The Healing Benefits of Forest Therapy

The Healing Forests of India

Directed by Nitin Das (2019)

Film Review

An exquisitely beautiful documentary about the field of forest therapy – a form of healing is most practiced in India and Japan (which has 50 healing forests).

There are numerous studies demonstrating the calming effect of forests on children. Research from both India and Finland show that holding classes there makes children calmer, helps them focus better and reduces misbehavior and violence. It’s especially effective for kids diagnosed with ADHD.

Research in adults reveals that the forest environment can reduce blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol* levels, inflammation, depression, stress and anxiety. At the same time, it also improves serotonin** levels and immunity. Forest therapy has proved helpful in treating diabetes, hyperthyroidism and addictions. In young people, it helps alleviate depression and anxiety stemming from excessive social media exposure.

It makes perfect sense that people would find forests more inducive to health than overcrowded hyper-polluted cities. As one researcher reminds us, human beings co-evolved over hundreds of thousands of years with forest plants and animals. This means our bodies are programmed to thrive in the presence of other living beings.

The recommended dose of forest therapy is five hours a month.


*Cortisol is a steroid stress hormone.

**Serotonin is a neurotransmitter found in the brain and elsewhere that is believed to mediate mood.

 

The French Infatuation with Nuclear Power

Atom, mon amour: French faith in nuclear power

DW (2019)

Film Review

This documentary concerns the apparent French infatuation with nuclear power. France presently has 58 nuclear power plants, the most in Europe. Globally, only the US has more nuclear plants. Filmmakers interview French residents living adjacent to a Normandy plant about the risks. They give replies, such as “We’re used to it” and “It’s part of our culture.” Most are unaware the plant is contaminating local local seafood by discharging radioactive wastewater into the ocean.

In addition to visiting an operation nuclear power plant, the filmmakers visit a new nuclear waste disposal site under construction 500 meters underground. The French government plan to store liquid nuclear waste in metal drums there for more that 100,000 years.*

They also visit the Saclay Nuclear Research Center, staffed by 6,000 international researchers. The French are eager to resume exports of their state-of-the art nuclear power plants once the furor over the Fukushima meltdown. The center also engages in research in renewable energy, which according to DW,  “isn’t a priority in France.”**

The segment I found the most interesting concerns the French antinuclear movements.  Local activists reveal that all nuclear power stations are owned and operated by the French government, which heavily subsidizes the price consumers pay for power (ie they sell it at a lower price than the cost of production).

The French activists meet regularly with German antinuclear activists. The latter found it was much easier to shut down Germany’s nuclear power network, as local and regional government have far more authority than in France.

The activists also complain about the massive amount of pro-nuclear propaganda the French government produces. In one example a newscast following the Chernobyl meltdown reveals fallout plumes miraculously changing course at the French border.

Despite ongoing surveillance, stalking and harassment by the police, the French antinuclear movement has forced the government to adopt stringent safety requirements that significantly delayed new plants from opening.

Moreover pressure from German activists and authorities is blamed for the impending closure of France’s oldest nuclear plant Fessenheim, located on the French-German border.


*I find this notion quite unrealistic, given that metal fatigue tends to cause metal containers to begin leaking in 30-100 years.

**Under its commitment to the EU renewable energy directive of 2009, France has a target of producing 23% of its total energy needs from renewable energy by 2020. This figure breaks down to renewable energy providing 33% of energy used in the heating and cooling sector, 27% of the electricity sector and 10.5% in the transport sector. In addition, France actively exports innovative renewable technologies worldwide:   French Renewable Energy

 

 

A Practical Guide to Saving the Planet

The Race is On: Secrets and Solutions of Climate Change

Global Documentary Films (2019)

Film Review

Unlike most climate change films, which emphasize doom and gloom, The Race is On assumes a surprisingly optimistic tone. Its point of departure is that we already have all the technology we need to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040*: all that is needed is to widely implement this technology in a smart and efficient way.

This is also one of the first films to address the economics of climate change. British economist Kate Raworth advises climate activists to challenge the dogma of perpetual economic growth. Heavily promoted by mainstream economists and policy makers, the growth dogma is over 150 years old. Raworth maintains it’s totally obsolete. Decades of evidence establish that economic growth benefits vested interests at the expense of working people.

Raworh also urges climate activists to lobby government for policy changes that make it easier for working people to adopt the necessary lifestyle changes to achieve net zero emissions. They need to campaign for carbon taxes (on carbon polluters, not working people) and feed-in tariffs** and subsidies to help capitalize renewable energy infrastructure and public transportation projects.

Carbon Zero UK points to the rapid shift to renewable energy that’s already occurring in the UK – due to its low cost compared to fossil fuel energy. They also point out that only 20% of UK’s energy usage consists of electricity. This will need to shift to 80% to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040.

Likewise the organization advocates for what they call “polycentric governance” to help drive the transformation that needs to occur. Polycentric governance is a partnership between top down and bottom up leadership. They point to many innovative programs (eg Transition Towns) helping communities reduce their fossil fuel energy usage all over the US and UK. We now need to lobby government at all levels for to recognize and expand these initiatives.


*IPCC scientists advise that we need to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040 to limit global warming to 2° C – by 2030 to limit it to 1.5° C. The latter target is preferable because millions of vulnerable Third World residents will die with 2° of warming.

**A feed-in tariff is a payment above the market rate to a small scale producer of renewable energy by a large scale fossil fuel energy provider.

 

Losing Louisiana: Life in the Disappearing Mississippi Delta

Losing Louisiana: Life in the Disappearing Mississippi Delta

Al Jazeera (2019)

Film Review

This documentary concerns the steady disappearance of the Mississippi delta region in Louisiana. The erosion stems partly from climate change and rising sea levels, partly from channels petroleum corporations have dug through the wetlands and partly from decades of diverting new Mississippi sediment out to sea.

The gradual disappearance of the delta has means many coastal residents have lost their livelihood. Due to salt water contamination of their ground water, farmers are no longer able to grow sugarcane and rice or graze stock. Meanwhile shrimping industry has collapsed. Because shrimp require require freshwater marshes to reproduce, their populations have been have been decimated.

In this remake of their 2009 documentary, Al Jazeera filmmakers revisit an area of the Mississippi delta they first filmed ten years ago. They learn the rate of delta shrinkage has declined from 70 to 15 square miles per year. Subsidence is worst in poor communicates which have no real protection against hurricanes. This contrasts with well-to-do communities, which have built massive hurricane levees.

For some reason the 2019 segment makes no mention of the 2010 Deep Water Horizons disaster and the toxic effect on wildlife of the massive oil spill and the poisonous oil dispersant Corexit BP dumped into the Gulf of Mexico.

Here are 2013 and 2016 accounts summarizing the long term effects on Gulf marine life that will take decades to repair:

Corexit BP Oil Dispersant

New Oceana Report Highlights Long Term Impacts Deep Water Horizon Oil

 

Amazon Rainforest Protectors: Putting Their Lives on the Line

Brazil’s President vs the Amazon

SBS Dateline (2019)

Film Review

This Australian documentary is about the indigenous Mundruku tribe and their efforta to stop illegal deforestation in the Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Altogether the Amazon is home to 300 indigenous tribes. All are threatened by multinational mining, agricultural and logging interests. This film also looks at the big threat to their way of life posed by the election of right wing populist Jair Bolsonaro as president.

The fillmmakers begin by interviewing the mayor of nearly Intaituba, a strong Bolsonaro supporter facing fines and corruption charges for illegally clearing forest to set up a cattle ranch. The mayor lobbies for international gold mining interests in addition to international and domestic agribusiness.

Under Brazil’s former government, indigenous tribes could file claims to have their ancestral lands demarcated for protection from logging schemes. Bolsonaro who has transferred oversight of indigenous rights to the department of agriculture, has suspended the right of Brazil’s first peoples to make further claims.

In response, Mundruku women from adjoining villages have installed their own signs demarcating their land.They are also organizing a resistance movement to confront illegal loggers. They do so despite numerous threats they have received from logging interests in the past.

They’re not the first Amazon protectors to put their lives on the line. Hundreds of rainforest activists have been murdered (with impunity) in the decades-long battle to save the rainforest known as the lungs of the world.

Insect Apocalypse

Insect Apocalypse

DW (2019)

Film Review

This documentary is about German research into the 75% drop in global insect numbers over 25 years. After demonstrating the research methods used to measure this decline, the filmmakers focus on the plight of specific insect species. Some entomologists predict total ecosystem collapse if insect populations decline any further.

The film also explores specific threats insects face: overuse of insecticides (particularly neonicotinoids), the spread of agricultural “deserts” (large cultivated areas devoid of flowers) and the herbicide Roundup.*

Scientists are most concerned about the plight of butterflies, moths and other pollinators – without them humanity can’t mass produce fruits and vegetables. Other insects play an important role in feeding fish, birds, frogs and small mammals. Their populations are also collapsing.

The segment I found most interesting features the mayor of Miami protesting the nightly spraying of his city with pesticides (theoretically to destroy mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus). Owing to the short mosquito life cycle (egg to egg in 11 days), pesticide overuse paradoxically increases mosquito numbers. Following pesticide spraying, mosquito recovery takes two days. Meanwhile it takes weeks for the insect predators that feed on them to recover.


*Although Roundup (which is meant to target weed) doesn’t kill bees, it reduces their heartbeat and brain oxygenation. This, in turn, impairs orientation and can prevent them from returning to the hive. In wild bees, this can result in brood death.

 

Why We Want What We Don’t Need

The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need

Consumer Protection Hub (2018)

Film Review

This documentary, narrated by Juliet Schor (author of the 1999 book The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need), examines the political, economic and psychological forces responsible for compulsive consumption in all developed countries.

The most important factors Schor identifies are

1. The movement of women (starting in the 1970s) out of economically homogeneous neighborhoods into the workplace – exposing them to lifestyles  (cars, homes, clothes etc) of coworkers across the economic spectrum. This would lead to expansion into the working class of competitive consumption. Previously “keeping up with the Jones’s” was mainly limited to affluent neighborhoods.

2. The rapid increase in income equality that began in the 1970s. Corporations strenuously resisted efforts by workers to benefit (through increased wages and decreased work hours) from widespread productivity gains. Instead Wall Street helped fuel competitive consumption via usurious consumer credit (ie credit cards).

3. The tendency of TV dramas and sitcoms to portray $100,000+ annual incomes as average and normal. Schor offers the portrayal of Bill Cosby’s family as typical African Americans and Friends characters as typical mid-twenties roommates (there’s no way the characters depicted could have afforded Manhattan apartments).

According to Schor, the net effect of these influences has been growing demand for mcmansion-size homes, gas guzzling SUVs, brand name athletic footwear and casual apparel and niche coffee.

Satisfying these cravings has led to massive personal debt levels (approximately 50% of US GDP), grueling work schedules, virtual disappearance of family life and growing unwillingness of voters to be taxed for education, parks, libraries and other public services.

The self-help recommendations Schor gives for curtailing compulsive consumption habits are

1. Controlling your irrational desires by limiting mall visits, surfing Internet shopping sites and exposure to catalogues and fashion magazines.

2. Making a conscious choice to downshift to a lifestyle that reduces your consumption (eg Voluntary Simplicity*).

3. Demanding corporate and regulatory policies that allow people to work shorter hours.

4. Lobbying for a progress consumption tax (aka luxury tax).

5. Learning to recognize and question advertising messaging.

6. Learning to connect with people and community rather than competing with them.


*Voluntary Simplicity, or simple living, is a way of life that rejects the high-consumption, materialistic lifestyles of consumer cultures and affirms what is often just called ‘the simple life’ or ‘downshifting.’