Can “Avatar” Reinvigorate Earth Day?

DSC_4170A The home video release of “Avatar” has been timed to coincide with Earth Day on Thursday, and the movie’s director, James Cameron, has been on a campaign to extend the movie’s message well beyond the box office.

Last week, he appeared at a panel on Capitol Hill, “Avatar Solutions for the Environmental Crisis,” along with Sigourney Weaver, Joe Scarborough, Thomas Friedman, Richard Greene and Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.), where he discussed a recent trip to Brazil and met with tribes there anxious to stop a dam project.

What remains to be seen is whether the message of “Avatar” will translate into more than just a promotional hook but action on climate change. The sense of urgency that followed “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2006 has waned, particularly during the recession, and public opinion shows there are greater doubts that global warming is man made. So much of Earth Day is, once again, going to be about raising awareness.

Here’s my latest story in the print version of Variety on what the entertainment industry has lined up for this year:

Ever since Eddie Albert, the star of “Green Acres,” gave a series of
speeches tied to the first Earth Day in 1970, a day that also was his
birthday, Hollywood has been inextricably linked to the celebration —
and the green movement in general.

This year, the 40th anniversary of
the April 22 event, will be no different: A concert on the National
Mall, a Disneynature documentary, “Oceans,” and even an extension of the
“Avatar” with a special event at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles.

But
as industry activists continue this environmental crusade, boosted by
their ability to raise awareness where others cannot, it’s easy to get
dismayed that, despite countless projects, rallies and commitments in
recent years, the message of the movement has been stalled. A Gallup
poll last month showed that over the past two years, the public “has
become less worried about the threat of global warming, less convinced
that its effects are already happening, and more likely to believe that
scientists themselves are uncertain about their occurrence.”

Just
as disconcerting is the uncertain fate of the climate bill in the
Senate, and the fear that it will get hopelessly demonized as the
midterm elections approach.

Nate Byer, the campaign director for
Earth Day Network, says that the “disconnect” is traced to the fact that
other parts of the world, like the Maldives, see tangible effects in
the form of rising sea levels.

“The environmental community has
been fighting long and hard, and I think we are only beginning to
realize the power of a strong message and a united message,” Byer says.

Lawrence
Bender, the producer of “An Inconvenient Truth,” puts blame on the news
media has done a “huge disservice” in their continued focus on whether
climate change is real and man-made, drawing in global warming deniers
to offer both sides to an issue resolved by years of research. “It is
almost like having a debate as to whether the Earth is round,” he says,
adding that the result has been “confusion in the public’s mind.”

“There
is no question that the pressures of day-to-day surviving and living
became more important,” he says. “But the recession we have had, as bad
as it was, will pale in comparison to the money that we will have to
spend [on climate change], not to mention the effect it will have on
people’s lives.”

While 2006’s “An Inconvenient Truth” helped
instill a sense of urgency in the public’s mind, the latest showbiz
efforts illustrate that while the messages may be the same, the
approaches are slightly different.

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