James Cameron on why we must save the natural world

Given how well Avatar is still doing at the box office, it might seem surprising that 20th Century Fox and director James Cameron are releasing the film on Blu-ray Disc and DVD quite so quickly. But Cameron has a big reason for wanting the movie to arrive on April 22, AKA Earth Day. “Fox has been really responsive to us in terms of this whole Earth Day release. We loved the financial success of the film, which shows how we're communicating with people around the world, but what we've also found is all these people - different groups and causes that are attempting to deal with environmental problems and indigenous rights - have come to us and really seen Avatar as a focusing lens, and the public has felt an emotional outpouring around the world for these issues, so Earth Day is exactly the right time for us to premiere the discs and I want to express my gratitude to the studio for throwing their weight behind these ideas.”

And for Cameron, it’s not about the money. “I'm not trying to sell DVDs on the back of the hardship of the planet as much as I'm hoping that a continued conversation around Avatar and around the needs and the issues will actually elevate consciousness and get the things done that need to get done. That's my new mission. There's an opportunity here for Avatar to be helpful as opposed to things helping the film. My wife actually said, 'honey, this is more than just an opportunity. This is a duty, a responsibility.' And I see it that way now, so while I've always been an environmental activist, I'm going to a whole other level now around the movie.”

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So, in the opinion of this outspoken eco-activist, what on our world is most in need of rescue? “What isn't in need of saving? The oceans are under a lot of duress - fish populations are being destroyed. I just read an article in Scientific American last night that showed the various 'boundaries' that we cannot transgress without irrevocable damage to the world. We've already transgressed a few of them, and the one where we've gone the farthest over the line is in the number of extinct species.” And there are many more concerns to be dealt with, as Cameron explains:

“There’s the warming problem, or the loss of habitat and biodiversity, the pollution runoff crisis, where we're cycling nitrogen out of the terrestrial ecosystem and into the oceans, where it causes dead zones. To what we're doing to the water table, lowering the levels and desertification, where we've over-grazed and the land is being reclaimed by the deserts because it doesn't have the growth of plants to resist erosion and soil depletion.”

Still image from Avatar

But when asked what we as a species can practically do to start repairing the damage, Cameron readily admits that the job will not be an easy one. “The solution to any one of these problems is interrelated to the solution to all of them, and it's very simple: we have to stop population growth and we have to stop industrial growth. And this is not gonna happen. It's so heretical to everybody trying to recover from a recession economy - 'we have to stimulate growth!' Well, yeah. Except that's what's gonna kill this planet. And until we get that through our skulls, all of the good causes and all of the fundraising and the little band-aids that we keep sticking over problems are not really going to make a difference.”

Considering all the damage we’ve caused, does he think we’ll need to start developing other worlds to live on? Sadly, it doesn’t look like that will be a viable option for a few years – or even a hundred. “Anyone that knows the physics of it knows that interstellar travel is going to be horrifically difficult and require enormous amounts of energy. It would have to be something incredibly valuable to get us up out of this solar system and take us even to the nearest neighbour.” But he is still committed to the idea that we should develop space technology, having sat on NASA’s advisory board from 2003 to 2005.

And since we’re not likely to be tripping off to Alpha Centauri very soon, perhaps we could find a way to live in sync with our world as well as the Na’vi do with theirs? “That's a good question. That remains to be seen. Hopefully kids will relate to the film on Jake's level, with the idea that we have to be warriors for our planet or we're not going to survive. We're very smart, we're very adaptable, and we do have a conscience and compassion and those are the places where I put my hope. But I also think that the child has to burn their hand on the stove to know the danger. And we haven't burned our hand badly enough yet.”

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