Lesson in sustainability from The Martian

I recently watched Ridley Scott’s The Martian. This might seem like an odd opening for a blog from a sustainability and environmental education charity, but whilst watching the 2-and-a-half-hour epic, it struck me that there were a number of interesting conceptual cross-overs with the work that SEEd does. For those of you unfamiliar with the film, the general premise is that human technology has advanced to such an extent that we are now able to land on Mars. During a mission to the ‘Red Planet’, a powerful standstorm hits the base and the astronauts are forced to return back to earth. As they attempt to leave, one of the crew is struck by an ‘unidentifiable flying object’ (it’s intended as a comedy), which it later turns out was a satellite, and is presumed dead. For the next two hours, Matt Damon is forced to fend for himself with limited resources and dwindling food and water supplies.

If you are of the opinion that sustainability is purely about survival, the links with the film are immediately apparent. However, whilst the need to sustain ourselves on this planet is evidently central to the definition of sustainability, what really struck me was the ‘journey’ which Matt and his colleagues back at NASA go through in order to ensure his survival. He is a highly creative and innovative problem solver, and even works his way through an action learning cycle as he tries to grow his own food. Other themes which emerge throughout the film are the need for collaboration and a strong sense of interdependency. Sound familiar? These skills and competencies are all fundamental aspects of Education for Sustainable Development. If we are to remain resilient in the face of an unknown future, we will all need to develop these abilities.

The film also placed a huge emphasis on the role of international collaboration; no single country alone is able to solve the problem without the support of others. Again there are distinct overlaps here with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. To make this world a better place for ourselves and for future generations, everyone must be involved.

On the whole, I thought the film was highly enjoyable and would definitely recommend it.  If by some chance this blog has inspired you to watch it with your students, it does throw up some interesting critical thinking questions around the use of technology. Are humans smart enough to provide all the answers to our problems, or should we be paying more attention to the earth’s natural systems and trying to learn from them rather than manipulate and oppose them? Our ‘design for the future’ resources page has some interesting activities related to this topic which you could use when working with young people  – so do take a look!

As always, please let us know your thoughts and get in touch with any comments.

Victoria Tait

SEEd Projects Manager