The lesson of 'WALL-E'

Our view: Complacency, wishful thinking won't save the planet

July 20, 2008

The creators of the children's movie WALL-E may have fudged the science at bit by overestimating the intelligence of machines - and, if anything, underestimating the human propensity for self-indulgence. But in its vision of a world threatened by catastrophe, the film reflects both the widespread anxiety over the challenge posed by pollution and climate change, and the tendency for wishful thinking about how to address it.

In the movie, the title character WALL-E (for Waste Allocation Load Lifter-Earth Class) is a robotic, mobile trash compactor who scurries amid piles of industrial detritus cleaning up the mess left behind by humans long ago. He is, alas, the last machine of his type, so his mission seems hopeless. Humans, meanwhile, have fled on a luxury yacht to deep space.

There's a bit of a love story, action-adventure tale, political satire and screwball comedy worked in as well. But the chief impression is one of humanity's dithering in epic overconsumption and waste while trusting its machines to save it. This, of course, is exactly the opposite of how the real world works, though in the movie only the robots seem to know it.

The message of WALL-E seems to be that it's crazy to think machines will clean up our messes or reverse our past misuse of the planet's resources. Still, one can take heart from the movie's pragmatic robots who accept the need for sacrifice, discipline and clarity of mind. That's our only hope for meeting this global challenge, and now even small children can understand why.

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