How Captain Planet Failed Us

January 18, 2019

Paul Barach in Medium:

The day I learned that Exxon-Mobile knew about climate change in the 1970swas the first time in decades I’d thought of Captain Planet.

Well, excluding this Robot Chicken sketch. (above)

For those of you not familiar with Ted Turner’s brainchild, Captain Planet was a Saturday morning cartoon about five teenagers of broad ethnicities, one of whom had a spider monkey. They were given power rings by a lady ghost named Gaia the Earth Mother who lived under the ground. These teens were known as the Planeteers, and each had a ring that controlled one elemental force: Fire, Water, Earth, Wind, and Heart (which is not a traditional element, but he could control elephants and tigers so we didn’t question it.) Every Saturday morning on TBS the Planeteers would use their power rings to try and stop supervillians, one of whom was a mutant pig man named Hoggish Greedly, from destroying the environment for their personal gain.

The high schoolers would inevitably fail, but with their powers combined, they would summon a half-naked blue adult with a mullet to punch the mutant pig man in the face.


The show had good intentions. Ted Turner and Barbara Pyle sought to influence young minds about the necessity of environmental consciousness. It was the 1990’s. There was some hope in the air. A few years earlier, governments had banded together through the Montreal Protocol to ban the CFCs that had eaten a hole in the Ozone layer. George H.W. Bush had signed the Clean Air Act, the last time a Republican president could pass environmental policy without fearing for their political future. Clean energy sources such as Solar were becoming available. While the previous generations had used up our natural resources in the name of industrialization and profit, perhaps those of us children sitting in front of our televisions would be the ones to reverse course.

As a show, it lacked the fun characters and ninja robots of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the jingoistic charm of G.I Joe, the robot laser battles of Transformers, or the sword and sorcery epicness of He-Man. But it tried. There was a motley crew of environmental supervillains like the poacher and crooked businessman Looten Plunder (voiced by James Coburn), Verminous Skumm (Jeff Goldblum), Dr. Blight (Meg Ryan) and Hoggish Greedly (Ed Asner).

The show ran for two years, from 1990–92, and was then relaunched from 1993–96 with The New Adventures of Captain Planet and the Planeteers. It remains in syndication today. Although Leonardo DiCaprio is attempting to bring Captain Planet to the big screen (hopefully starring Don Cheadle), Captain Planet is mainly remembered as one of those strange things Only 90’s Kids Will Remember. I hadn’t thought of it in years, but the show spoke to me. I was an early environmentalist kid. In first grade, when we were assigned to write a letter to Bill Clinton, I requested to write a letter to Al Gore thanking him for his environmental work. Then I grew up, an environmentally sensitive kid who read as much as he could on climate change.

Then, a few years ago, I read about Exxon-Mobile. I could taste disgust on my tongue. Of course, I knew that the heads of oil companies were aware that greenhouse gas emissions were causing the planet to warm. To claim ignorance of it was a flat out lie on par with the cigarette companies claiming ignorance that their product caused cancer. I knew they were funding politicians to work against limiting carbon emissions, unfortunately successfully. Then I read that article.

In July of 1977, a senior Exxon-Mobile scientist named James L. Black told the company directors that the burning of fossil fuels that they produced would lead to increasing global temperatures. A year later he warned Exxon’s broader audience that doubling the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would increase the global temperatures 2–3 degrees Celsius.

Exxon responded swiftly. Within months the company launched its own extraordinary research into carbon dioxide’s impact on the earth from burning fossil fuels. Exxon brought together a brain trust of scientists that would spend over ten years deepening the company’s understanding of this looming environmental problem that could pose an existential threat to both the oil business and humanity itself. Exxon’s ambitious program included both empirical CO2 and rigorous climate modeling. Part of this included outfitting a supertanker with scientific instruments and sampling carbon dioxide levels in the air and water from the Gulf of Mexico to the Persian Gulf.

And then, near the end of the 1980’s, with all the evidence in their hands, Exxon instead decided to curtail their scientific research.

“In the decades that followed, Exxon worked instead at the forefront of climate denial. It put its muscle behind efforts to manufacture doubt about the reality of global warming its own scientists had once confirmed. It lobbied to block federal and international action to control greenhouse gas emissions. It helped to erect a vast edifice of misinformation that stands to this day.”

After briefly considering taking a stand for all of humanity in the face of this disaster and searching for new sources of energy, they instead funded climate denial and continued raking in Billions. All the while, they had also accounted for sea level rise in the construction of their new oil drilling platforms by raising them up to eight feet, as they could not get insurance companies to fund them without taking this preventative measure.

I couldn’t get over that for weeks. I had known they were doing this. You would have to be blind not to believe it. But to then have it laid out so clearly. The firm evidence that showed how little they thought of anyone or anything but profit. It was beyond mere short-sighted greed.

This was a supervillain level of evil. A small group looting and plundering the Earth for profit.

Perhaps one thing that was more realistic over supervillains like the Shredder or Cobra Commander is that these villains were not ransoming humanity for billions of dollars. Instead, they were destroying the ecosystem that humanity relies on for that much money. That type of sociopathic disregard for mankind is truly evil. Captain Planet popped back into my head. They were exactly who a blue skinned, half naked flying adult with a mullet had told us to fight. Sadly, it wasn’t radioactive rock men and half-rat humans in the boardroom.

Just a bunch of wealthy men and women in suits, deciding year after year that the human race was standing in the way of profit.


3 Responses to “How Captain Planet Failed Us”

    • dumboldguy Says:

      What the F**K is your point in posting this irrelevant “history of the milky way” BS here?

      An excellent piece by Barach, which Peter backed up with his excellent “What Exxon Knew” clip. Are you trying to distract or deflect discussion, as a troll for fossil fuels would do? Or are you just trying to see if anyone is paying attention? I am.

      (Or are you staying up late and getting OD’d on Guinness?—-it’s 1 AM in Ireland and 3 AM in Eastern Europe)

  1. ecoquant Says:

    “But it is not your own Shire,” said Gildor. “Others dwelt here before hobbits were; and others will dwell here again when hobbits are no more. The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.”

    From J.R.R.Tolkien, Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter 3.

    Pale Blue Dot:

    Don’t think it matters all that much if a species which, while sentient and in possession of the science and engineering needed to save itself, fails to do so. Particularly if they mess up the rationality needed to accomplish this in pursuit of a solution. Doesn’t matter if the motivation is greed, or narrow political and social interests.

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