E, F, G or H Problems?
Rob Stewart’s “Revolution” won the SB Int’l Film Festival’s prize in the social justice category. His previous film, “Sharkwater,” brought attention to the extent sharks are being slaughtered as by-catch, but primarily for their fins – to make soup for Chinese food fans to sip. This nonsensical decimation of a top-tier species is one of many we can thank emerging E-R affluence laid over ancient B-O folk ways and superstition for. (Also think whaling as a reprehensible activity carried out by nation states, then add long-line fishing and drift nets to the list of sea-life eliminators. Include terrestrial poaching of rhinos, tigers, elephants, and other collectible species to sense the danger Homo sapiens modernis presents.)
Six years after “Sharkwater,” Stewart revisits the endangered shark problem and then expands on it in “Revolution” to explain that it’s not so much sharks which are endangered; it’s we humans. The problems are systemic – too many people abusing an ocean ecosystem that’s got between 20 and 50 years to go if our behavior doesn’t change. His special concern is acidity produced by too much CO2, and the refusal of governments and corporations to take it seriously. While climate change and atmospheric pollution are getting some attention because we feel, see, and smell the smog around us, too many of us take the oceans for granted. We forget that earth is a living system, and the horizon line between air and water is an illusion of sailors, not scientists. Air and water are connected. We need to revolutionize our thinking about our role in the ecosphere.
Revisiting the Great Barrier Reef, Stewart found that 38% is now dead. (We were distressed to see large patches of coral skeletons when we were there a few years ago.) Over 90% of Caribbean coral reefs are bleached white by acidic waters and are now dead. Reefs are dying everywhere. So are the fish which rely on them. The lifeless zone in the Gulf of Mexico is now larger than the state of Connecticut, and there are 400 others around the globe which are expanding. Our gas guzzling and consumption of electricity from dirty fuels is changing the atmosphere and, in the process, turning the seas into an acid wash suitable for jellyfish, but not for Nemo or any of the other fish that a large proportion of humanity relies on to survive.
It turns out that Canada (Rob Stewart is Canadian) is now the biggest obstructionist to climate protection laws because they want to exploit the billions of dollars worth of oil wrapped in the Alberta Tar Sands formation – either to sell it down the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to Texas for refining so Americans can burn it, or else ship it from Vancouver to China to fuel their surging middle class that expects mobility. The process begins with clearing of forests, then strip mining the sands into wasteland, then using gas to heat the megatons of sand to extract the oil, then dumping of toxic waste and water into toxic ponds. This is the biggest destruction of our planet’s surface happening today, yet it’s scarcely noticed because the fields are in remote areas that Canada once took pride in rather than squeezing filthy profits out of. It seems that the leaders of our once-Green neighbor-to-the-north have decided to squeeze money out of the present and sacrifice the future.
Stewart also took his camera to Washington to track a protest over the coal-fired power plant that supplies electricity to the capitol where so many American politicians deny that human activities influence climate change. Then he went to the 16th UN Climate Change Conference in Cancún where he watched yet another round of do-little politicians talking, dining, loopholing, excusing and postponing serious action until the next meeting – and the next, and next, and next. Scientists argued urgency and sincere young protesters chanted in support of action now only to get ignored and eventually kicked out by security staff – as usual. A few symbolic trees were planted (too close together), and the lethargic and short-sighted establishment in power yawned at the naïve sincerity of the generations which will ultimately inherit their bureaucratized mess which has the potential to make earth uninhabitable for humans.
A key message of Stewart’s film is that while a planet with 300 million humans was a sustainable system, one with 7 billion of us is not – at least not so long as we continue on the consumptive course we’re following. At that rate, he gives us forty or fifty years before the oceans as we know them will be gone. One of the ecologists he interviews remarks that none of today’s children – nor any of their children – will ever experience the reefs and sea life as he did. Our prosperity in this post-industrial age has cost us more than we realize. Yet Stewart is optimistic that change is possible, and that the end need not be nigh if we begin to change our patterns on a large scale. Life is resilient, and the oceans could recover from this tipping point if we stop pushing ‘just one more year’ at a time.
Graves talked about the outfall of E-R man and the harm our technology could do if arrogantly misapplied. While he saw over-population mixed with scarcity of resources in a thermonuclear age to be a crisis in the making, we can add that the blue part of our planet is nearing collapse – at least in the form that made vertebrate life possible. If we have backbones, it’s time to try and repay what our successful living at the fifth level has done. Stewart proposes a revolutionary change from unsustainable to sustainable, and then from dominion to recognizing our interdependence with all life on earth.