Paine addresses the role of creativity in solving environmental issues

Bridget Donnelly

(Photo by Nhi Nguyen)

Greenfire sponsored a talk delivered by film director Chris Paine Tuesday, April 26. This was Paine’s second time speaking at Lawrence, after coming in 2008 to speak about his first film “Who Killed the Electric Car?”

Paine’s 2006 film helped promote awareness regarding the production and subsequent destruction of the early generation of electric cars, particularly focusing on the story behind General Motors’ EV1 model.

Paine’s new film, “Revenge of the Electric Car,” premiered Friday, April 22 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

Paine planned to deliver a talk titled “How many lightbulbs does it take to plug in an electric car?” However, due to the recent release of his new film and his audience, Paine decided to tailor his talk, choosing instead to give a more informal presentation that allowed “time to have an unstructured presentation talking about different elements of the creative process” and addressed “why the electric car is coming back.”

Paine continued, “I think my deeper interest at a place like Lawrence […] is about how to activate everybody’s creativity and maybe even the art of rhetoric to influence the issues of our time. And for me, and I think really most of us would agree, the essential issue of our time is how do we [start] using less fossil fuels.”

The first portion of Paine’s talk involved a PowerPoint presentation, which he jokingly titled “Why Electric Cars Suck,” providing ten common objections to electric cars — including safety, power and pollution issues — and supplying counterarguments to these points.

This method of presentation allowed Paine to give a proper background to the issues surrounding electric cars that he explores in both of his films without requiring him to provide the audience with an exhaustive list of facts.

Moving into the next segment of the talk, Paine used the example of the transition from horses to automobiles at the beginning of the twentieth century to illustrate ways in which contemporary society might use analogous historical shifts to think about approaching similar transitions — in this case, the shift from the gasoline-driven car to the electric car.

Taking a step back to view the situation through a more comprehensive lens, Paine commented, “What we’re doing, in a liberal arts environment, is…studying ideas…and then going out into the world and sharing that with people, and maybe trying to influence debate on where we’re headed.”

Paine distinguished three major features of a successful argument: facts, charisma and passion. He noted that he focused on including all three elements in his first film because “nobody would have cared about the story at all if people didn’t care about the movie and about the people in the movie.”

He continued, “If we get stuck in our anger about an issue, we can just stay in the anger. If we get stuck in the logic of it, we just get stuck in the facts. If we get stuck in the one character that represents it, that character betrays us.”

The remainder of Paine’s talk focused on his hopes for the future. His new film has accorded him the unique opportunity of presenting the positive ways in which the electric car industry has grown since the release of his first film.

Additionally, Paine spoke about another project he co-founded along with artist, producer and activist John Quigley. Though initially conceived as another film project, the recently-launched website CounterSpill, a “counter-PR site,” seeks to provide an alternative to popular media representation of various environmental disasters.

Paine finished the talk by allotting ample time for a question and answer session. He encouraged students and community members in attendance to contribute to the discussion by asking relevant questions he was unable to address during the talk.

In terms of speaking to a college audience, Paine commented, “A lot of this is about generational change. So that’s why…I totally believe in colleges being where it’s at. People [are saying], ‘Newspaper jobs are going away, what am I going to do?'”

Identifying what he believes to be the most pressing issue, Paine concluded, “We’ve got to get off the oil, we’ve got to use our facts, our people, our charisma and come up with every way we can think of to wean ourselves off this stuff. That doesn’t have to be a drag and angry confrontation at every moment.”

More information regarding Paine’s projects can be found at, and