James Cameron and Sigourney Weaver bring "Avatar's" environmental lessons to Capitol Hill
Yes, of course, we're dazzled by Hollywood people, but the real draw of Thursday's Capitol Hill panel discussion starring box-office titan-director James Cameron and his frequent leading lady Sigourney Weaver was the press-release promise that we would explore ways of "keeping our planet from suffering the fate depicted in the film 'Avatar.'"
What -- you mean, overrun by big, blue cat-looking people on flying dragons? Hahahahaha!
Cheap joke, sorry, but that was all the fun we were going to have at this star-studded discussion of climate change and energy policy. Hey, Tom Friedman was in the house. This was serious.
"Avatar" may have been the biggest, baddest multiplex-pleaser of a generation, but it has also been embraced as a metaphor or talking point for gender politics, religion, colonialism, warfare or anything else you want. Cameron, though, made it clear that the 3-D blockbuster is about the environment.
"It's meant to be a call to action," he said. That line at the end, where the Na'vi boot the humans back to "their dying world"? It's "a warning of what's happening."
Friedman, the multi-Pulitzer-winning global thinker, kicked things off with provocative points about cellphone technology, energy policy and price signals, none of which we wrote down properly because we'd just discovered the meatballs and chicken nuggets in the back of the room. Then it was MSNBC's Joe Scarborough heartily echoing and saying how the nation that controls the next wave of energy will control the world, and how "we have to get the federal government investing again in the future like it did in 1957" with the Apollo space program.
Then came Weaver, who was just back from a trip with Cameron to the Amazon, where they'd spoken out against the construction of a massive hydroelectric dam. A commanding presence in a royal-blue dress and orange cardigan, Weaver said we need to stop using yesterday's solutions to solve today's problems. She talked about reducing tax subsidies for "dirty-energy companies," about carbonic acids, about how the shells of Antarctic plankton have been reduced by 30 percent, and about the deadly West Virginia coal-mine explosion.
Here's where we have to say: We feel very, very bad and conflicted about our own role in the bait-and-switch of celebvocates bringing their causes to Washington. In fairness to the organizers, they did try to get the serious journalists to come listen to the serious talk -- but those folks are too busy talking to the actual climate scientists and politicians. So they bring celebs to town to get attention for their issues, but they just attract the journalists who only want to talk about the celebrities. But then we do go and write about it. So there you go.
It was Cameron's turn, and he talked about pricing externalities, and silent taxation and how he had met on the Hill that day with "leaders who said, 'We can't use the term climate change.'"
"We need to see the truth and essence of what's happening," he said. He's clean-shaven these days, silver-haired and pink-faced. He sort of looks like Jim Moran.
He made interesting arguments about climate-change skeptics, with whom he disagrees. "We can accept the tangible benefits of science" -- do you understand thermal conductivity? -- but "we can't accept it when it goes against what we want." So it doesn't feel like the world's getting warmer? Hey, he said, the world doesn't seem round from where we're standing, either.
More: About the "net positive" solar-power station at his ranch and the school his wife, Suzy Amis, founded, where kids learn organic gardening and conflict resolution, and they Skype with kids in Burma and Maori villages.
The moderator, public-radio host Richard Greene, politely brought the topic back to what had brought many in the audience there: how they could catch a screening that night of "Avatar," or buy it on DVD and Blu-ray soon -- "just a little plug!"
"We don't need it," said the director of the $3 billion-grossing flick. "We're good."
The Reliable Source
April 16, 2010; 1:04 AM ET
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