Pique'n'yer interest 

What Avatar wants us to forget

...is common sense.

Avatar hits the shelves on DVD and Blu-Ray later this month and I'm as excited as anyone. The film is an artistic masterpiece, the baby of a vivid imagination inspired as much by Magritte paintings as the bioluminescent creatures that dwell at the bottom of the ocean.

Though I love the film, I don't respect its philosophy. It has a beauty about it that masks its naivete. While skillfully impressing on viewers an appreciation for nature and indigenous culture it also wants us to forget that there might be a good reason its villains are concocting their evil plots.

Without restating the film's plot, let's just recall that the nub of the thing is about an Earth-based corporation mining a distant planet for a precious metal called "unobtainium." It sells for $12 million a kilo but its function is mysterious.

We can equally assume that it's a successor to gold and silver, or else a vital source of energy for a resource-starved Earth. The zeal of its profiteers indicates that it's vital to Earth's ongoing survival.

We're made to look at the miners as villains, rapists and pillagers who care nothing for the fact that they're displacing an indigenous population that lives in an Arcadian forest.

But what if the metal was essential to our own well-being? What if it provided energy that produced no emissions? What if its use had no adverse impact on our soil or atmosphere? Would we not expect that companies pursue such a resource on our behalf?

This is the reality that Avatar fails to grapple with: that even environmental progress has a cost. And director James Cameron has no interest in broaching the subject.

The New York Times reported this week that Cameron and girlfriend Suzy Amis recently went to Brazil to join an indigenous tribe in its fight against a hydroelectric dam on the Xingu River. The dam, an 11,233 MW project, could help displace emissions currently being caused by thermoelectrical sources like coal, oil or wood. That's a key fact that Cameron conveniently ignores.

Instead they focus on the fact that the Belo Monte dam could flood hundreds of square miles of the Amazon and dry up a 60-mile stretch of the river. Cameron is nevertheless quoted saying that the dam is "a quintessential type of thing we are showing in Avatar ." The dam inspires his story for Avatar 2 .

I wouldn't worry so much about this kind of a stunt except that Cameron may well buy into every other parallel that audiences have ascribed to his film.

Since its release last December, the film has been taken as a metaphor for real-life narratives such as the oil sands, the Iraq War and the razing of Amazon rainforest. The film doesn't enhance our understanding of these narratives; it clouds them.

I worry now that James Cameron will complete Avatar 2 and then make a cross-Canada tour to draw inspiration for his next film.

He'll travel to Northern Alberta and make a show of opposing the oil sands. He'll call them the "tar sands" and gloss over the fact that Canada gets over half its oil from that very source. We could reduce our consumption from there but our next option could be untapped potential from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Libya.

Then he'll travel to B.C.'s Peace River region to take a stand against the Site C project, a hydroelectric dam being developed by BC Hydro that could flood some of the province's most fertile agricultural land.

Cameron will focus solely on this aspect of Site C and ignore how much we may actually need Site C in future. Figures from PowerUP Canada show us that 60 per cent of energy use in British Columbia comes from fossil fuels that are poisoning our atmosphere - fully 163,000 gigawatt hours per year. Site C could reduce that dependence by 4,000 GWh a year... not a significant dent, but a necessary one nonetheless.

I'm worried less about Cameron's cross-Canada tour than I am about how much people will listen to him. They may well come to see Site C and the oil sands as faceless demons looking to exploit our environment with no view to the consequences. They'll ignore the damage we're doing to our atmosphere and pay attention only to the facets of nature romanticized in Cameron's film.

Pretty as it is, Avatar hasn't opened our eyes. It has closed them to a reality that Cameron does not want us to confront.



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