I have a limited edition Masters of Cinema SteelBook edition of Silent Running. I'm not a big collector of films, but Silent Running is special. This particular edition has been beautifully transferred and includes the The Making of Silent Running documentary.
Silent Running was introduced to me as a child by my father. I was young enough not to notice the age of the film, I had no idea that it was made before I was born. I liked the robots, space adventure, and strange mix of nature and futurism. As a teenager I reveled in the sounds of the movie; not just the score but the incidental sound effects. There's dialog from Silent Running on DJ Shadow's Entroducing, which I picked up on the first time I heard it. It wasn't easy for me to see films at this age, because I couldn't afford a VHS copy so I had to hunt around on the limited terrestrial TV channels. I had a friend at school who'd excitedly inform me when he'd spied Silent Running in a TV schedule.
As an adult it's impossible to ignore the film's ecological message. The Earth is dying, so enormous spaceships have been created that hold pockets of Earth's ecology. Although Silent Running was released in 1972, the concepts behind it were developed much earlier.
Growing up in the 80s, global warming was taught to us in class even at primary school. I think it was only mentioned in passing, but the link between carbon dioxide and climate change had been understood for decades already. I dimly remember TV news and documentaries showing that NASA scientists had used satellite data to prove global warming was happening. This bothered me a lot, and I remember creating designs for solar-powered street lamps and sending them to our local electricity board. I used to be embarrassed about that, but given my chosen career it seems pretty normal in retrospect.
As a child of the 80s, I assumed that environmentalism and climate change in popular culture was cutting edge Space Age knowledge. I knew that 19th century geologists were aware that the climate had changed, but environmentalism goes back hundreds of years. In 676 Cuthbert of Lindisfarne enacted laws to protect seabirds nesting on the Farne Islands. The WWF was registered in 1961, yet John Muir had already founded the Sierra Club in 1892.
I won't pretend that growing up alongside convincing proof of global warming in popular culture hasn't shaped my opinions about climate change. However, wondering where a science fiction film's environmental message took me on a fascinating journey through the history of science. Silent Running wasn't ahead of its time, it's just global culture is still behind the times in its continued destruction of our environment.