Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Hunger Games, Environmental Ethics, and Climate Change

Anyone who has spent time around me knows well that I decompress from the intensity of academic life--and of trying to make a difference on issues like climate change, energy, and environmental justice that lack any easy answers--in part through my love of not-so-intellectual popular culture.  I don't know too many other law professors who will openly admit to subscribing to Us Weekly, though many thumb through it while visiting my home.

So even though the Hunger Games trilogy was a little darker than the books that I typically enjoy, I was drawn in through the brilliant marketing campaign that an interesting New York Times article dissected.  Once I began book one, I--like so many people I know--was sucked in until the very end of book three.  Then, I hosted a neighborhood book club night focused around the book, complete with Nightlock (well, ok, they were really blueberries), Prim’s Goat Cheese, Burnt Nutty Bread from Peeta’s Bakery, Capitol Hors D'oeuvres, Cookies from Peeta’s Bakery, and Seaweed from District 4.  Hunger Games Party March 2012
I also went opening weekend to see the movie with a group of colleagues and other friends, followed by some tasty margaritas and Mexican food.

However much I enjoyed all this play, though, I never could quite escape the nagging feeling that this book actually had something to do with my day job.  There have been quite a few articles about the way in which climate change is portrayed in the book as setting the stage for the dystopian world, including an interesting one on Slate.  Moreover, the notions of the value of nature and environmental balance ran much deeper throughout the book.  The central character Katniss has a deep connection to the woods and its creatures, expressed through both her hunting and singing.  The book seems to urge the value of a simpler life, connected to the rhythms of the natural world, over the ostentatious consumption of the Capitol.

At the very same time as a hugely successful book and movie seem to acknowledge the importance of avoiding major climate change and achieving more balance with nature, however, the popular discourse over these issues remains disfunctionally fractured.  The warring Wall Street Journal op-eds and John Stewart's criticism Fox News for not publicizing that a study partly funded by Koch Industries reinforced the validity of findings by climate scientists are just two of the latest reminders of the divide in this country.  While I watch us continue to gear up for the 2012 elections and the partisan discourse that accompany them, with more money flowing in from Super PACs, I try to find some hope in the fact that maybe our basic values are not so far apart as we root for Katniss to find peace in her woods.

Hari Osofsky

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