Soylent Green

The 'Climate Kids' and #FridaysForFuture: "There is no Planet B."

“One voice can change a room, and if one voice can change a room, then it can change a city,” Barack Obama famously said in his stirring, still memorable speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. “And if it can change a city, it can change a state, it can change nation. And if it can change a nation, it can change the world. Your voice can change the world.”

Little more than a week before the planned worldwide strike on March 15 by students and grade-school pupils protesting the effects of climate change on future generations, support is surging for the legal case Juliana v. United States, in which 21 young people have sued the US federal government over climate change. A “Young People’s Brief” amicus brief was filed in US court last Friday, alongside briefs filed by environmenatlaist, women’s groups, business leaders and eight members of the US Congress in support of a case that has been before the courts for months now. On two separate occasions, US federal administrations — first under Barack Obama and again under Donald Trump — have tried to have the lawsuit tossed out of court. The government has lost both times. A early, lower-court ruling by an Oregion judge, giving legal reasons why the case should be allowed to continue, was appealed to the US Supreme Court twice. Both times, the Supreme Court sided with the climate activists over the government.


Students and school pupils from some 50 countries have said they will rally together in the March 15 demonstration, even as the strike is being dismissed on both the right and left as a cheap publicity gimmick — so much hot air, if you will — and an excuse to skip school for a day.

As it is, school students in Australia, France, the UK, Germany, Ireland, Poland, Thailand, Colombia and Uganda have already skipped a day of school to demand stronger climate action from their governments, as part of 16-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg’s #FridaysForFuture climate campaign. Thunberg, who started the whole process as a solo campaigner outside the Swedish parliament last year, has become a lightning rod for both praise and controversy, and has been mentioned as a possible Nobel Peace Prize candidate, and was recently invited to speak at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Some saw this as a cyncial ploy on the part of fat-cat industrialists who have already done their part to wreck the planet, but the truth is that — whether useful idiot or Nobel material — Thunberg herself couldn’t really give a (compost heap) how she’s perceived. The issue is what drives her, and that’s what has made her such a compelling voice for climate activism. She really couldn’t care whether she wins the Nobel Prize or gets to dine at Davos (don’t feed her lobster!) or not, and she’s the first to lash out sharply at soothing but empty feel-good words from those in power. Words don’t count anymore, actions do. She’s told people on her own side that. Actions deferred, whether it’s the Paris Agreement or tepid promises at the climate conference in Rio de Janeiro to scale back carbon emissions by 2050 mean nothing, she says. We need action, and we need it now.


That this argument was first made by a 15-year-old would have seemed laughable a year ago, and the truth is that many people did laugh at the time.

Well, they’re not laughing now.

In a stroke of good timing — though, knowing the way the media works, I suspect it was planned that way all along — 60 Minutes’s Steve Kroft presented a news segment, The Climate Kids, on North America’s most-watched news-magazine program this past weekend. The amicus brief this past Friday was co-signed by 30,000 young people. Now, all of a sudden, those 21 students who filed the original court case have swelled in number to the tens of thousands.

That number will only grow on March 15.

Will any of this make any difference? It’s hard to tell. I’ve commented here about how the 1973 Hollywood thriller Soylent Green, itself based on the dystopian sci-fi novel Make Room! Make Room! by the American novleist Harry Harrison, eerily foreshadowed a world overrun by too many people and choked by carbon emissions, where fresh strawberries are a near-priceless luxury that only multi-millionaires and captains of industry can afford — until they’re murdered as part of a corporate coverup, in case the proles — i.e. us — find out what’s really going on and rebel against their masters.


Soylent Green proved popular in its day, and has endured enough to be referenced even today— but as Greta Thunberg would point out, so what? What’s actually been done? 62 million American voters voted for Donald Trump to be their president, and this is a man who doesn’t even beliheve there’s a problem.

Xiuhytexcatl Martinez, the 19-year-old indigenous environmental activist and youth director of the self-explanatory Earth Guardians, is one of the lead plaintiffs in the suit, alongside climate scientist Dr. James Hansen. The suit — which many dismissed at the time, remember — argues that the US federal government has failed itd responsiblity to safeguard the health of future generations. The very air we breathe is at risk from rising carbon-dioxide emissions, which in turn affects global warming, a now-unfashionable phrase that most if not all legitimate climate scientists agree is the prime driver behind climate change. “What’s at stake right now,” then-15-year-old Martinez told the UN General Assembly in 2015, “is the existence of my generation.”

climate6 Xiuhytexcatl Martinez.jpg

Hyperbole? Perhaps. Possibly . . . probably, in fact. We can’t say we weren’t warned. Soylent Green went over this same ground in 1973, after all.

Global warming? Food insecurity? Overcrowding? I saw it at the movies — 45 years ago.

No fewer than five stories recently made news headlines, one after another. 

The remote Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica is melting at a faster rate than even the most pessimistic scientific projections suggested it would.



Another pipeline leak, this one in a remote northwestern corner of the Canadian province Alberta, proves Big Oil still hasn’t mastered the technology of constructing a pipeline that won’t leak — despite the oil lobby’s defensive, relentless and increasingly shrill claims to the contrary.

The self-explanatory “Garbage Patch” floating and bobbing in the north-central Pacific is now the size of France. The country, that is, not the town in Kansas.

The United Nations reports that, in Asia, there will be “no exploitable fish stocks” — no wild fish, in other words — by 2048. With the world's already overstretched population growing every day and food insecurity a growing concern, many marine biologists warn we could run out of wild fish in our lifetimes.

But wait, you say, surely “sustainable seafood farms” will make up the difference.

Well, they would — if only, as the salmon farming fishery off Canada’s west coast keeps showing, they weren’t constantly leaking biotoxins into already threatened coastal waters.

©Alexandra Morton/Typepad

©Alexandra Morton/Typepad

Piscine reovirus, aka PRV, causes heart and skeletal muscular inflammation, aka HSMI; recent research suggests that PRV cause the disease HSMI, as evidenced by mortality rates of up to 20% in salmon farms in Norway. PRV in turn affects migrating wild salmon, owing to the effluent from processing plants and farm hatcheries. This is not rocket science, as Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) senior veterinarian Dr. Ian Keith told a colleague in an email, as reported earlier this year by the Canadian news site The “This is 19th century thinking.”

Melting glaciers, leaking pipelines, a growing garbage problem, drained fish stocks and a worrying over-reliance on artificially processed food naturally made me think of Soylent Green.



Soylent Green was a 1973 post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie starring Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson (in his final film role) set in an overcrowded, smog-choked cityscape in the not-too-distant future, where people are reduced to eating tasteless, protein crackers — ostensibly made from “high-energy plankton” — are doled out in tightly controlled rations by an all-powerful conglomerate called the Soylent Corporation. Soylent Green was loosely adapted from futurist Harry Harrison’s 1968 novel Make Room! Make Room! that posited a world in which overcrowding, pollution, global warming and rampant industrialization have created a society in which homeless people fill the streets and those with jobs are barely scraping by.



Soylent Green was no Star Wars. It won a smattering of boutique, sci-fi film awards, but it wasn’t exactly a hit with audiences, not in a year when The Sting, American Graffiti and The Way We Were topped the box-office charts. Critics’ reviews were mixed. Time’s Jay Cocks called it “intermittently interesting,” adding that the film, will be most remembered for the last appearance of Edward G. Robinson.” The New York Times’s A.H. Weller found that Soylent Green “projects essentially simple, muscular melodrama a good deal more effectively than it does the potential of man’s seemingly witless destruction of the Earth’s resources.”

Some 45 years later, Soylent Green is not remembered as a great movie — truthfully, it was never that — or as Edward G. Robinson’s farewell performance, but rather as an eerily prescient vision of a hellish future that now seems more like cautionary news documentary than science-fiction.



It’s hard not to respect a film that, in 1973, had Robinson’s angry, aging character Sol Roth rage against the dying of the light, saying things like, “You know, when I was a kid, food was food. Before our scientific magicians poisoned the water, polluted the soil. Decimated plant and animal life.

“Why, in my day, you could buy meat anywhere. Eggs, they had, Real butter. Fresh lettuce.”

And fresh salmon. Not the farmed kind.

“There was a world once, you punk,” Sol Roth told Charlton Heston’s detective character, Frank Thorn.

“Yes,” Thorn replied, “so you keep telling me.”

“I was there,” Roth said. “I can prove it.”

“I know, I know. When you were young, people were better.”

“No. People were always rotten. But the world was beautiful.”

It was. It still is. Time to wake up.