In our modern world, smog is typically seen as little more than a nuisance, on the same level as heavy freeway traffic and long lines at the grocery store. But smog is much more than a minor inconvenience when it comes to our health. Smog, a dangerous form of air pollution, irritates our lungs and can lead to severe health conditions, including heart and lung disease. What’s more, air pollution is responsible for more than 6 million deaths annually, according to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).
Unfortunately, smog and other types of air pollution tend to get pushed to the wayside when it comes to environmental discussions, especially within the entertainment industry. Instead, topics such as the elimination of waste and conserving water on film sets typically take center stage. Climate change continues to dominate the environmentalist movement, however; thus, air pollution is becoming a hot topic within the entertainment industry.
As such, the issue of smog has made a splash on both the big and small screens in recent years, yet the response to those films hasn’t always been positive. One anti-smog documentary in particular was deemed “dangerous” by Chinese officials in 2015 and was subsequently removed from online channels. Prior to its governmental ban, Under the Dome, which featured numerous chilling stories of China’s smog problem, had racked up more than 200 million views.
The controversy that surrounds Under the Dome and similar documentaries focuses on the apt descriptions of the harmful effects of climate change. After all, climate change is widely ignored by global leaders, and activists including 16-year-old Greta Thunberg are frequently subject to public defamation and online attacks. So how should future filmmakers address climate change in a matter that will turn heads and defy naysayers?
Smog, London, and Environmentalism
One of smog’s most notable supporting roles was in Netflix's hit original series The Crown. The fourth episode of the award-winning show’s inaugural season featured the Great Smog of 1952. The tragic event is often credited as the starting point of environmentalism, and reportedly caused more than 4,000 deaths over four days. As the word “smog” originated in London circa 1905, it seems appropriate that the modern environmentalism movement essentially kicked off in the same prestigious city.
On December 5, 1952, during the first year of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, a thick layer of smog blanketed most of London. It is thought that coal fires were the primary cause of airborne pollutants that caused the Great Smog, also known as the Big Smoke. By December 9, the smog had dispersed, and a government investigation had been launched. Four years later, the Clean Air Act was passed, encouraging British citizens to utilize cleaner fuel sources for their heating needs. Interestingly, the movement towards widespread clean energy continues to this day.
Protecting the environment was long considered a job for adults, but that has changed over the years. Many young people are committed to environmental activism, following in the footsteps of leaders such as Thunberg. These young people have seen the effects of climate change firsthand and are committed to civic engagement and environmentalism. And thanks to the internet and social media, “they have more tools than ever before with which to make their voices heard,” writes the University of Nevada, Reno.
Energy Conservation in the Entertainment Industry
Environmentalism is also a relevant issue on the other side of the camera. The entertainment industry is notoriously wasteful, with a significant carbon footprint. For every hour of television produced in the UK, for instance, 13 metric tons of carbon monoxide are produced, according to Vice.
One of the entertainment industry’s biggest filming locations is found across the pond from the UK in New York City, and the Big Apple has become an industry leader in sustainability and energy conservation in recent years. In 2016, the city’s film and television industries teamed up with Mayor Bill de Blasio to launch the NYC Film Green initiative. Participation in the initiative is voluntary, and encourages sustainable practices during all stages of production in order to reduce environmental impact.
One way that filmmakers, in New York City and throughout the world, can improve sustainability and reduce carbon emissions is by being mindful of electricity sources. The United States is the second-largest global consumer of energy behind China, and the U.S. entertainment industry is a major player when it comes to energy consumption. Thankfully, while fossil fuels were the primary source of power in the U.S. as of 2017, renewable energy is slowly growing in popularity.
Regarding Entertainment-based Tourism
Smog is caused by various pollutants that range from engine exhaust to factory and power plant fumes. Research indicates that smog is likely to be more severe on hot, sunny days. Specifically, as travelers on holiday typically visit warm locations around the globe, smog is increasingly part of the modern tourism experience.
It’s not all bad news in the realm of tourism when it comes to environmental impact, however: Two of the biggest modern trends in travel are ecotourism and entertainment tourism, and both are linked to sustainability. Travel experts report that the filming of popular movies and television programs can increase subsequent tourism to that location by more than 25 percent.
Unfortunately, tourism spikes in a previously quiet area can wreak havoc on the natural environment and may increase air pollution. And no matter the chosen destination, the effects of climate change can play a significant role in one’s travel plans. Those who want to offset their carbon emissions while traveling to their favorite filming location, for instance, should practice the principles of ecotourism. Those principles include environmental conservation of natural spaces and the preservation of indigenous culture.
With help from the entertainment industry, the world may be getting closer to a true energy revolution. Films such as An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power and Under the Dome can help bring attention to climate change, but the real source of eco-friendly power lies in the entertainment industry itself. By committing to sustainability, filmmakers can set an example for the rest of the world to follow.
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