Climate

How to responsibly portray speculative climate tech in film and TV

Climate researcher Peter Kalmus explains how to depict climate tech in ways that don’t glamorize speculative solutions or delay action in the real world.

How to responsibly portray speculative climate tech in film and TV

Narrative storytelling about the climate crisis is vital right now.

Photo: Jakob Owens/Unsplash

Climate storytelling just got a major upgrade, care of a new playbook for established and aspiring screenwriters. The guide is meant to help us have fewer “The Day After Tomorrows” and more, well, good climate movies and television shows that have yet to be created that depict the crisis we face accurately.

That doesn’t mean climate change needs to be front and center. It can serve as a backdrop for the stories we tell about the future. Not just the bad stuff — you can see plenty of climate dystopia just by refreshing your Twitter feed — but also the technology that can save us and the power structures that need to be changed for a more just, climate-safe future.

“This moment is a challenge to writers and other creatives in Hollywood to help shape a new reality,” Favianna Rodriguez, the founder of the Center for Cultural Power, and Layel Camargo, a filmmaker and activist, wrote in the guide.

Narrative storytelling about the climate crisis is vital right now because so much of the future will look different than the past. We simply have no analog for what a world full of EVs and wind turbines will look like. Movies and television shows can help us collectively imagine how to create that world more clearly. And they could also give us a sense of how to envision even more speculative technologies like carbon dioxide removal, including how to ensure they’re deployed in a just manner.

To get a sense of what better stories could look like, Protocol spoke with climate scientist Peter Kalmus, who helped write a section on technology in the playbook. Kalmus works at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, but he worked on the guide and spoke with Protocol in a personal capacity.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Are there ways to include carbon dioxide removal or other speculative tech in movies that don't glamorize it?

I think so. Just showing that there are many, many ways in which we will not be able to adapt, despite our best technological efforts, would be a good foil for unrealistic or glamorizing depictions. In particular, depicting carbon dioxide removal as expensive and not nearly as easy to scale up as thought would be interesting — and in my opinion, probably more realistic.

Skewering techno-saviorism was, at least in my estimation, one of the more successful parts of “Don't Look Up.” Are there ways you could see applying that lens to CDR/geoengineering or is satire an ineffective tool here?

Absolutely! I think it's already been done, for example, in Neal Stephenson's novel "Termination Shock." There are so many ways things could go wrong, not least of which is unrealistically high expectations, that I think there are unlimited stories and ways to tell those stories.

What climate story would you want to see made for TV, whether fictional or real?

I've been developing this vision of what I think of as "sad but relieved solidarity." I think it's what we should be going for. Sad, because no matter what happens now, we will lose a lot. Things like the Amazon rainforest and coral reefs and some of the world's beautiful coastal cities [will be degraded or destroyed by climate change]. I wish it were still 1990 or even 2000 so I didn't have to say that.

Relieved, because if we do everything right, we could still be more or less OK, I think. Hopefully.

And solidarity, because it will necessarily require us to work together and grow up as a species. It will be a very spiritual moment for our planet — if we start making the right decisions, and putting the right people in charge.

LA is a growing tech hub. But not everyone may fit.

LA has a housing crisis similar to Silicon Valley’s. And single-family-zoning laws are mostly to blame.

As the number of tech companies in the region grows, so does the number of tech workers, whose high salaries put them at an advantage in both LA's renting and buying markets.

Photo: Nat Rubio-Licht/Protocol

LA’s tech scene is on the rise. The number of unicorn companies in Los Angeles is growing, and the city has become the third-largest startup ecosystem nationally behind the Bay Area and New York with more than 4,000 VC-backed startups in industries ranging from aerospace to creators. As the number of tech companies in the region grows, so does the number of tech workers. The city is quickly becoming more and more like Silicon Valley — a new startup and a dozen tech workers on every corner and companies like Google, Netflix, and Twitter setting up offices there.

But with growth comes growing pains. Los Angeles, especially the burgeoning Silicon Beach area — which includes Santa Monica, Venice, and Marina del Rey — shares something in common with its namesake Silicon Valley: a severe lack of housing.

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

While there remains debate among economists about whether we are officially in a full-blown recession, the signs are certainly there. Like most executives right now, the outlook concerns me.

In any case, businesses aren’t waiting for the official pronouncement. They’re already bracing for impact as U.S. inflation and interest rates soar. Inflation peaked at 9.1% in June 2022 — the highest increase since November 1981 — and the Federal Reserve is targeting an interest rate of 3% by the end of this year.

Keep Reading Show less
Nancy Sansom

Nancy Sansom is the Chief Marketing Officer for Versapay, the leader in Collaborative AR. In this role, she leads marketing, demand generation, product marketing, partner marketing, events, brand, content marketing and communications. She has more than 20 years of experience running successful product and marketing organizations in high-growth software companies focused on HCM and financial technology. Prior to joining Versapay, Nancy served on the senior leadership teams at PlanSource, Benefitfocus and PeopleMatter.

Policy

SFPD can now surveil a private camera network funded by Ripple chair

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a policy that the ACLU and EFF argue will further criminalize marginalized groups.

SFPD will be able to temporarily tap into private surveillance networks in certain circumstances.

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Ripple chairman and co-founder Chris Larsen has been funding a network of security cameras throughout San Francisco for a decade. Now, the city has given its police department the green light to monitor the feeds from those cameras — and any other private surveillance devices in the city — in real time, whether or not a crime has been committed.

This week, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors approved a controversial plan to allow SFPD to temporarily tap into private surveillance networks during life-threatening emergencies, large events, and in the course of criminal investigations, including investigations of misdemeanors. The decision came despite fervent opposition from groups, including the ACLU of Northern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which say the police department’s new authority will be misused against protesters and marginalized groups in a city that has been a bastion for both.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Enterprise

These two AWS vets think they can finally solve enterprise blockchain

Vendia, founded by Tim Wagner and Shruthi Rao, wants to help companies build real-time, decentralized data applications. Its product allows enterprises to more easily share code and data across clouds, regions, companies, accounts, and technology stacks.

“We have this thesis here: Cloud was always the missing ingredient in blockchain, and Vendia added it in,” Wagner (right) told Protocol of his and Shruthi Rao's company.

Photo: Vendia

The promise of an enterprise blockchain was not lost on CIOs — the idea that a database or an API could keep corporate data consistent with their business partners, be it their upstream supply chains, downstream logistics, or financial partners.

But while it was one of the most anticipated and hyped technologies in recent memory, blockchain also has been one of the most failed technologies in terms of enterprise pilots and implementations, according to Vendia CEO Tim Wagner.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Fintech

Kraken's CEO got tired of being in finance

Jesse Powell tells Protocol the bureaucratic obligations of running a financial services business contributed to his decision to step back from his role as CEO of one of the world’s largest crypto exchanges.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Kraken is going through a major leadership change after what has been a tough year for the crypto powerhouse, and for departing CEO Jesse Powell.

The crypto market is still struggling to recover from a major crash, although Kraken appears to have navigated the crisis better than other rivals. Despite his exchange’s apparent success, Powell found himself in the hot seat over allegations published in The New York Times that he made insensitive comments on gender and race that sparked heated conversations within the company.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Latest Stories
Bulletins