This story is part of Grist’s Summer Dreams arts and culture series, a weeklong exploration of how popular fiction can influence our environmental reality.
Like many older millennials, I spent quite a few of my after-school hours in the 1990s parked in front of the TV. You name it — if it came on after 3:15 p.m. and didn’t require cable, I probably watched it. But thinking back on those many hours 30 years later, one show’s staying power rises above the rest: Captain Planet.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Captain Planet was an unlikely hit. It starred a preachy, green-mulleted, pollution-sensitive superhero who used his powers to combat issues like oil spills, greenhouse gases, and nuclear waste. He could only be summoned by the Planeteers, a group of five internationally diverse teens with magical, element-themed rings: Earth, Fire, Wind, Water, and Heart (the last one being a combination of empathy, telepathy, and extreme persuasion). When those powers combined, as they predictably did at some point every episode, Captain Planet would rise majestically into the air, ready to do battle with a wide array of polluti... Read more