski Industry”
Melanie Tannenbaum, Scientific American blogger & University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign PhD student in social psychology: “This Is Your Brain on Climate Change”
Hosting the event are the thirst co-founder and creative director, Eric Schulze, and New York Times best-selling author and Climate Desk Live host, Chris Mooney.
thirst DC is an interactive learning space that hosts nerdy events as an active branding and social experiment. Using the science of creativity and creative productivity (including data and information collected from studies performed on Nobel laureates), we engineer learning, entertainingly. Usually held in a lounge-like environment, thirst curates highly entertaining—but also substantive—live science, fashion, music, and socially conscious talks. Thirst has worked with The Smithsonian, NASA, the National Academy of Sciences, and others, and we increase their awesome by re-imagining their core values in a nerdy manner.
Climate Desk Live is live briefing series sponsored by Climate Desk, a journalistic collaboration dedicated to exploring the impact—human, environmental, economic, political—of a changing climate. The partners are Mother Jones, Grist, Slate, The Atlantic, the Guardian, Wired, PBS’s Need to Know, and the Center for Investigative Reporting. It is hosted by award-winning science journalist Chris Mooney, the author of four books on the relation between science, politics, and society.
ScienceOnlineClimate is the first thematic spin-off of the highly successful annual ScienceOnline conference for web-savvy science communicators. It will take place in Washington, DC, August 15-17. ScienceOnline cultivates the ways science is conducted, shared, and communicated online. They convene a diverse and growing community of researchers, science writers, artists, programmers, and educators—those who conduct or communicate science online—for meaningful face-to-face conversations around timely, relevant issues. ScienceOnline nurtures this global, ongoing, online community and facilitate collaborations which would not have been previously possible.
1776 is a platform to reinvent America by connecting the hottest startups from around the world with the assets of the most powerful city on Earth. In the heart of Washington, DC, just a few blocks from the White House, 1776 is where startups tackling major national challenges in sectors such as education, energy, health care, urban planning, and government can engage to build the future of our economy. For more information, visit http://1776dc.com/ or follow at @1776dc.