A glitch style image of a cityscape
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Hunter Vaughan joined the EJ& podcast to talk about the harmful environmental impacts of the movie industry.

As climate destabilisation grows more visible, widespread, and disruptive, the fault lines between environmental risk and social injustice become more apparent. 

Environmental Justice (or “EJ”) has emerged as a social movement at the intersection of green politics and civil rights, gender equality, and Indigenous sovereignty.

I was invited to the environmental justice podcast EJ& to discuss this issue in the context of the film industry’s environmental footprint and current connection to the spread of digital tech.

The silver screen has traditionally been celebrated as a dream factory, a medium of light and sound where stories and fantasies are given ephemeral shape, dancing through the air until the house lights go on and we go back to our real lives. 

These dreams, however, are built from natural resources through complex industrial processes that have been and continue to affect locations and communities that do not stand to benefit from the box office.

“As participants in an image-centric society and consumers of digital culture, we have a responsibility to know where our content comes from, and at what costs.”

Consider raw film stock. Nearly all of classical Hollywood’s masterpieces were filmed and printed on celluloid churned out of the Kodak Park Plant in Rochester, NY. 

This process relied on massive water use from Lake Ontario. Postproduction chemicals were then dumped into groundwater of New York, making it the primary source of carcinogenic pathogens in the state and the city of Rochester “ranked number one for overall releases of carcinogenic chemicals”. 

There are also the effects of globalisation and mobile production to consider. 

Films such as Titanic, which was mostly shot in a pop-up studio on Mexico’s Pacific coast, decimated not only local biodiversity and destroyed the livelihood of a local fishing community. (For additional anecdotes from Kodak to Titanic see Maxwell and Miller, Greening the Media)

An extension of the neoliberal policies that gave rise to rampant runaway production norms such as Titanic, the shape of climate inequality and environmental justice is changing radically with the global rise of digital technology. My EJ& episode focuses on this shift. 

The life cycle of the devices and systems that make up our connected planet – and enable our latest Netflix binge – is based on profound disparities of profit and harm. 

Digital entertainment is built upon global environmental injustice from the child labour used in rare metal mining to toxic threats to women and lower income workers posed by postcolonial cartographies of e-waste distribution (for an excellent critical history of e-waste see Gabrys, Digital Rubbish).  

In this episode of EJ&, I survey the history of film industry practices, from raw material manufacture to global ecosystem disruption, to draw back the curtain on the environmental costs of this beloved culture industry. 

Pulling this thread through to the digital present, I attempt to reveal an invisible narrative whereby our screen entertainment is founded upon disproportionate injustices of environmental destruction.

As participants in an image-centric society and consumers of digital culture, we have a responsibility to know where our content comes from, and at what costs. 

Before making your next movie recommendation, come listen.

Listen to EJ&: The Entertainment Industry

About EJ& podcast

Climate change hits marginalized communities the hardest, and a focus on environmental justice (EJ) has thankfully developed in recent years. On EJ&, hear from scientists, activists, lawyers, professors, and others about how EJ touches all aspects of our society from the law and public health to video games and the bond market.