More Thoughts on Avatar

(Read my Avatar Movie Review.)

Some of the comments I’ve seen on Twitter about Avatar say that the movie has a weak storyline and that you should just watch it for the special effects.  It’s true that some plot elements of Avatar can be found in other movies, but I think people are being over critical.  Think about it.  Movies have been in production for about a hundred years now.  Some plot elements are bound to be reused.  You can see the same thing happening in books.  So, instead of watching the movie with the intent to tear apart the plot, you should appreciate the movie for what it is, and for how artfully the story is told.  Besides, it’s really not that weak.  The movie itself is symbolic of a problem that we’re all facing now, in the world around us.

The humans in Avatar have traveled across a vast distance to Pandora in search of raw materials.  They’re there to mine for an ore that’s very valuable on Earth.  I got the impression it was a fuel source of some kind.  In their pursuit of this raw material, they ruthlessly destroy the environment around them without regard for the impact it has on the native population.  The same could be said of what we’re doing to our own planet.  In the pursuit of industrialization we’re polluting our planet at an ever increasing pace.  We’re destroying the habitats of animals.  We’re causing the extinction of whole species.  In some places, like parts of China, we’ve caused the environment to be so toxic that the people living there are seeing massive increases in birth defects and cancer related deaths.

I think that Avatar is trying to teach us that we should be more aware of what we’re doing to our world.  We should take the time to find ways to reduce our impact and to learn to coexist with nature, rather than destroy it for our own ends.  For all our technology, if we continue to pollute our world we’ll one day find ourselves without clean sources of food and water.  The Earth has limited resources after all.  I’m not saying we should all become vegetarian ‘tree-huggers’ but if we can start making a conscious effort on an individual level to reduce our impact, it can add up to a huge difference.  Think about how much better the world would be if everyone recycled, if no one littered, if firm controls were put on industries everywhere as to how their toxic waste was disposed of.  We have the tools available to us already.  We just need to use them.

Avatar is a great movie with a great message that we can all enjoy and learn from.

Avatar Movie Review

Avatar is the best movie I’ve seen in years.  It’s so good in fact that it’s also the first movie to come out in years that I feel is worth paying more money for, to own a copy.  Before going to see this movie, I hadn’t really heard anything good about it.  People were all speculating about the budget and whether or not it would be justified.  I heard a lot of people predicting that it would be flaky.  I’m glad I didn’t listen to them.

Avatar is a breathtaking movie.  From beginning to end you’ll be amazed by the stunning visuals.  The imagery is vivid and lush.  The level of detail is astounding.  But it’s not just the visuals that will keep you glued to your seat.  The movie creates and entire world with depth, history, and tradition that’s full of life.  The Na’vi even have their own language. A sequel would only ruin it, but there’s enough room in the world James Cameron created in this film to spawn an entire series of books, expanding on the history of the Na’vi, the native population of Pandora.

Even though this movie takes place on Pandora, another planet, the human element isn’t lost.  The movie is all about bonds that people form with each other and with the world around them.  The Na’vi are a primitive race on the surface, but their society is very advanced, especially in how they interact with their environment and the role it plays in their lives.  The Na’vi live a simple lifestyle but they’re in tune with their surroundings and they live happily.  There’s also a romantic side to the movie that is predictable, but done in a way that’s touching and interesting.  It adds to the story, rather than serving as a distracting element.

The movie is fast paced and has a lot of action in it.  There really isn’t a boring moment.  With every scene you get to learn more about Pandora and the Na’vi.  There are also bits of humor thrown in, but tastefully.  Some of Sigourney Weaver’s lines are a great example.  This movie will probably appeal most to people who love epic fantasy stories like Lord of the Rings, but it’s hard to compare this movie with others I’ve seen.  It’s really in a league of its own.  It was like watching the rich world of a book come to life on screen.  There’s really something there for everyone.  I doubt anyone’s going to be disappointed coming home from this one.

At the end, you’ll find yourself lost in the world of Pandora and it’s people, wishing for more and reminiscing on the more poignant scenes of the movie.

(Read my follow-up post on Avatar and the symbolism present in the plot.)

Singapore Rejects Firm Emissions Targets? What About The Elephant In The Room?

A little over two weeks ago, the world’s blogosphere observed an event known as Blog Action Day 2009.  The event was a coordinated effort by bloggers around the world to raise awareness of a specific topic, and this year’s topic was climate change.  I believe the total result was that bloggers with a total audience of roughly 18 million participated, including high profile blogs like The Google Blog, Mashable, TUAW, and the official government blogs of the United Kingdom, Spain and The White House blog.  It was a great effort and a very loud cry from people all over the world that we want to see better care taken of the planet we live on.

Later this year, there will be an international summit in Copenhagen to try to address the problem of climate change on a global scale.  Many countries are going into this meeting with the intent to set firm emissions goals, yet Singapore has taken a stance against the setting of any firm targets.

via The Straits Times:

Minister for the Environment & Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim said: ‘We are not obligated to set targets or reduce emissions, but…we will do our part.’

‘Whatever we do, we cannot compromise our ability to grow. So how we find a balance will be a continuous process.’

While I find it a bit disheartening that one of the most advanced and progressive countries in Asia has stated plainly that it is more interested in growth than being environmentally friendly, I can understand their position.  Singapore has positioned itself as a prime business hub in Southeast Asia and it will require continuous growth to both maintain and develop this status.  I’m not justifying the disregard for environmental issues, simply stating why I think they may be pushing it to the back burner for now.

Also, despite its high per capita emissions, Singapore is one of the cleanest places I’ve ever lived and I think this spotlight on Singapore’s position in regards to firm emissions targets is a case of ignoring the elephant in the room.  We should all do our part, but let’s not disregard the forest while complaining about the trees.

Here are some photos of pollution in China, taken from a recent and popular China Hush article:

[Quoted] “In the Yellow Sea coastline, countless sewage pipes buried in the beach and even extending into the deep sea. April 28, 2008”

[Quoted] “In Inner Mongolia there were 2 “black dragons” from the Lasengmiao Power Plant (内蒙古拉僧庙发电厂) covering the nearby villages. July 26, 2005”

I’ve read the blog of a Swedish woman living in Suzhou, China that says she can’t hang her laundry outside to dry or it will be covered in filth and require rewashing.  She’s also afraid of having the windows open due to the heavy pollution in the air that’s as thick as a fog on some days.  I suppose it’s just a small mental comfort for her to run the air conditioner instead, since it’s pulling air from outside, but it demonstrates how bad the situation there is.

Let’s give credit where credit is due and focus on the true environmental disaster in Asia.

Blog Action Day 2009: Climate Change

If you’ve been keeping up with Blogger news, either via the Blogger Twitter account or on the official Blogger Buzz blog, then you’ll have heard about this already. If not, here’s a quick rundown:

Blog Action Day is an annual event, held on October 15th (which is already is here in Singapore), where a single issue is chosen as a topic to be addressed by bloggers around the world. The idea behind it is that if enough people talk about the issue on one single day, and the web is inundated with news about it, it’ll be more likely to catch otehr people’s eyes, and thereby spread awareness. The topic for this year is climate change.

It’s an interesting coincidence that climate change should be the issue of this year’s event, given recent weather problems in Asia. There have been numerous typhoons in the past few weeks in Asia that have left trails of destruction behind them, most notably in the Philippines. I can’t recall a source for this, but gleaning over news I recall seeing where people were speculating that climate change caused by global warming is influencing the weather systems in Asia and making the typhoons more powerful than they would normally be. I’ve also seen speculation that a related topic, pollution, is partly to blame for the flooding in Manila, though with or without trash clogging gutters the area would’ve flooded anyway, given that it’s a basin that sits below sea level.

Photo via NewsHopper

What we’re doing to our planet is, basically, really screwing things up. The problem with “green” solutions right now is that they are more expensive than what we’re doing now, and they’re less profitable for companies in the long run. So, there’s no real incentive in it for the average joe, or for the businessman. No one wants to think long-term, about what we’re doing to be looking at in 50 years, or 100 years.  It will take government intervention on a global level to take on this problem, but with the way international politics stand now, I don’t see that happening. Politicians already fail too often in areas where it matters less than this, or in similar areas, like building more bombs when we should be building less and using those funds for other things, like curing diseases, creating better crops, or extending human life.

So, for now, all we can do… those of us that care… is try to keep an eye on how we’re affecting the environment through our daily actions (and if in a position to do so, place a vote where it counts). Heading downtown? Reduce emissions by taking the train. I know the cab will still be driving around with or without you in it, but over time if more people use public transit the demand on cabs will lessen, meaning the number of cabs will lessen. (Let’s not get into a debate about cutting jobs in a recession right now ok?). Car-pooling is another way to not only save on emissions, but cut personal costs as well. I’m not claiming to have all the answers, or even to know what the answer to this problem is… so I snagged this list from (^_^) :

1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Do your part to reduce waste by choosing reusable products instead of disposables. Buying products with minimal packaging (including the economy size when that makes sense for you) will help to reduce waste. And whenever you can, recycle paper, plastic, newspaper, glass and aluminum cans. If there isn’t a recycling program at your workplace, school, or in your community, ask about starting one. By recycling half of your household waste, you can save 2,400 pounds of carbon dioxide annually.

2. Use Less Heat and Air Conditioning

Adding insulation to your walls and attic, and installing weather stripping or caulking around doors and windows can lower your heating costs more than 25 percent, by reducing the amount of energy you need to heat and cool your home.

Turn down the heat while you’re sleeping at night or away during the day, and keep temperatures moderate at all times. Setting your thermostat just 2 degrees lower in winter and higher in summer could save about 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide each year.

3. Change a Light Bulb

Wherever practical, replace regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. Replacing just one 60-watt incandescent light bulb with a CFL will save you $30 over the life of the bulb. CFLs also last 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs, use two-thirds less energy, and give off 70 percent less heat.

If every U.S. family replaced one regular light bulb with a CFL, it would eliminate 90 billion pounds of greenhouse gases, the same as taking 7.5 million cars off the road.

4. Drive Less and Drive Smart

Less driving means fewer emissions. Besides saving gasoline, walking and biking are great forms of exercise. Explore your community mass transit system, and check out options for carpooling to work or school.

When you do drive, make sure your car is running efficiently. For example, keeping your tires properly inflated can improve your gas mileage by more than 3 percent. Every gallon of gas you save not only helps your budget, it also keeps 20 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

5. Buy Energy-Efficient Products

When it’s time to buy a new car, choose one that offers good gas mileage. Home appliances now come in a range of energy-efficient models, and compact florescent bulbs are designed to provide more natural-looking light while using far less energy than standard light bulbs.

Avoid products that come with excess packaging, especially molded plastic and other packaging that can’t be recycled. If you reduce your household garbage by 10 percent, you can save 1,200 pounds of carbon dioxide annually.

6. Use Less Hot Water

Set your water heater at 120 degrees to save energy, and wrap it in an insulating blanket if it is more than 5 years old. Buy low-flow showerheads to save hot water and about 350 pounds of carbon dioxide yearly. Wash your clothes in warm or cold water to reduce your use of hot water and the energy required to produce it. That change alone can save at least 500 pounds of carbon dioxide annually in most households. Use the energy-saving settings on your dishwasher and let the dishes air-dry.

7. Use the “Off” Switch

Save electricity and reduce global warming by turning off lights when you leave a room, and using only as much light as you need. And remember to turn off your television, video player, stereo and computer when you’re not using them.

It’s also a good idea to turn off the water when you’re not using it. While brushing your teeth, shampooing the dog or washing your car, turn off the water until you actually need it for rinsing. You’ll reduce your water bill and help to conserve a vital resource.

8. Plant a Tree

If you have the means to plant a tree, start digging. During photosynthesis, trees and other plants absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. They are an integral part of the natural atmospheric exchange cycle here on Earth, but there are too few of them to fully counter the increases in carbon dioxide caused by automobile traffic, manufacturing and other human activities. A single tree will absorb approximately one ton of carbon dioxide during its lifetime.

9. Get a Report Card from Your Utility Company

Many utility companies provide free home energy audits to help consumers identify areas in their homes that may not be energy efficient. In addition, many utility companies offer rebate programs to help pay for the cost of energy-efficient upgrades.

10. Encourage Others to Conserve

Share information about recycling and energy conservation with your friends, neighbors and co-workers, and take opportunities to encourage public officials to establish programs and policies that are good for the environment.

There are lots of good reasons to take action when it comes to preventing climate change. The most obvious is what I mentioned before (weather changes) and flooding, but you have to think about things in the long run. For example, the flooding in the Philippines destroyed a lot of crops, farmland and killed farm animals. Here, check out this excerpt from an ABS-CBN article:

MANILA – Total damage to crops, livestock and infrastructure wrought by the two successive typhoons that hit the country has reached P18.4 billion, according to the latest report released by the Department of Agriculture’s Center Action Center (DACAC) on Tuesday.

The DACAC said the losses—P6.8 billion from “Ondoy” and P11.7 billion from “Pepeng”—were recorded in all of Luzon’s seven regions.

The typhoons destroyed some 121,949 hectares of croplands, resulting in the loss of 925,523 metric tons of rice, corn, and high-value crops. Fishery products, livestock and poultry were affected while farm infrastructure worth P2.7 billion were ruined.

Rice areas were the most affected, with some 109,188 hectares reported to have no chance of recovery.

So, climate change doesn’t just affect the weather. It doesn’t just mean that it’s going to be sunnier, or that you’ll have to run the air conditioner more. It also means that it’s going to cause problems with food supplies around the world. It could cause famine, higher crime rates, and even war if the need escalated high enough. Just look at Japan. Their need for imported materials from the United States during the height of World War II, and our denial of those materials, is what drug the United States into the war in the first place with the retaliatory bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Do what you can, day to day, to reduce your impact on our planet. If not for ourselves, then for those who come after us. Don’t shit in the next generations’ crib before they’re even born.

Now watch this nifty video, and then click through on the link below it to find out more.

Blog Action Day 2009