Written by Youth Action Committee Volunteer Ayla Chang

View the July 2021 Youth Climate Newsletter Here

There have been various depictions of climate change in the media, from fictional depictions in video games and TV shows to more realistic depictions in news outlets and documentaries. Climate change has been brought up and discussed in many different formats and portrayed differently in each. 

Fictional depictions of climate change and measures taken to combat it have been shown throughout video games, with one prominent example being “Final Fantasy VII.” This game is about a group called Avalanche, which pledged to stop a corrupt corporation named Shinra from using the precious Mako energy from the planet as a power source. Mako is the lifeblood of the planet—the energy that keeps it alive that comes from those who have passed. However, Shinra continues to use it as a power source and continues to control the people of the city of Midgar. Avalanche works to stop them, although they use questionable means in doing so.

Sound kind of familiar?

Probably. The game echoes some of the efforts and challenges of modern-day climate activists. One example of the parallels between the game and the real world are the protests against the building of Line 3 in Minnesota, the pipeline that is planned to carry oil from Canada to Minnesota. The pipeline could cause disruption to hunting, fishing, and other necessary activities for Indigenous tribes in the area, accelerate climate change, and cause oil spills. Some protesters are getting arrested for unlawful assembly, public nuisance, and disorderly conduct. Although the original version of Final Fantasy VII was released in 1997, it still accurately shows how modern-day fossil fuel companies are willing to use those fuels even at the cost of the future of the planet. The game also shows how the Shinra corporation becomes so powerful that it essentially runs Midgar, with the local government being powerless. The poorer people of Midgar are forced to live in the poor slums of Midgar where they suffer the effects of pollution and a general lack of infrastructure. Unfortunately, this also parallels the real world and how low-income communities and communities of people of color tend to be heavily affected by pollution emitted from factories and other buildings near where they live. Like how Suncor, an oil refinery in Colorado, has gotten in trouble with the state Department of Public Health and Environment due to pollution effects on nearby low-income residents, including the toxic emissions and air quality violations that harmed neighborhoods nearby.

Another good depiction from the game related to climate change and its effects on individuals is shown by Jessie, a member of Avalanche’s backstory.

Warning: There will be some spoilers for the Final Fantasy VII remake.

Jessie’s father had worked at Shinra as a maintenance supervisor at a Mako reactor before he had collapsed from overwork and suffered from Mako poisoning, which drove him to a comatose state. Jessie, who was an aspiring actress, gave up on her dream to instead study planetology and join Avalanche in hopes of finding a cure to help him. Unfortunately, this is a story that often happens in the real world as well. Those who work or live near an emitter of pollution may be at a higher risk of developing cancer and other serious conditions.  An example of a story similar to Jessie’s is shown in the Deepwater Horizon BP Oil Spill, where more than 200 million gallons of oil were spilled into the Gulf of Mexico due to the company’s demands that the well be completed quickly without care for safety. 11 people died due to the spill and 17 people were injured; some were also left traumatized due to the events of the spill.

TV shows have also shown fictional depictions of climate change. Consider the show,  “The Good Place.” 

Warning again: more spoiler alerts.

The Good Place is about a secular version of the afterlife, with the Good Place being where good people would supposedly go after they die and the Bad Place being where bad people would supposedly go. People are judged with points: doing good deeds earns you points to the Good Place and doing bad deeds decreases your points and makes it more likely that you will head to the Bad Place. After finding out that no one has gone to the Good Place in the past 521 years, Michael, one of the show’s main characters, looks through The Book of Dougs (a book with everyone named Doug and their point count from their actions listed) and finds that a man named Douglass Wynegar of Hawkhurst, England, picked some roses and gave them to his grandma, earning some points as a result. However, when Doug Ewin of Scaggsville, Maryland also gave his grandma some roses, he lost points because he ordered them off of a phone made in a sweatshop, bought flowers that had been grown using toxic pesticides and picked by underpaid workers—which had been delivered from thousands of miles away, leaving a large carbon footprint—and inadvertently gave money to a problematic billionaire CEO as a result. This scene brilliantly shows how back then, one simple action such as giving some roses to your grandmother had no inadvertent consequences, but nowadays, doing anything could lead to unintentional consequences, including pollution due to how things have become more complicated and interconnected. Many items are no longer made locally, and have to be produced, transported, and sold from countries thousands of miles away, which can have a large carbon footprint and other inadvertent consequences.

The show also makes the point of saying that despite the fact that it is technically someone’s fault for buying a product and unintentionally supporting problematic issues, like unsafe labor conditions, most people don’t have the time to research and look for alternative methods to buy a product. Jason gives a good example of this by mentioning his friend, who would always show up late to dance rehearsal. Jason was always angry at him for that before he found out that his friend had to work three jobs to support his four grandparents. His friend barely had time to go to rehearsal and definitely did not have time to research the most ethical products to buy. As mentioned before, nowadays everything bought is connected one way or another due to how items are usually shipped to different locations rather than locally produced, causing someone to inevitably support a problematic issue unless they research a better way to get an item—something they may not have time to do. The Good Place offers the solution of changing the afterlife to be fairer for everyone; however, that obviously cannot be done in the real world. Instead, we could minimize the amount of inadvertent effects from buying products by having more items be locally produced instead of shipped from halfway across the world. Even if there is no point system, locally produced items would help lower the carbon footprint of buying items and make buying and selling overall more efficient due to not having to transport products across thousands of miles. 

We see climate change talked about in documentaries and the news, too. Cosmos with Neil DeGrasse Tyson has episodes on climate change, with one episode focusing on how humanity’s effect on the atmosphere with carbon dioxide emissions and how the greenhouse effect could possibly affect Earth similarly to how it did to Venus. Venus had once been similar to the Earth, with oceans and an atmosphere before carbon dioxide from volcano eruptions caused the greenhouse effect and caused Venus to look like it does now. Depictions in the news include Greta Thunberg winning TIME’s 2019 person of the year award for her efforts against climate change and other stories detailing the effects of climate change on people and the environment and causes of pollution.

Depictions of climate change in the media are instrumental to getting people to know and understand more about climate change. These depictions and parallels can inspire people to work towards making the world better and can be uplifting and educational.