I just finished seeing James Cameron’s new blockbuster movie Avatar, an amazing piece of film making that imagines what a world and culture based completely on sustainable living would be like.
The story takes place 150 years or so in the future on a planet called Pandora, a forested utopia populated by a humanoid species called the Na’vi, as well as a variety of exotic and often luminescent flora and fauna, all living in a harmonious balance. Of planet earth, Cameron said recently that “Science is unable to keep up with our industrial society. We are destroying species faster than we can classify them.” This movie seems designed to show what we are missing out on. It is a beautiful vision to behold (especially in IMAX 3D).
Several reviewers have pointed out that the Na’vi culture and way of life bear a strong resemblance to those of many Native American tribes and other indigenous peoples. And just as Europeans did in the new world, the earth folks show up on Pandora to mine a rare ore, and consider everything else ready to be bulldozed, blasted, or relocated. Where the Na’vi see abundance, the earthlings see only a hostile world to be exploited and tamed.
The main character – a former Marine named Jake – is sent to Pandora to participate in a science project to learn about the Na’vi by literally going native: he controls a cloned body and becomes one. Jake and a few other non-conformist humans on Pandora (generally the scientists) learn to appreciate and are eventually forced to defend the Na’vi and their way of life. It is a simple good vs evil tale, with natives, intellectuals, and greens on one side, and a profit-driven military-industrial complex on the other.
If only real life were so unambiguous! The obvious irony of the storyline is that the only way humans learn about the Na’vi’s low-tech and ecologically balanced lifestyle is by space travel, cloning, and sophisticated neural networking. The irony of the film itself is that Cameron had to lean entirely on new technologies to create and deliver it. Like most of us, Cameron and his hero long for Eden even as they takes another bite from the forbidden fruit. The greatest potential failure for the sustainability/green movement is ignoring both the benefits and irreversibility of progress. Whether it is traveling by air to learn more about our planet or negotiate a climate treaty, making crops more productive, or advances is health and wellness, there seems to be no going back.
I suppose it’s all about balance. If modern man can’t live like the Na’vi, at least we can recognize when we have thrown our own world and lives too far out of balance. Not surprisingly, there is a better word in the Hopi language to describe this than there is in English: Koyaanisqatsi.
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