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This story is part of it Grist’s summer dream Art and culture series, a week-long exploration of how popular novels affect our environmental reality.

Like many older millennials, I spent much of my free time in the 1990s in front of the TV. You name it-if it plays after 3:15 PM and doesn’t require a cable, I might have seen it. But looking back at many hours 30 years later, the endurance of one show surpassed others: Captain Earth.

For those who are not familiar with this series, the star captain is an unlikely favorite. It is starring a preaching, green mullet, and pollution-sensitive superhero who uses his own power to solve problems such as oil spills, greenhouse gases, and nuclear waste. He can only be summoned by Planeteers, a group of five international teenagers who have magical element-themed rings: earth, fire, wind, water and heart (the last one is empathy, telepathy, and extreme The persuasive combination). When these forces are combined, as they can foresee at some point in each episode, the planetary captain will solemnly rise into the air, preparing to fight various supervillains that are spewing pollution.

Compared with the dark and dull superheroes in DC and the Marvel universe, Captain Planet is a bit silly doodle. Of course, he can make a timely pun while drilling the offshore drilling rig, but he also spends a large part of his time directly teaching the audience about recycling and saving electricity. Nevertheless, children like me have been watching. The series is one of the longest-running cartoons in the 1990s. It has 6 seasons, 113 episodes of TV series and a set of Burger King collectible action dolls.

But according to executive producer Barbara Pyle, the success of the show has nothing to do with merchandise sales. “Our mission is to inspire and educate the next generation of environmental activists,” Pyle said. She and the producer Nicholas Boxer (Nicholas Boxer) emphasized to incorporate as much planetary authenticity as possible into the fantasy plot of the show.In fact, Pyle said that many ideas are directly derived from Global 2000 report to the president, A paper commissioned by Jimmy Carter in 1980 warned that if policies fail to solve the problem of rapid world population growth, environmental disasters will occur.

“People ask me,’How on earth did you make up all these things?'” Pyle said. “Well, we didn’t make up. Each episode of the show is based on real problems in the real culture of a certain place.”

Barbara Pyle poses with the ground team captain at the 2011 fundraising event.
Ben Rose/WireImage

This is not an easy task. Pyle and Boxer have previously collaborated on documentaries about global social issues, but translating environmental concepts into children’s shows is a different challenge. “This show is both revolutionary and flawed,” Boxer said. “It’s difficult to seamlessly integrate these very complex themes into good storytelling… The best episodes feel thoughtful and cohesive. The worst is a little messy.”

Pyle’s explanation is more forgiving. “We did our homework and the science is very clear,” she said. “We know that one day, an entire generation-your generation-needs to speak with one voice on behalf of the earth. In a sense, the entire star team captain series is to prepare us for this moment.”


Compared with 1990, watching “Captain Planet” in 2021 is much less entertaining.

As an 8-year-old kid, I focused on action sequences, cool time travel narratives, and the inevitable victory of justice over evil. The environmental hazards and villains I saw on the screen were so cartoonish, I did not expect that they might pose a real threat to my future well-being.I thought it was a novel, like Talking Gargoyle or Mutant turtle living in the sewer. Doing my part for the planet seems to be as simple as cutting a plastic ring on a six-pack of soda water or turning off the lights in an uninhabited room.

But the seeds of the real climate crisis — the kind of crisis that adult show creators like Pyle and Boxer know are coming — always appear in the plot line of the show. Take the two-part first season “Two Futures” as an example, in which the pig face villain Hoggish Gridley decided to open a golf resort in the Arctic. Naturally, he and his partner sought the help of the mad scientist Dr. Bright-voiced by actress Meg Ryan. Greedly’s strategy was to go back to the 1950s, “burn all coal and fossil fuels,” and use global warming to melt all ice.

For children’s cartoons, the arc is a bit strong (and disturbingly prescient). That’s because Pyle has a secondary audience in his mind: his parents. “I want to make a cross-generational show,” she said. “In my opinion, my target population is people born around 1985. But I hope that parents or grandparents who watch with the children will also receive this message.”

This family’s goal of entertaining and learning has influenced a lot of the writing of the show. Pyle does not want children to regard their family members as evil, from an ecological point of view. “That’s one of the reasons why we make bad guys and their plans so ridiculous,” she explained, “we try to target behavior rather than industry. In that case, no child would go home and say,’Oh, dad, you are doing it. A nonsense business. Some children treat their families as villains of the local team captain, which would be terrible.”

Unlike the exaggerated villains in the play, “Star Wars” is inspired by reality. When creating characters, Pyle drew inspiration from specific individuals, many of whom were prominent in the environmental movement in the 1980s and 1990s.

Rinka that controls the wind is loosely based on the co-founder of the German Green Party Petra Kelly. Gi, the holder of the water ring, was inspired by Qi Yuling, A Malaysian human rights advocate who participated in the United Nations “Earth Summit” meeting held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Fiery Wheeler is more like an ordinary person—a mashup of Pyle’s father and her best New York friend.Marty, who has the power of the heart, is based on Paulinho Pejacan, The leader of the Kayabo people, is also one of the most famous indigenous defenders of the Amazon rainforest. Kwame, who controls the planet, is a combination of several young people — two from Zimbabwe and one from Ghana — and Pyle met them while making an environmental documentary.

An indigenous man in traditional clothing is surrounded by police
Black and white photo of a woman with short hair sitting and talking in a microphone

Many of Barbara Pyle’s planetary experts are based on real-world environmental activists who were active in the 1980s and 1990s. The heart power Planeteer Ma-Ti is based on the real-life activist Paulinho Paiakan (Paulinho Paiakan), who is the leader of the Kayapo people in the Brazilian Amazon. Wind Power Planeteer Linka was inspired by Petra Kelly, co-founder of the German Green Party, pictured on the right, a photo seen here in 1983. Photos by Scott Wallace / Getty Images, Gaby SOMMER / Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

As for the unified role, the name comes from the well-known eco-conscious media mogul Ted Turner, who hired Pyle in 1980 to make important global issues more interesting and interesting. “Star team captain!” He allegedly shouted to Pyle. When she asked who it was, He responded, “That’s your problem.”

“In a way, we lost confidence that adults really paid attention to this issue,” Boxer recalled. “So, we said, let’s meet the children in a fun way.”

Pyle likes the idea of ​​hosting children’s shows and conveying landmark reports (such as the “Global 2000 Report”) to a wider audience, but she believes that the world does not need another strong superhero. She started working with Boxer on the project, who advised them to make sure that the planetary captain would only show up after planetary experts found a problem and proposed their own plan. They are not a strong savior, but strive to make the captain fun, lean and dependent on others-this is a metaphor for teamwork.

Some people did not get it. Boxer remembers being told during lunch with a senior television director: “I don’t like the star captain. I don’t believe it. And I don’t think any cartoon should have information.”

Boxers are indifferent. “I told him,’Everything has a message. The question is whether the message is intentional. At least we know what we want to say.'”


Since Captain Earth first boarded the radio waves, nearly 31 years have passed. Great changes have been made, but too little. The 90s kids we watched on the show are now grown up, able to vote and take action, and to weigh our own decisions against their impact on the very real climate crisis that is still ongoing. Power is ours, this time it is real.

Night scene: Two women wearing blue tights, green wigs, and red shorts were handcuffed by police in the street
During the 2014 Wall Street flood protests, the police arrested two protesters who were disguised as team captains.
Brian Thomas/Getty Images

The importance of this understanding is a problem I am trying to solve now.Of course, I still recycle and turn off the lights, but now I am keenly aware Individual actions are not enough Avoid the worst effects of climate change. Rather than seeing this purely as a motivation to do more, I have been disillusioned, compromised, and anxious. In other words, I grew up.

I’m not alone: ​​Back in 1990, Time Magazine Dubbing The “ecological animals” of our generation call us “the greatest hope for conservation.” The article cited several enthusiastic young people who vowed to continue fighting for the earth, no matter what happened. In 2019, Time Special Writer Olivia B. Waxman Tracked many of the same sources Ask them how they feel about this promise as an adult. Although some people have opened up a career in the environmental movement and believe that the cause has made progress, others have become bored and give up hope.

On the other hand, Pyle’s optimism became firmer. Over the years, she has learned that the group of planetary protectors in real life—her name refers to a generation of adults who watched Captain Earth grow up—have begun to organize organically around local environmental issues. In 1997, she used the proceeds of the Sasakawa Prize to create The Barbara Pyle Foundation supports these efforts to build a more cohesive network Environmentally friendly millennials. The network is currently carrying out an emergency messaging campaign for the upcoming COP26 climate negotiations in Glasgow to persuade world leaders to take action. “It’s been 25 years,” Pyle said. “We haven’t had another 25 years.”

If the land captain is like any other superhero, now will be the perfect time to restart.Climate scientists warn us that we must take immediate action to avoid Change the critical point of the planet; The latest UN climate report suggests that it may be too late to limit global warming 1.5 degrees Celsius Higher than pre-industrial levels; and anti-science sentiments are perpetuating the spread of a deadly global virus. We have identified the enemy and know how to defeat it, but so far we have failed to make the plan a reality.

There have been many attempts to make a star team long film, but these efforts always seem to be stagnant. Pyle said this may be due to a misunderstanding of the show’s mythology by outside writers. “I heard,’He will drink, and the planetary man will find him somewhere in an old Irish pub in New York.’ Now, what’s wrong with this premise? Without planetary experts, there is no planetary captain. He is just that we are Whose reflection.”

The boxer said he was encouraged by the topics that pop culture is still talking about— And parody ——This program has been broadcast for more than 20 years. But if he were to write a new episode for this show today, because there is a lot of uncertainty about our ability to act within the time frame allocated by science, he is confused about how they will end.

He said: “The jury still doesn’t know what will happen.” “I think you have to accept’to be continued.'”




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