Co-written with Carrie West


Can Avatar and Hollywood change our lives? Sure, they can make millions —even billions — of dollars, but can they change the way we think and act? Avatar has an obvious environmental message and it’s the highest grossing movie of all time—right on. But does this popularity mean anything?

Avatar is a parable for the downsides of industrial resource extraction (including mining for metals, other minerals, oil, and gas), which can wreak havoc on ecosystems, peoples, cultures, and whole planets.

The movie challenges us to look deeply into our lives and the values that we take for granted, and to compare this cash-rich but morally impoverished existence with that of the Blue People (Na’vi): cash-poor but deeply connected and committed to their communities and their planet.

With mind-blowing, three-dimensional visual effects and a captivating story, Avatar opens a window into a world of environmental politics that most of us would never truly experience through the mainstream media. While of course the details are all different, the plight of the Na’vi is strikingly similar to that of many indigenous peoples today, and to many more whose cultures have been shattered by ‘modern’ industrial development.

The $2-billion question is: what will we do with this information? Will we stand idly by while humanity continues to convert a glorious living planet into a dying one? Or will we recognize that the keys to our happiness and deep belonging lie not in amassing material wealth, but in cultivating our relationships with people, animals, and our planet?

Kai Chan is an assistant professor and Canada Research Chair at the Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability (IRES) at UBC;

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