Think back to the last time you saw a movie or TV show address issues such as oil-dependence, renewable energy, or global warming. Chances are these issues weren’t broached by any of the story’s main characters, instead, these topics are far more likely to be raised by fringe characters notable for their lack of connection to the ‘real world’. Mainstream movies and television have long tended to portray environmental concerns and those advocating their significance as either overly-idealistic hippies or militant, radical extremists.

However, as such issues as climate change, greenhouse gas pollution and renewable energy become increasingly more imperative to our collective society the mainstream media is gradually beginning to take heed. A subtle shift in the portrayal of such issues is evident in a series of new television shows and major upcoming movies, such as a new television show from one of the creators of hit TV show Lost J.J. Abrams: Revolution, a new entry in the ever popular reality programming genre: Turbine Cowboys, or the sci-fi action film: Snow Piercer. These projects all feature stories which deal with issues relating to climate change and energy supply as a central element of their plots or themes.

However, rather than merely dealing with themes related to pressing environmental concerns, these new cultural products are evidence of a more significant shift in attitudes regarding environmentalism. Whereas popular culture has traditionally tended to depict environmental issues as being limited to naïve or militant mindsets, this recent crop of cultural products has begun to make these issues both mainstream and admirable. Shows such as the upcoming Revolution or Snow Piercer which depict the aftermaths of, respectively, a global energy crisis and a new ice-age brought on by global-warming, which affect varied groups of characters and their struggles to survive suggest a universality to these concerns, one which has only recently been accepted in mainstream culture. Such broad universality gives light to the shift in popular attitudes towards climate change which have seen these threats grow ever more realistic with popular culture now seeming to catch on to this evolution and begin responding in kind by acknowledging the primacy of such fears in the public consciousness.

While the increased relevance of climate change issues in our society at large could serve to explain their increased prominence in popular fiction, the depiction of the hard bitten, blue-collar workers of the renewable energy industry is less easily defined and, possibly, more meaningful. The heroes of the new reality TV series Turbine Cowboys are the maintenance workers servicing wind turbines in extreme conditions. The show’s valorization of the workers’ heroism and bravery, in drawing the explicit connection to the toughest of American archetypes: the cowboy, hints at a new cultural reality. One in which renewable energy is no longer merely the province of white lab-coated scientists and wealthy environmental enthusiasts but a necessary element of our future energy policy, one which is worthy of the efforts of the bravest members of the society.

The increasingly prominent role which climate change and energy-crisis related issues seem to occupy in contemporary popular culture is a crucial signpost on the road to achieving a low-carbon future. Signifying the moment when environmental concerns and causes ceased to be marginalized and became the province of society as whole.

Read more: Clean Technica article on Turbine Cowboys

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