Ep 45 – Film Club – Arrival

When gigantic spaceships touchdown in 12 locations around the world. Linguist Louise Banks is approached to lead a team attempting to find a way to communicate with  extraterrestrial visitors. Pressure mounts as nations teeter on the verge of a global arms crisis which could be set off by a simple misunderstanding.

You may want to watch the film before listening and consider:

  • How does Louise’s approach to communication differ from the other characters?
  • Are there lessons which can be applied to environmental and science communication?
  • What preconceptions do other characters bring to the situation? 
  • Are the preconceptions helpful or a hindrance?

Guest on this episode: Atul Kumar, fundraising consultant, author, and podcaster

Changing perspective and reevaluating priorities

In the film

  • Shifting perspective and changing ways of thinking are major themes in the film
    • Louise must convince the military to accept a more nuanced view of what they want in order to reduce chances of miscommunication with the aliens.
    • We come to understand that the memories we are shown in the film is Louise gaining access to memories of her whole life, allowing her to see the consequences of her choices. This gives extra depth and poignancy to her decisions to begin a relationship with Ian and have a child.
  • In tackling environmental challenges
    • Nationalist concerns appear less significant when taking a global perspective. Greenhouse gas emissions do not respect national boundaries. Impacts of climate change will be felt globally. Etc.
    • Historical and future emissions are as important and current emissions.
    • Short term benefits might not be worth it when weighed against long term costs.
    • Evaluation of costs tend to focus on the local and short term.They ignore externalities (costs which are not born by the producer of a product). For example, environmental damage from resource extraction and the impact that has on local communities. Unless companies are forced to repair the damage or contribute to the community, often the cost of this damage is ignored.
    • Being able to shift perspective allows us to better take into account externalities and re-evaluate what is important

More about externalities:

IMF – Externalities: Prices do not reflect all costs – Article

Personal perspectives, biases, and ideology

  • Perspective relates to what we can see. What information is available/hidden.
  • Ideology encompasses ideas about: value/importance, morality, responsibility; and that a version of these ideas are natural or universal truth. Like a lens which colours what we see.
  • Bias describes the result of how ideology interacts with our perspective. Our blind-spots; how we interpret things; the directions we lean; what we are likely to believe or agree with

Starting point for further reading

Malka A, Krosnick JA, Langer G. The association of knowledge with concern about global warming: trusted information sources shape public thinking. Risk Analysis. 2009 May;29(5):633-47. doi: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.2009.01220.x. Epub 2009 Mar 12.

In the film

  • Louise has a very different perspective from Ian because she knows what will happen if she has a child. 
  • Her perspective may give her a bias towards choosing not to change her decision to have a relationship with Ian and to have a child because she has experienced the positives of the loving relationship with Ian and their daughter. 
  • Ian doesn’t have a clear bias one way or another when asked whether he would change things if he could see his whole life, start to finish. He has no relevant experience to inform him.
  • Louise places high value on the experiences with her daughter, and that this outweighs consequences of her daughter dying young. Ian’s values and sense of morality, lead him to a different conclusion. Differences in their ideology (values etc.) lead them to different conclusions about the ‘rightness’ of their choices.

In communication about the environment

  • Confirmation bias – people are more likely to believe information which fits in with what they already ‘know’.
  • Trust in science/scientists can have an effect on how knowledge is correlated with concern or willingness to take action.
  • The reality of climate change, its causes and consequences, is as removed from individual ideologies as we can get. This is the goal of scientific processes.
  • There is an understanding of what we need to achieve: reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. What should be done to reach that goal is less clear because it is tightly linked to ideology; what we place value on, how we think about morality and responsibility etc. 
  • Being aware of our own bias and attempting to take different perspectives can help us recognize how ideology affects how we interpret physical reality and rebalance how we weigh information. It tends to encourage us to look beyond ourselves and our immediate surroundings, and instead consider the global community and long term consequences.

More detailed explanations of ideology

How we communicate affects how the message is received

  • Louise points out that using a game as a medium for communication can frame messages in terms of opposition and conflict.
  • How we communicate about climate change can affect how those messages are received.
  • Too much focus on the scale of the problem can be overwhelming, or lead to a kind of ‘compassion fatigue‘.
  • Learning more about a problem may not help with taking action if the learning doesn’t include solutions.

Bjarne Bruun Jensen (2002): Knowledge, Action and Pro- environmental Behaviour, Environmental Education Research, 8:3, 325-334

Ep 41 – Film Club – Whitefang

Discussion of the 2018 film Whitefang, directed by Alexandre Espigares and distributed by Netflix. Based on the 1906 book by Jack London. In this episode I’m joined by educators Maggie and Ayesha.

You may like to watch the film first and think about:

  • What are the different ways people interact with their environment and animals?
  • How do you feel about the relationships between people and animals in the film?

Depiction of animals

  • We were pleasantly surprised by how engaged we were with the characters and story.
  • Whitefang has a lot of personality, but is not anthropomorphised.
  • Lives of wild animals are shown with a darker, harsher edge, than might be expected in an animated kids movie. 
  • Shows the struggle for food and survival. Whitefang’s early life and relationship with his mother is not idealized in the same way as in animal movies like Bambi.

Depiction of humans

  • Welcomed the overall message that ‘there are all kinds of people in all kinds of cultures’.
  • Overall maintains a ‘good’ vs ‘evil’ dichotomy, but this is understandable given the other difficult subject matter in the film.
  • Didn’t like that the villains are marked out by their appearance.
  • Appreciated the depiction of the Gwichin and the unfairness of needing to buy their own land.

More about the Gwich’in

Depiction of nature

  • Beautifully rendered landscapes.
  • Captures the vastness and wildness of the landscapes in that part of the world.
  • Nature is untamed, beautiful, harsh, but not overtly threatening or hostile.

Tough subjects

How animals are used

  • Training Whitefang to fight other dogs for sport is intensely brutal and negative. 
  • Potential for opening discussions about how animals should be treated.
  • How do you feel about a wild animal being used to pull sleds? Fight? Be a pet?
  • Also opens a window to a part of the reality of life in these places at this time which can often be glossed over by the image of brave, adventurous pioneers.

Releasing animals into the wild

  • Liked the sense of a wild animal being allowed to return to freedom and its habitat.
  • However, Whitefang has been domesticated for most of his life. By the end, also being taught not to hunt animals like chickens.
  • Feels unlikely that Whitefang would do well in the wild given the behaviours he’s been taught.
  • Would be difficult for him to integrate into a pack.
  • Returning to humans could be dangerous as he could be seen as dangerous and killed.

Ep 35 – Film Club – The Lost City of Z

Lost City of Z (2016). Directed by James Gray. Based on the 2009 book Lost city of Z by David Grann.

British soldier Percy Fawcett is contracted by the Royal Geographical Society to chart a river in the Amazon. During the journey he encounters remnants and stories of a lost city in the jungle. The experience leads him to embark on a series of expeditions to find what he has called The Lost City of Z.

You may want to watch the movie first and think about:

  • How is the Amazon depicted?
  • What does the movie make you think about the Amazon and the people who live there?
  • How does the movie make you feel about the Amazon and the people who live there?

Depiction of nature

  • Amazon is a backdrop
    • Not much time spent on details of the environment.
    • Does not give much sense of the biodiversity
  • The green desert
    • Uniformly, endlessly, green
    • Yellow hue throughout gives sense of unreality
    • No animals, fruit, or flowers
    • Despite being in a rainforest, the explorers are initially unable to find any food on their own
  • Amazon as a barrier 
    • Begins as wild, impenetrable
    • Becomes less hostile on Fawcett’s subsequent visits
  • England and tamed nature
    • Image of a rural idyll
    • English country garden echoes images of a Garden of Eden
    • Despite the beauty and calm of the landscape, Fawcett seems to yearn for the wildness of the Amazon

Relationship with Nature

  • Economic resource
    • Exploration is for economic value. Faucett maps river so rubber plantations can be established
  • Challenge to be conquered
    • Fawcett wants personal glory
    • European desire to push boundaries
  • Barrier to civilization
    • Begins as a “green hell”, inhospitable to ‘civilization’
    • Over the course of the film Fawcett starts to see amazon as a home for people and, he suspects, a civilization
    • Remains of city has since been found in the Xingu river basin, now called Kuhikugu

Relationship with amazonian peoples

  • Fawcett begins with British colonial views of Amazonian peoples’ as primitives/savages. His   views are depicted as changing in subsequent expeditions
    • Impressed by their fishing techniques and their ability to cultivate the jungle
    • Argued against interference in their lives, against violence towards them
    • In reality Fawcett was more conflicted about Amazon peoples
      • Theorized that ‘white indians’ from Europe had crossed the Atlantic and civilized them

Problematic points

Rethinking what is ‘civilized/civilization’

  • Film does little to challenge the western/Eurocentric view of ‘civilization’ as tied to material culture.
    • Fawcett uses pottery as marker of civilization worthy of exploration and ‘discovery’
    • What Fawcett recognizes as cultivation of the rainforest, is monoculture plantation agriculture.

Rethinking what is primitive

  • As fellow humans peoples of the Amazon have been on Earth just as long as anyone else, and have history just as long as any other.
  • ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ : Change is often in response to changing needs and/or environment
  • Behavioural and physical technologies can be effective though they may not look ‘modern’


  • Many of us are taught to think of history as progression or advancement
    • Tend to view practices and technology which appeared earlier in our history as being less advanced
  • Useful analogy is the concept of ‘living fossils’, plants and animals which appear to be largely unchanged from their fossil ancestors
    • Doesn’t mean there have been no changes
    • The physiology is just as suited to survival and reproduction today as it was for the now fossilized ancestor 

Thinking about present relationships with indigenous peoples

  • Still colonial/extractive
  • Cultural tourism can often still be colonial. Takes important practices and reduces them to an experience for personal enjoyment. Often separated from meanings, history, and significance for the people.
  • What has changed for these people to now require money from outsiders?

The role of women

  • Does little to challenge Fawcett’s exclusion of his wife from his expeditions
  • Contemporary with Marianne North, who went on similar expeditions on her own


Music in this episode – Gradual Sunrise by David Hilowitz

Ep 34 – Film Club – Arachnophobia

Arachnophobia (1990) Directed by Frank Marshall 

A Family Physician moves to the small town of Canima, California with his family to take over the practice of a retiring doctor. Unbeknownst to the people of the town a newly discovered spider from Venuzuela hitches a ride back to the small town in the coffin of an unfortunate photographer. There the spider produces hundreds of drone offspring with their father’s lethal bite.

You may want to watch the film first and think about:

  • How does the film depict spiders? Are they monsters or animals?
  • How does the film depict scientists? Are the villains, heroes, or support?

Arachnology (Spider science)

The expedition

  • Some accurate-ish field collection techniques
  • Extremely well-funded expedition to have a helicopter
  • Explanation for new species is plausible
    • Many species in tropical regions are adapted to narrow habitat range
    • Temperature difference in the sinkhole could be enough to isolate

Social spiders

  • There are several dozen species of spiders which live in social groups
  • Social behaviour may have evolved to allow tackling larger prey
  • Social spiders often construct 3-dimensional webs rather than orb webs as in the film
  • In reality social spiders are not as differentiated as shown in the film, all the individuals in social spiders can reproduce
  • Spiders used in the film are an actual species of social spider
    • Delena cancerides – the flat huntsman spider
  • colonies up to 300, but they are highly aggressive and commonly cannibalistic toward members from other colonies.

Invasive species

  • All the pieces of the invasive species concept are in the film, though it does not use the term
  • No longer contained by the temperature gradient and geography, new spider could spread across the countryside

Depiction of spiders

Plays on common fears of spiders such as the way they move, and large numbers of spiders, lurking small dark places etc. Doesn’t make up exaggerated monster spider with lots of ‘powers’.

  • Takes advantage of existing fears without creating new ones?
  • Doesn’t do anything to dissuade you from your fears
  • Doesn’t do as much to alter the image of spiders in the same way that Jaws gave sharks the reputation for being bloodthirsty monsters

Depiction of science

There are some elements of the film which cast science/scientists as the villains.

  • Killing and collecting butterflies, which are much beloved
  • Atherton’s focus on the spiders and collecting live specimens for research.

However scientists are not as directly responsible for the events of the film. Quite different from the role of scientists in the Jurassic Park films, for example. Scientists are crucial to the positive resolution of the film. Their knowledge of spider behaviour is necessary to find and destroy the nest.

  • Dr Atherton’s focus on scientific discovery is contrasted with his assistant’s focus on the welfare of the town.
  • Caring about the human impact of science

The making of Arachnophobia – YouTube video


Music in this episode – Gradual Sunrise by David Hilowitz

Ep 28 – Film Club – Moana

Discussion about environmental themes in the 2016 Disney film, Moana. Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker.

You may want to watch the film first and think about:

  • How does the movie make you feel about the ocean? How does it give you that feeling?
  • Who, if anyone, is the villain of the movie?

What the film did well

Accurate depiction of ecology and geology

  • Employed biologist to guide animators while researching polynesian islands
  • Tamatoa – decorator crab – normally attaches things to shell as camouflage, but uses the behaviour to catch fish
  • Magical without as much exaggeration or fantasy as might be expected in an animated Disney film

Representing different cultures and ‘ways of knowing’

  • Established Oceanic story trust involving historians, storytellers, craftsmen, navigators etc. to take part in development of the script and visuals
    • Disney Examiner article
    • Tamaira, Marata & Fonoti, Dionne. (2018). Beyond Paradise? Retelling Pacific Stories in Disney’s Moana. The Contemporary Pacific. 30. 297-327. 10.1353/cp.2018.0029. 
  • Ocean as connector instead of barrier
    • In Western/European views water is often a barrier to be challenged and crossed
  • Return of Heart of Tefiti as a metaphor for voyaging to new islands as something central to their culture?
    • Balances population around islands, less resource pressure

Use of resources

  • First introduced to problems with coconut groves and poor fishing Moana suggests measures for sustainable food production
  • Crop rotation is common practice
    • balances use of nutrients in soil
    • Pathogens which attack specific plants can build up in soil if same crop is grown year-after-year
  • Rotating fishing areas to allow populations to recover
  • Non-magical reasons why resources may be diminishing?
    • Thrived on island for centuries – soil in easily farmed areas may be depleted
    • Dependence on single crop may be allowing pathogen to spread
    • Larger population, fishing pressure might be too high

Managing risk

  • Father’s understandable response to tragic event early in life leads to extreme risk aversion
    • Moana never learns to sail and ends up in greater risk because she has not learned how to manage the dangers in sailing.
    • Does nothing to curb Moana’s desire to explore the ocean, but deprives her of the skills needed to do so with competence
  • Ocean is very hands-off
    • Other than when responding to Maui, the Ocean does not directly intervene
    • Possibly intervenes in extreme risk – Moana being knocked out in the storm
    • Allows Moana to learn how to sail on her own rather than propelling Moana to her goals

The magic of the Ocean

  • Not reliant on abundance of coral reefs to create the desire to explore
  • The way characters relate to the ocean transmits the love of it
  • Even in the Land of Monsters, part of what makes the scene magical is the perspective on the ocean
  • The ocean’s draw comes from the vast size, horizon, peace, danger

What the film missed the mark on

Perspective is very human-centric

  • Presents care of the environment as being for the benefit of humans
  • Care of nature could have been for its own sake

Focus on expansion

  • Hesitant about whether the world can support moving to new islands forever
  • Surely there are only so many islands Maui can pull from the ocean

Other thoughts

Gaia hypothesis

Living things depend on and interact with inorganic parts of the environment, creating a self regulating system. This is similar to the way in which predator-prey relationships form self-regulating systems.

Wikipedia entry – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaia_hypothesis

  • The ocean represents the inorganic parts of the ecosystem, nudging humans restore balance by returning the Heart

Share your ideas about the movie with us!

Send them in to: knowingnaturepodcast@gmail.com

Tweet them to us @kn_podcast

Intro/Outro music: Selfish by Derek Clegg. Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 US License

Ep 24 – Film Club – Finding Nemo

Discussion of the 2003 film Finding Nemo, directed by Andrew Stanton. Featuring guests Ayesha and Rosie.

You may want to watch the film first and think about:

  • How do parents in the movie deal with risk?

What the film did well

Diversity of life and habitat

  • Huge range of animal-life accurately rendered and animated
  • Journey takes viewers through many ocean habitats populated with mostly appropriate types and amounts of animal life
  • One of Nemo’s classmates is a dumbo squid which, in reality, lives in the deep sea

Highlighting problem of collecting wildlife for aquarium trade

  • Taking Nemo from the reef and his family
  • Gill’s trauma in being taken from the ocean and failed attempts to escape
  • Didn’t address how this can impact whole ecosystems and continued pressure can harm survival of species

TMilitz, TA and Foale, S. The “Nemo Effect”: Perception and reality of Finding Nemo ‘s impact on the marine aquarium fisheries. Fish Fish. 2017; 18: 596– 606. doi: 10.1111/faf.12202.

Positive depiction of sharks (mostly)

Approaches to managing risk

  • Marlin reacts to risk by always intervening to protect Nemo. Marlin always highlights Nemo’s weaknesses as reasons to be cautious and avoid all risks. Eventually Nemo rebels against this and does something much more dangerous that he may otherwise have done.
  • Crush, the green turtle, reacts to Squirt falling out of the EAC by observing how Squirt reacts and provides encouragement. We can imagine that he would have intervened if Squirt had been in real trouble. This seems to help Squirt become confident and capable.
  • Dory’s doesn’t evaluate risk, just trusts that everything will be fine. Perhaps because her memory problems means she doesn’t remember risky situations and so can’t learn from them.

What the film missed the mark on

Captive animals often cannot be released into the wild

  • May not be able to fend for themselves or cope with water chemistry and pathogens
  • Releasing pets into the wild may lead to being released into inappropriate habitats
  • Release of pets has led to problems with invasive species

Water quality and pollution

  • We can see differences in water quality as Marlin and Dory get closer to Sydney, but characters don’t react to it. Differences could have been emphasized more with comments about smell or a cough.
  • We imagine a remake of the film would highlight plastic pollution


Films: Finding Dory (2016)

Get outside

Look for fish in streams and ponds. Sticklebacks have wonderful behaviour in late spring/early summer, clearing off a patch at the bottom for females to lay their eggs. Watch them protect their patch from rival fish.

Visit the seaside and go rock pooling!

Don’t keep saltwater fish as pets (without being prepared)

Marine aquariums are very difficult and expensive to keep. Many require considerable investment in equipment and careful monitoring of water quality. These are not goldfish.

If you do want to undertake the challenge, opt for captive bred fish if at all possible. This will reduce the pressure on wild populations.


Send in your questions and comments!

Email: knowingnaturepodcast@gmail.com

Twitter: @kn_podcast

Intro/Outro music: Selfish by Derek Clegg. Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 US License

Ep 21 – Film Club – Jurassic Park

Discussion of the 1993 classic of palaeontology, Jurassic Park, directed by Steven Spielberg. Based on the book by Michael Crichton. Guests on this episode: Tom and Conor.

You may want to watch the film first and think about:

  • Are there situations where you would want to bring back an extinct species?

What the film did well

Inspired interest in palaeontology – Snippets of palaeontological questions scattered through the movie. Depiction of field work.

Depiction of dinosaurs –  Still inspires awe and wonder, even though our understanding of how dinosaurs looked has moved on since the film was first made. Dinosaurs are shown, more or less, as animals rather than monsters.

Moral/ethical discussions about use of scientific knowledge – Discussions between the characters in the film echo real discussions about cloning extinct animals, geoengineering, genetic modification of organisms to solve human problems. Balances the wonder and power of the scientists’ achievements with the possible consequences. 

Bringing back the wooly mammoth

Scientists Could Resurrect the Woolly Mammoth – National Geographic

Can We Bring Back Mammoths From Extinction? Probably Not – Discover magazine

Genetic modification of mosquitoes to control disease

Can genetically modified mosquitoes wipe out malaria? – How Stuff Works

Self-destructing mosquitoes and sterilized rodents: the promise of gene drive – Nature

Gender roles

Dr Ellie Sattler is an active, intelligent, and professional female character. Dr Alan Grant spends most of the film as a caregiver for two children. In both cases the roles the characters take are generally depicted in a straightforward way, without much comment or judgement of their femininity or masculinity. 

What the film could have been done better

Highlight the limitations of palaeontology – More explicit discussion of the interpretive nature of palaeontology and how much of a change the ability to observe live specimens would be.

Tackle questions around living conditions for captive animals – Animals kept in poor conditions do not thrive and can become aggressive. How much of the raptors’ behaviour was due to being kept in a small paddock for a prolonged period? This is an issue addressed in some of the sequels. 

Recommendations for supporting those interested in palaeontology

When Sue Found Sue (2019) – picture book about palaeontologist, Sue Hendrickson, and how she found the most complete and largest T. Rex specimens ever found. Now at the Field museum in Chicago.

If you are more into stories and history try books like:

The Gilded Dinosaur (2000) – or any other book in the Bone Wars, the fierce rivalry between Charles Marsh and Edward Cope.

The Dinosaur Hunters (2010) – Story of the 19th century scientists and the description of the first dinosaur hunters. 

Go fossil hunting! – Check regulations in your area. Some types of fossil or locations may be protected by law. Significant finds should be turned into your local palaeontological museum or university department.

https://ukfossils.co.uk/ – Lists good fossil hunting sites and upcoming group fossil hunts.

https://maps.roadtrippers.com/trips/20150022 – List of some fossil hunting sites in America

Play with toys! – Sort into groups. Arrange into scenes.

Volunteer – Look for opportunities at museums, nature reserves, or anywhere else. Builds experience and makes contacts with people in the field you are interested in.

Get involved in citizen science projects

https://www.inaturalist.org/ – US based app for sharing your natural history observations. 

https://www.brc.ac.uk/irecord/ – UK based platform for the public to record their natural history sightings. Records are verified by experts and feed into official wildlife monitoring schemes.

https://www.myfossil.org/resources/citizen-science/ – Fossil citizen science project run out of the Florida Museum of Natural History

Questions or comments?

Email : knowingnaturepodcast@gmail.com

Twitter: @kn_podcast

Intro/Outro music: Selfish by Derek Clegg. Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 US License

Episode 18 – Film club – Nausicaa

Discussion of the 1984 film Nausicaa of the valley of the wind. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. 

This episode’s guests are environmental educators, Maggie and Paul.

You may want to watch the film first and think about:

  • How do the different groups in the film relate to the natural world.
  • How do the different groups of people feel about nature?
  • Why do they feel that way?

What the film did well

The way people relate to the natural world is strongly influenced by their understanding of it.

Nausicaa understand the behaviour of the insects and doesn’t fear them. She can direct them away from conflict with nearby humans. The other people in the film see the insects as destructive and dangerous and seek to kill them whenever they encounter them.

The film also shows us how self destructive acting without understanding the full consequences can be. We are shown how destroying the jungle  would also be destroying the source of clean water for all the people in the region.

Emotional awareness and empathy

Nausicaa is a powerful character who empathizes with the people and insects and this often leads her to interact with others with more understanding. She also understands herself and how she feels about her actions. After killing those who attacked her father she recognizes the anger which caused her to act the way she did. At the same time she also recognizes the consequences of that action and chooses to not kill again.  

What we wanted to see more of

Use of climate change as the cause of the downfall of humans rather than war. Climate change is the most serious environmental problem we face today. It would be good to see similar films made today make more explicit use of climate change to increase awareness of the possible consequences. However it may be that because climate change is a longer process rather than a single or comparatively brief event like a war, it is more difficult to approach the issue in a film.

Other media mentioned in this episode

Movies – Princess Mononoke (2001) directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Books – The Drowned world (1962) by J. G. Ballard

What did you think? Did we miss something? Send us your thoughts! knowingnaturepodcast@gmail.com

Tweet us @kn_podcast

Intro/Outro music: Selfish by Derek Clegg. Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 US License

Episode 17 – Film club – Over the Hedge

Discussion about the film Over the hedge. Released in 2006. Directed by Karey Kirkpatrick and Tim Johnson.

This episode’s guests are Environmental Educators: Ayesha and Lauren.

You may want to watch the film before listening and think about these questions:

  • What type of food does the movie focus on?
  • What might happen to these animals in the next year?

What the film did well

Highlighted the importance of eating and gathering food stores for animals which hibernate.

Highlighted the problem of habitat loss due to demands for space by humans

Human attitudes towards wildlife – Many of the humans were afraid of the animals despite not even knowing what they are.

What did the film miss the mark on?


Aside from one mention of junk food, human food is depicted as better or more desirable than food animals would find in the wild. It ignores the potential for severe health impacts of feeding human foods to wildlife.

Constantly being fed bread can lead to malnutrition in ducks if their diet is not varied enough. Unwanted bread can also rot in ponds and waterways, leading to dangerous algal and bacterial blooms. Yeasts can also affect birds feathers, turning them red/pink/brown and affecting their waterproofing. It is safer to feed ducks and geese wheat grain or chopped lettuce, which is closer to their natural diet.

Jumbo the elephant is an extreme example of the problems that eating food meant for humans can cause in animals. Visitors to the zoo could buy cakes to feed Jumbo, but the diet of soft foods meant his teeth did not wear down enough and probably led to constant painful impacted teeth.

Urban habitats can provide some animals with lots of food. Garden flowers can provide pollen and nectar for more of the year, giving insects a food boost early and late in the year when native flowers may not be in bloom.

Habitat loss and fragmentation

The movie never really dealt with the long term consequences of having a much smaller habitat, habitat loss. They ended the film with the squirrel’s saved acorns, but what will happen to the animals once those are gone?

The forest is also now cut off from other forests, habitat fragmentation. It will be much more difficult for animals to move to new locations. What will be the long term consequences of being cut off from other turtles, porcupines, or opossums?

Send us your thoughts on the film to: knowingnaturepodcast@gmail.com

Tweet us @kn_podcast

Intro/Outro music: Selfish by Derek Clegg. Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 US License

Episode 16 – Film club – Ferngully

Discussion about environmental and conservation themes in the film Ferngully. Film recommended for ages 5-12.

Ferngully: The last rainforest, released 1992. Directed by Bill Kroyer. Based on the book FernGully: The Last Rainforest by Diana Young

You may like to watch the movie first have a think about:

  • What species do you recognize in the film?
  • Who’s the villain?

This week’s guests: Science and environmental educators Ayesha and Ane.

Depiction of animals and habitats

Great attention paid to the animals and plants to set the scene and make it specifically the Australian rainforest. Identifying the animals depicted in the film could be a great way of getting to know the ecosystem.

Dealing with death and decay

“There are worlds within worlds, Crysta. Everything in our world is connected by the delicate strands of the web of life, which is a balanced between the forces of destruction and the magical forces of creation.” – Magi Lune

There is some mention of the importance of balance between creation and destruction. However more could have been done to link destruction and decay to feeding new life. 

The antagonists

“Our world was much larger then. The forest went on forever. We tree spirits nurtured the harmony of all living things, but our closest friends were humans. Then, as sometimes happens, the balance of nature shifted. Hexxus, the very spirit of destruction rose up from the bowels of the earth, and rained down his poison. The forest was nearly destroyed, many lives were lost and the humans fled in fear, never to return. Most believe they did not survive. It was only by calling up the magical powers of nature, that I was able to trap Hexxus inside an enchanted tree, and save FernGully.”


The main obvious antagonist of the film is Hexxus, but he is interestingly a personification of natural forces. He is shown emerging from a volcano, and so the destruction he represents at that point is a part of nature and natural cycles.


Humans and their tree cutting machine are the other main antagonist in the film, but are more thoughtless than destructive. They don’t think about the destruction their actions cause. In Crysta’s first conversations with Zak its clear that he’s never given the forest, and the lives within it, much thought. We get the sense that the humans are doing their jobs to make a living, and aren’t cutting the trees down out of malice. This gives us a sense that the individual human characters aren’t really to blame for what happens. Instead it is the world they come from, separation from nature, and maybe a little greed which are the causes. 


Zak’s Journey is a wonderful part of the film. Being shrunk gives him, literally, a different perspective on the forest and the lives within it. Of particular note is that how he views the forest doesn’t change because he learns about the science, ecology, or value of the forest. Instead he gets to know the lives of those who live within the forest and appreciates the beauty of the habitat. It’s a great reminder to environmental educators that there is more than one way to learn about the environment.

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Intro/Outro music: Selfish by Derek Clegg. Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 US License