I often wonder how to go about making more people aware of the desperate nature of climate change in a way that’s convincing and productive without being aggravating. So, if I could have an hourlong conversation with any figure from history it would be with director of
film and activist, William Wyler. To the modern eye, Wyler’s film, Mrs. Miniver blends in with any other movie made about WWII, telling the story of victims’ struggles, deaths, and sacrifices. But when Mrs. Miniver was released to cinemas all over England and America at the height of the war, it was intended to be a wakeup call. Filmed in 1941, before Pearl Harbor had solidified American resolve to enter WWII, Mrs. Miniver was, essentially, a propaganda film intended to make American audiences more aware of the dangers they were reluctant to face, and more sympathetic to the plight of Britain, the lone holdout against the Nazis before December of 1941.
Wyler must have struggled to find a way to convince Americans that something that was happening half a world away and that didn’t appear to be an immediate threat was, in fact, a very real threat to them and to future generations.
I can’t help feeling that the problem of climate change presents a similar threat, and poses a similar challenge. The world’s ongoing tendency to ignore or even deny that our climate is changing for the worse, could result in our downfall. We don’t all live in California where drought is changing life as we know it, or in the Maldives where rising water levels threaten the very existence of their islands, but the intended audience of Mrs. Miniver did not live in Poland or France. Both then and now: the threat needs to be stopped before it is imminent, before it is too late.
William Wyler was able to tackle the challenge of telling an entire nation something it didn’t want to hear. His message made people realize that they needed to take action, and to make immediate sacrifices to ensure that they would have a future. As a country, the world needs us to make sacrifices again: not only simple and small inconveniences such as recycling or turning off lights, but bigger ones like stopping the abuse of agriculture, reducing unnecessary consumerism, and limiting carbon emissions. These actions may not require us to go to the front line and fight for our lives, but by making these changes we can fight for the wellbeing of future generations that we might never see.
What made Mrs. Miniver so effective was the way it literally brought home to Americans
the plight of ordinary people half a world away in a way that was not overbearing or aggressive. We need someone like William Wyler in the twenty first century, someone who can make people see how a crisis that now seems a long way in the distance will not seem immediate until it is too late.