The Green Lantern movie has been a hot topic on SF-Fandom recently. People are ready and waiting for a realistic Green Lantern to emerge on the silver screen.
How do you do a realistic Green Lantern? Most people, I think, are familiar with the Hal Jordan Green Lantern, although there have been plenty of others in the comic books. I was watching some reality show the other evening and two guys were discussing Green Lantern, mentioning Hal Jordan by name.
So what has Green Lantern to do with the environment? Actually, I don’t remember many environmental connections from the Green Lantern stories of the late 1960s and early 1970s — except that when Hal wandered around with his buddies Green Arrow and the Black Canary (from Earth 1), environmental elements crept into the stories.
One story had the trio accompany one of the Guardians of the Universe back to his home planet after the other Guardians had banished him from their order. The planet had become overpopulated through a cloning program that was originally developed to rescue the society from a devastating crisis.
Another story actually developed in a Superman or Action Comics tale where Superman was having a picnic with Green Arrow and Black Canary (as I recall). Someone (possibly Green Arrow) was whining about a nearby factory polluting the environment. Black Canary (I think) wasn’t so concerned.
Superman then related a story from Krypton (how he learned this is not explained) that occurred about 20 years before the planet exploded. A scientist in Krypton’s southern hemisphere discovered that the planet’s core was unstable. However, he happened to live in a community where everyone listened to musical flowers.
When the scientist tried to warn everyone that the world was doomed, they imprisoned him in a greenhouse with a horde of the flowers. He eventually went insane and lost all interest in survival, giving in to the music of the flowers.
After hearing this story, Black Canary stormed off to speak with the factory manager about the pollution. Of course, that’s where the comic book story ended.
You have to wonder if there will be any environmental issues in the Green Lantern movie (I don’t follow the animated movies but I don’t recall anyone mentioning environmental issues in them). The Guardians of the Universe do actually address environmental concerns on occasion.
In one story, the Guardians asked Superman to deal with a massive ball of yellow spores hurtling through space. Clearly the Green Lanterns would have had a problem with the ball because it was yellow. So Superman constructed a small planet where the spores could impact and develop on their own without harming anything else in the universe.
In that same story one of the Guardians let slip to Superman that he was hindering human social evolution by always saving the day. Superman had to think about that for a while and eventually concluded that maybe he didn’t need to rescue every cat caught in a tree.
There were two lessons to be learned from that story: first, that dealing with an environmental crisis doesn’t necessarily mean we have to sacrifice one part of our biosphere to service another; second, that we can become too dependent on someone else always being there to save the day.
In the 1970s when this story was published there was no Superman for us to turn to, but there was a sense that the government might be able to pull off intervention to keep things going. That is, we had just sent men to the moon and we were beginning to roll out new technologies on a large scale that had been developed for the space program.
Nearly every electronic device we use today owes something to President Kennedy’s commitment to send a man to the man by 1970. Those electronic gizmos we live and play with also owe something to the environmental disasters that our industrial civilization wrought upon itself over the past few centuries. And those disasters were often resolved only through massive government intervention.
Take Love Canal, for example. Built on a toxic waste dump, a small suburban community experienced high rates of cancer and miscarriages. Once people got society to acknowledge there was a serious problem there, the U.S. government stepped in, bought up all the homes, and initiated a cleanup campaign that served as a guide for future disaster recovery projects.
And Love Canal also awakened us to the fact that the government could not simply step in and save the day in every environmental situation. People began to take greater responsibility for protecting the environment because the ground didn’t start out as a toxic dump. The waste was accumulated over decades.
Small communities, large cities, counties, states, and the Federal government all initiated programs to manage our toxic wastes better. There were struggles between industry and government, industry and citizens, industrial workers and their neighbors, investors and their customers — and no superman was able to come in and move planets around so we could all live in peace.
Society had to figure out how to solve the problem on its own (and we’re still working on the solution but we have made progress).
Maybe if we had a Galactic Green Police force — or just an Earthly Green Police force — to step in and help us clean up our act we would not have to worry about finding another Love Canal situation. But environmental policing is a two-edged sword. Today’s environmental movements largely urge all citizens to take responsibility for the environment we live in — and yet, if we create a green police force that can act across boundaries, will that authority alleviate our sense of personal responsibility?
Would an international environmental police agency inhibit our social evolution toward greater personal environmental responsibility?