Photo © Mainei Kinimaka
“Who better to hold companies and industries accountable than Aquaman?”
By Raye Mocioiu
While many talk a big game about taking on environmental issues, Jason Momoa makes waves—on-screen and off.
Ever since he was a child, Momoa has had a strong connection to the planet. Born in Hawaii and raised in Iowa, Momoa fell in love with the ocean as a child and looked for every opportunity to return to it, even pursuing environmental studies to further his knowledge and passion for the earth.
Now, years later, Momoa is best known for his role as Aquaman in the Justice League and DC Extended Universe films—but his love for the ocean began well before the cameras started rolling.
From a young age, Momoa wanted his life to revolve around the ocean. Growing up in Iowa, he recalled putting up posters of surfers in his locker and becoming interested in environmental studies—even attending a specialized camp in the Florida Keys one summer. After finishing high school, he returned to Honolulu, where he got his acting break on the beaches of Hawaii. A more perfect role couldn’t have existed for Momoa…until Aquaman, that is.
In the Justice League films and the Aquaman film franchise, marine biology student Arthur Curry warns of disaster looming on the horizon while his superhero alter-ego Aquaman laments as pollution destroys the skies and the ocean, laying the blame on the behaviour of humankind. It’s a thinly veiled fictional metaphor for a very real problem and one that Momoa finds himself perfectly aligned with.
Between his on-camera roles, his sustainable businesses, and his becoming United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Advocate for Life Below Water, Momoa has become our real-life Aquaman, and he’s only just beginning his mission to save our oceans.
The Fight for Ocean Protection
In June of this year, Momoa was designated the UNEP’s Advocate for Sustainable Development Goal 14, Life Below Water. The aim: to work with the global and scientific communities to raise awareness and accelerate crucial action and funding to help the UN tackle the threat posed by the triple planetary crisis of climate change crises, biodiversity loss, and extreme pollution.
“My passion since I was a little boy has been saving the planet,” explained Momoa. “To join UNEP as their advocate for Life Below Water means I get to be Aquaman in real life. It allows me to use my superpowers for good. I have a platform that I can use to advocate for things close to my heart.”
His advocacy has led him to fight single-use plastic pollution, something he describes as his life’s mission. Seeking a plastic-free lifestyle, Momoa works on a range of plastic-free alternatives, from water bottles to personal care products.
“While everything is important, the time for change when it comes to our environment is now,” Momoa continued. “We have a lot of work to do, and I want to help inspire others to make positive changes for our planet and future generations.”
Future generations are at front of mind for Momoa, who takes pride in how young people, including his own children, are stepping up to the plate in a bolder, more informed way than previous generations, making their voices heard when it comes to climate change and the state of our planet.
“Seeing my babies and their generation take a stand and do something about it is beautiful,” he shared, “I spoke in my designation speech at the United Nations Ocean Conference in Portugal, and they were right by my side. They know I am terrified of giving speeches. It was a true honour to speak from my heart on a subject that I’m deeply passionate about. My babies were unexpectedly asked a question, and they both spoke beautifully—it was a wonderful moment and true honour that we’ll never forget.”
Since its inception in 1972, UNEP has been the global authority that sets the environmental agenda, promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the UN system, and serves as an authoritative advocate for the global environment. Headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, UNEP works closely with its 193 Member States and representatives from civil society, businesses, and other major groups and stakeholders to address environmental challenges through the UN Environment Assembly, the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment.
UNEP’s mission is to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations. UNEP works on delivering transformational change for people and nature by drilling down on the root causes of the three planetary crises of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste.
Through its campaigns, like World Environment Day, Beat Pollution, and Clean Seas, UNEP raises awareness and advocates for effective environmental action. One of UNEP’s priority areas is to reduce single-use, unnecessary, and harmful plastics while accelerating design and waste management solutions that keep plastics out of the environment and in the economy, a mission that Momoa himself is working to achieve.
Earth is the “blue planet,” with waters covering about 70 per cent of the planet, yet we know more about the face of the moon than we do about our oceans. Today, only about 20 per cent of the ocean has been explored, and 91 per cent of its species remain undescribed.
The health of the ocean is essential to life on earth. Our oceans provides half of the oxygen that we breathe. They regulate weather patterns to grow our food on land and play a crucial role in climate stability by absorbing 90 per cent of the heat produced by human activity since preindustrial times—the earth would be much hotter without them. Its coral reefs are home to 25 per cent of marine life, which provides jobs and food for at least a billion people.
While a healthy ocean is crucial to life on earth, it is in serious trouble. Rising temperatures are changing habitats where marine animals thrive. Carbon overloads are causing acidification and disrupting the natural balance. This will have serious consequences for its productivity and our food security.
According to World Meteorological Organization, four key measures of climate change—ocean acidification, greenhouse gas concentration, sea level rise, and ocean temperature—were all higher in 2021 than ever before.
An estimated 11 million metric tons of plastic flowed into our aquatic ecosystems, and 80 per cent of wastewater was untreated, largely flowing to our water bodies. The continuous growth in the amount of solid waste thrown away, the lack of recycling worldwide (approximately only eight per cent), and the prolonged rate of degradation of most items are leading to an increase in marine litter found at sea, on the seafloor, and on coastal shores. It is an economic, environmental, human health, and aesthetic problem posing a complex and multi-dimensional challenge.
“The world is on fire,” Momoa said somberly. “Huge rivers across the globe are drying up, droughts are lasting decades, and icebergs are melting. The climate, biodiversity and pollution emergency is happening before our eyes, and it’s on us to create change. The time to act is now.”
As ocean literacy improves and awareness increases, we have both the scientific knowledge and the know-how to take action and make a change—but we can only succeed if leaders pay attention, and that will happen when people pay attention. The good news is that Momoa, with his on and off-camera charisma and unmistakable booming voice, is perfectly poised to bring awareness where it needs to be—starting with the industries that produce the most plastic waste.
“Several companies dominate the beverage and packaging industries, and to create the change we want, we need those companies to lead,” he explained. “I will encourage those companies to shift to business models that are more sustainable, understanding change doesn’t happen overnight, but I believe and hope we can agree to do better. I want to put my energy into big-picture change, strategically working with companies willing to listen, learn, and, ultimately, fundamentally change their businesses to help save the planet. I understand the immediate solutions won’t be perfect, but we must commit to doing the right thing—no more excuses.”
Hosted by UNEP, the Global Partnership on Marine Litter (GPML) is a multi-stakeholder partnership that brings together all actors working to prevent marine litter and plastic pollution. By providing a unique global platform to share knowledge and experience, partners can work together to create and advance solutions to this pressing global issue.
The GPML provides a platform to share science and case studies, advance research, reduce the leakage of plastics into the ocean through improved design, advance the application of the ‘3Rs’ principle (reduce, reuse, recycle), encourage ‘closed-loop’ systems and more circular production cycles, and maximize resource efficiency and minimization of waste generation.
“I have my work cut out for me,” Momoa said, “but who better to hold companies and industries accountable than Aquaman?”
Who indeed? Between his on and off-screen activism, Momoa has inspired moviegoers and environmental activists of all ages across the globe to be vocal about their passion for climate action—and he’s only getting started.
“We need to evaluate our own choices, including the products we purchase and the companies we support,” he shared. “Wonderful businesses are making beautiful products not wrapped in plastic. I’m all about cutting out single-use plastic from our lives and getting businesses to work towards circularity and renewable product life cycles. I have the great honour and responsibility to reach many people who want to learn more about environmental issues and how they can help.
“For example, to celebrate Earth Day, I posted fun and silly videos to my Instagram highlighting different ways you can make changes to benefit our beautiful planet like swapping a plastic water bottle for aluminum or reusable bottles or changing out your deodorant, shampoo, body wash products that are typically in plastic packaging for sustainable options. If everyone makes little changes in their lives, it creates one massive wave of change. We must be kind to Mother Earth. Mahalo to everyone who is making waves!”
Any entity working to address marine litter and microplastics can become a member of the GPML. The time for change is now—join us!