Green-haired, unitard-wearing Captain Planet was the savior for the environmentally conscious '90s kid. Supported by a cast of five powerful, ring-wearing youngsters, Captain Planet traveled the globe bashing evil villains and fighting for the protection of our world.
He and the gang battled overfishing, pollution, habitat destruction, nuclear waste, dwindling natural resources, melting polar ice caps and more to save humankind — all in digestible, 20-minute pun-tastic episodes that allowed for the clear distinction between good guys, bad guys (with names like Looten Plunder and Hoggish Greedly) and everyone else.
Despite the obviously fictional premises of most of the episodes, there was a lot of truth in Captain Planet and the Planeteers — so much so that looking back on it serves as both a walk down memory lane and a terrifying glimpse into what was then the future. Below, we've catalogued 11 of the most eye-popping predictions the show produced.
1. Where did all the elephants go?
Season one, episode seven: "The Last of Her Kind" (1990)
Captain Planet's version: Wheeler wants to buy Linka an ivory necklace as a birthday gift, but Kwame warns against it because of the violence and destruction associated with the ivory trade. Pony-tailed villain Looten Plunder, meanwhile, is causing havoc among the African elephant population due to his insatiable desire for the cream-hued tusks.
2015 version: According to the World Wildlife Foundation, the overall African elephant population has gone from 3 million to 5 million to 470,000 in the span of a just century; in June, the Tanzanian government announced its elephant population had fallen from 110,000 in 2009 to roughly 43,000 in 2015. The demand for ivory has played a significant role in this decline, as Lazaro Nyalandu, Tanzania's minister of natural resources and tourism, highlighted in June. "The probable reason could be an increased demand for ivory, particularly in the Far East countries," he said at a press conference.
2. Virtual reality IRL
Season four, episode 13: "Gorillas Will Be Missed" (1994)
Captain Planet's version: A boy named Goki is given a set of virtual reality glasses by a woman named Creole, later revealed to be Gaia, Captain Planet's overseer. Goki lives in New York in the year 2197, but when he puts the goggles on, he's transported 200 years in the past to Africa, where Looten Plunder is attempting to destroy the continent's gorilla population.
2015 version: Gorillas are critically endangered, and according to the World Wildlife Foundation, just 17% of the population lives on protected land. Meanwhile, virtual reality has finally entered the public consciousness in a noticeable way — though some say it won't be ready for primetime for at least a few years.
3. Solar power to the rescue
Season two, episode seven: "Isle of Solar Energy" (1991)
Captain Planet version: Scientist Dr. Apollo has come up with an ingenious invention: solar-powered gadgets that harnessed the incredible energy of the sun. While the plot flips solar power on its head — Dr. Apollo's lab assistant is actually helping the villain Duke Nukem to use the solar panels for his radioactive weapons cache — the storyline is still relevant.
2015 version: Solar panels have been around in some form since the 18th century, but they've become legitimately integrated into mainstream awareness over the past decade. 2012, for example, marked the construction of the world's largest photovoltaic power station, built in Gujarat, India.
4. RIP Ozone Layer
Season one, episode 19: "The Ozone Hole" (1991)
Captain Planet's version: Good ol' Captain Planet villain Duke Nukem effectively extinguishes the ozone layer over Antarctica for the sole purpose of chilling in the sun. Way to go, Duke.
2015 version: Turns out this actually did happen in 2000 and 2006. As the Australian government's website highlights, the ozone layer holes in these years were the biggest ever, "measuring around 29.8 and 29.6 million square kilometers respectively (more than three and a half times the size of Australia)."
5. Save the sharks
Season two, episode five: "The Predator" (1991)
Captain Planet's version: In the Florida Keys, Ma-Ti has a brush with what he thinks is a giant man eater, though Gi reveals that it is a harmless basking shark. But panic spreads through the resort town, which hires Argos Bleak to eradicate all the sharks in the bay. When stinging jellyfish (which the sharks used to feed on) swarm the beach, the townspeople learn that predators have an important role in the ecosystem.
2015 version: While it's relatively well established that humans kill more sharks per year than vice versa, that hasn't stopped some countries from culling shark populations — operations in which dozens of sharks are killed because of fears over shark attacks. In 2014, for example, the Australian government killed 50 of the biggest sharks they found in an effort to prevent attacks.
6. America, what?
Season one, episode 20: "The Ultimate Pollution" (1991)
Captain Planet's version: Looten Plunder strikes again, this time proffering weapons to two desert towns he has engineered to fight each other.
7. Drones, drones, drones
Season two, episode 13: "Trouble on the Half Shell" (1991)
Captain Planet's version: A robot named Jason is used to study the environment, and its information is sent back to a research center.
2015 version: Drones, drones and more drones. Though the unmanned gadget has been used for everything from same-day delivery to killing operations, it's also been deployed to study wildlife and the environment.
Season one, episode eight: "The Dead Seas" (1990)
Captain Planet's version: Overfishing is one of the biggest threats to our oceans and marine populations, so it makes sense the Captain Planet gang would tackle it. In this episode, villains Hoggish Greedly and Rigger try to round up and sell the entire fish population using drift nets, which have run into real-life controversy as they often catch unintended fish in their clutches.
2015 version: Much like the Captain Planet version, overfishing is an enormous problem in 2015 — and it's only growing. As Nature reported in June, "more than 90 species of marine fishes in Europe's waters are threatened with extinction, [and] the main threat is overfishing." Worldwide, about 63% of fish populations are overfished, according to Greenpeace International.
9. Coney Island is disgusting
Season five, episode 11: "Numbers Game" (1995)
Captain Planet's version: Wheeler, the redheaded resident of New York City, is planning to go to Coney Island for his birthday — until there's an environmental emergency.
2015 version: Coney Island is not exactly the cleanest place to go for a swim. As WNYC reported in 2014, three out of the bottom six New York beaches — ranked in terms of cleanliness — were found in Coney Island.
10. Hark, overpopulation!
Season one, episode 21: "Population Bomb" (1991)
Captain Planet's version: The Planeteers realize that overpopulation is a major problem, and tackle it accordingly. When Wheeler becomes irritated at the idea of population control — a proposed solution to the world's overcrowding — he is carried off to an island for which the overpopulation of its inhabitants become a personal problem for him. (Spoiler alert: They try to eat him.)
2015 version: Spoiler alert, again: Overpopulation is still an issue today. While some have argued that overpopulation isn't as big of an issue as we make it out to be, an ever-increasing population presents its own set of problems — one that shouldn't be ignored.
11. Food shortages
Season one, episode 25: "Two Futures" (1991)
Captain Planet's version: In the season one finale, Wheeler gets a glimpse into an alternate reality in which the Planeteers don't exist, thereby failing to stop all of the environmental destruction that occurs throughout the series. When he visits Linka in the Soviet Union, he finds that global warming has caused a food shortage, which itself has set off a series of riots.
2015 version: In March, a study published in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences reported that global warming was a major player in the drought that occurred in Syria between 2006 and 2009 — the same drought linked to the Syrian civil war that started in 2011.
"There's no question that the drought had a role to play in the mass displacement of people," Francesco Femia, founder and director of the Center for Climate and Security, told the New York Times.
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