WALL-E - Life Imitates Art

WALL-E is a lovable film that highlights humanity's impact on the environment and our toxic relationship with technology, while reminding us to take care of the things (and people) that we love.

Spoiler Free Thoughts About the Movie

I would like to open this by saying that it is nuts that WALL-E came out in 2008 and we never invested in recycling infrastructure or the countries running those processes. Oh, and we're still polluting. And killing the planet. Absolutely wild.

Anyway, WALL-E is the story of a robot left on Earth over 700 years ago when humanity was forced to evacuate on a ship called The Axiom due to pollution rendering the planet uninhabitable. WALL-E, the robot (duh), was created to collect and organize trash that was left behind, the goal being that within 5 years Earth would be able to sustain life once again, and humanity would return. 700 years later, we join WALL-E still on his mission to clean up Earth.

Earth has become a massive desert, suffering from daily dust storms and littered with garbage. Throughout the movie, both on Earth and in space, we repeatedly see the name of one corporation: BnL Corp, or Buy N Large Corporation. This corporation was seemingly responsible for the destruction of the planet, and ended up taking the place of the government to facilitate the evacuation of humanity onto the Axiom, and continues to facilitate day-to-day life on board the ship.

The Axiom is... terrifying. Humans are transported throughout the ship on floating chairs with augmented reality screens built into them, and food (in the form of drink) is delivered to them whenever they need it. They don't have to walk, they don't have to interact with each other without technology, they don't even have to change their clothes! In a world where COVID-19 has prevented many of us from seeing friends and family without technology, this "future" feels a lot more relevant today than it did in 2008.

The first section of the movie follows WALL-E on his day-to-day tasks: leaving his shelter, charging with his built-in solar panels, cleaning up the trash still covering the planet, and rummaging through the trash for anything he may want to collect. We then get to see the collection of items that he has found from old moves to egg beaters, each as fascinating to him as the next. This section is so pleasant that you almost forget that WALL-E exists to clean up the destroyed planet that humanity left behind.

The second section involves WALL-E discovering a plant and the annual Axiom probe being sent to Earth to search for life (ooo I sense plot here!). This probe contains another robot named EVE, and this section (after a brief period of time where EVE tries to kill WALL-E) is just as pleasant as the first. The good feeling of this section ends here, when WALL-E shows EVE the plant, causing her to shut down until being recovered by the probe to bring the plant back to The Axiom for examination.

The majority of the movie from here on out is a full sprint up in space, with much of that breakdown being examined in the "Life Imitates Art" section below!

Overall, this movie is truly horrifying when you examine it through the lens of climate change. Earth is a massive desert plagued by daily dust storms, rivers are polluted to the point that they are the color and consistency of molasses, and only a single piece of life has been able to exist in 700 years because of the way humanity treated the planet. This movie truly shows the horrors that await humanity if we do not take action as soon as we possibly can to change our ways and live in a way that the planet can support. I know I don't want to be on board The Axiom, so we should do what we can to prevent that from becoming a reality.

I think that WALL-E should be required viewing for most people, as it shows just how great an impact our actions have, and also how long our trash will stick around after we're gone. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is still growing, and is likely to continue growing if nothing changes, and how far is that really from the trash-filled wasteland that WALL-E takes place on?

Climate Rating: 5/5 - I know, the second review, and we're already throwing up a 5/5. Well, go watch the movie and try to argue that it deserves anything less.

Potential Spoilers! 14 Years Later, Life Imitates Art

Everyone knows the saying "art imitates life", meaning that creative or fictitious works are inspired by true events, people, or stories. WALL-E takes a more horrifying approach, which is predicting that life will imitate art. As I mentioned at the start of this article, it is bonkers to me that this movie came out in 2008, the world was terrified of the future put on display, and we continued on our merry way as a society as if there was no possible way that this could come true.

Examining WALL-E 14 years later is quite interesting, as this movie was full of warnings that we as a society did not listen to. Focusing on the environmental elements of the film, the major warnings that I find relevant are the very specific ways that Earth has "evolved" and the role that corporations played in that "evolution".

The eeriest part of the opening scene is the camera panning over the landscape of Earth, 700 years after the humans left it behind. What makes it so eerie isn't necessarily the actual images, but how accurate they are to the projections illustrating what Earth would look like if humanity made no further effort to reduce warming. There are no signs of life across the vast sea of dirt presented. Dust storms rip across the land daily, if not more. The water that is left looks more like molasses, polluted to the point where it would probably be too thick to even ride a boat across as WALL-E does. The only thing that could make this more accurate to projections would be if wildfires were raging and if we could see coastlines that were destroyed. Granted, that probably happened hundreds of years ago in this universe. If we continue to live dependent on the fossil fuel industry and large corporations, WALL-E may end up being a prophecy, rather than just a film.

The evolution of the Earth is clear just from this opening shot, with every change that the planet has gone through being highlighted. What is also highlighted, is the being most responsible for these changes - BnL Corp. We see their stores and warehouses covering just as much land as the garbage does. We see their packaging, products, and shopping carts littered throughout the piles of trash left behind. They even have announcements going through their PA system, though nobody is around to hear them. We see BnL on The Axiom, it is their ship after all. The entity that ended any hope of humanity surviving on Earth has also tried to play hero, providing an escape from the destruction that they created.

BnL Corp. is not too dissimilar to the corporations that we have here on Earth. In fact, it is extremely similar to our very own Amazon. In 2018, Amazon publicly announced that its annual carbon footprint was 44.4 million metric tons per year [1]. For context, it would take just over 54 million acres of US forests to sequester that much carbon from the atmosphere in one year[2], and we lost 8.8 million acres of that same forest due to wildfires that same year[3]. To be clear, the point of this isn't to say that Amazon and Amazon alone are killing the planet. In that same blog post, they detail their goals of carbon neutrality by 2040 and how they plan on reaching that goal. That's more ambitious than a lot of companies and countries, and that should be seen as the positive that it is. Amazon is just an easy comparison for BnL - they provide almost every product, have their hands in politics, and can be found everywhere. As to their grip on politics, and the impact that is having on Earth, a combination of Open Secrets and The League of Conservation Voters' National Environmental scorecard show that "Amazon’s donations can be matched up to 68 legislators who have denied climate change — including those who have voted against environmental legislation 100% of the time"[4]. What this means is that Amazon is not only contributing to climate change directly with their emissions, but they are also preventing legislation from being passed to provide solutions by supporting politicians who oppose any action being taken against climate change.

Corporations clearly play a large role in Earth's destruction in WALL-E, and they are currently playing a large role in the climate crisis we are facing on our Earth. Does this mean we didn't listen to any of the warnings in WALL-E? Not necessarily. As of March 2019, "U.S. renewable electricity generation has doubled since 2008,"[5] which is a huge step in avoiding a future similar to the one we see on screen. Although this is a great step, there is still a lot more to be done. We are still relying heavily on fossil fuels, with 80% of energy production and consumption in 2019 coming from fossil fuels.[6] Moving forward, that number needs to go down, while energy production from renewable resources needs to go up. As mentioned in the article last week, the technology to make this happens already exists, it will only take political willpower to make this possibility become a reality. As long as the BnLs of the world have their hands in the pockets of our legislators, it will be more difficult to make this happen, but it will not be impossible. Let's continue to listen to the warnings we were given in WALL-E and push our politicians to make the best decisions for humanity, not for their wallets.

There is a hopeful similarity between WALL-E and the reality we live in, and that is the power of people. Towards the end of the movie, we see a clip from the CEO of BnL 700 years ago, when he tells the autopilot for The Axiom that Earth is too far gone, and humanity should never return. This leads to many of the robots on board the ship to fight against WALL-E and EVE as they try to bring the humans on board back to Earth. Although none of these humans have ever been to Earth, they band together to help achieve the mission of redirecting The Axiom back towards their true home. In the end, they are successful, and they can return to Earth and begin building their new lives. I think that this was the true future that the movie wanted to predict. If we band together, we can still ensure that this planet will be our home forever, not just until the end of the century. We don't have to blindly follow politicians or corporations, instead, we can dictate the course of our society. Politicians are elected by us to act on our behalf, and corporations will always do what they must to keep positive public opinion. If we demand that the climate be a priority for both politicians and corporations, we can have a future like the end of WALL-E, and not like the beginning.

I never want to be on board The Axiom, or anything like it. 14 years later, and life now looks a lot like it probably did in WALL-E before things really went downhill. Let's not allow our lives to fully imitate art. There is still hope, and pledges like Amazon's will help to create a future we all want to be a part of.

  1. Amazon. “Reaching Net Zero Carbon by 2040.” Amazon Carbon Methodology ↩︎

  2. EPA. “Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency ↩︎

  3. Hanson, Laura A. “Wildfire Statistics - Federation of American Scientists.” Congressional Research Service ↩︎

  4. Mahadevan, By: Alex, et al. “How Big Is Amazon's Carbon Footprint?” Poynter, 23 Apr. 2021 ↩︎

  5. “U.S. Energy Information Administration - EIA - Independent Statistics and Analysis.” U.S. Renewable Electricity Generation Has Doubled since 2008 - Today in Energy - U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) ↩︎

  6. “U.S. Energy Information Administration - EIA - Independent Statistics and Analysis.” Fossil Fuels Account for the Largest Share of U.S. Energy Production and Consumption - Today in Energy - U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) ↩︎