Mar 10, 2011
|Scene from There Will Be Blood|
Readers of Scientific American were able to watch the event live, and I was livetweeting at the event. In this post I will summarize some of the major themes that were discussed.
The story of energy is one about transitions and adapting to a new and uncertain future. Movies, for the most part, have been able to capture these transitions and illustrate the changes made to our quality of life, wealth, social status, and ability as a society to prosper. Energy and movies are uniquely intertwined at different points throughout history and have, at times, developed alongside each other. Therefore, movies present an interestingly look at something so critical to our way of life.
Coal and oil are two major energy sources that illustrate trade-offs and changing perceptions with their production and use.
Oil, unlike coal, is generally portrayed in a more positive light - at least until the 1970s. Shows such as The Beverly Hillbillies depict oil as a source of mobility - not just literally as transportation source, but in social status. Oil had the power to elevate a poor, rural family from the hills to one of the wealthiest echelons of American society simply because they (literally) stumbled across black gold.
Two oil crises, unrest in the Middle East, and gasoline rationing marked the shift in our relationship with oil and how it is portrayed on screen. The salad days of The Beverly Hillbillies have now been replaced with stories of wealth, power, and corruption in shows like Dallas. And Dallas, like the global oil market, crossed borders and cultures.
The 9/11 attacks and war in Iraq are the latest chapter in our relationship with oil. As we see in movies like Syriana, The Kingdom, and Jarhead, there is a growing tension between oil producing nations and consumers. Corruption, confusion, and deception make up the landscape that seems to swallow governments, terrorist organizations, and businesses alike. If our relationship with oil had a Facebook status, it would probably read "it’s complicated".
Monsters, Inc. and Wall-E offer us a glimpse at a future powered by new fuel sources, human spirit, and determination? Or are they subtle warnings about the perils of overconsumption and resource depletion?
Perhaps they are both. What we can be certain of is that there will be more transitions ahead. Maybe one lesson from the last 70 years of film and cinema are is that we should embrace the transitions. Transitions are inevitable. It is up to us to make the most of them. Who knows what the next 70 years will look like.
About The Author: David Wogan is a dual-degree graduate student at The University of Texas at Austin in Mechanical Engineering and Public Affairs. David's work includes the integration of engineering, biological, and policy disciplines to assess advanced energy production in Texas. David received his BS in Mechanical Engineering from U.T. Austin in December 2006. David has worked at National Instruments and at the White House Council on Environmental Quality on the Energy & Climate Change Team. David is a currently a graduate researcher with the Webber Energy Group and writes at The Daily Wogan, his energy and sustainability blog.