Food Security: Our Dangerous Loss of Biodiversity

Seed: the Untold Story

Directed by Jon Betz and Taggart Siegel (2016)

Film Review

This documentary raises the alarm over the disappearance of 90% of the food species humankind first identified 8,000 – 10,000 years ago . Most of these species disappeared over the last 50 years.

Of the 544 species of cabbage grown globally in 1983, 28 remain. Of 158 cauliflower species of, 9 remain; of 3 kohlrabi species (of 55); of 2 artichoke species (of 34), 2 asparagus species (of 46); and only 1 beet species (of 288). Ninety-one to ninety four of all other veggie species have been lost over the same period.

The small number of remaining species greatly increase the risk of famine in many parts of the world. The 1845-49 potato famine related, in large part, to nearly all Irish farmers growing the same species of potato.

The fact that chemical manufacturers like Monsanto own the great majority of seed patents has ominous implications for all global food security.

The main focus of the film is individuals and groups around the world committed to preserving food crop diversity via seed banks, including Vandana Shiva, Andrew Kimbrell, Jane Goodall and Winona LaDuke.

Seed banks are often a primary target during war. Iraq’s seed bank (containing seed species over 2,000 years old) was one of the first targets the US bombed during Operation Enduring Freedom. Likewise during World War II, Hitler sought to firebomb the St Petersburg seed bank. He was thwarted by civilians who camped there overnight to protect it.

Prior to watching this film I was unaware the US government provided their farmers free seeds until Wall Street industrialists figured out a way to profit from seed scarcity. One of the drivers behind the development of hybrid seeds in the late 19th century was a desire to discourage farmers from saving their seeds.**


*The Irish potato famine resulted from infection with a fungus called Phytophthora infestans.

**Seeds from hybrid plants (produced by cross-pollinating plants of different species) are just as likely to show the characteristics of one of the original species as those of the hybrid.

People who belong to a public library can view the full film free on Beamafilm.

 

Regenerative Agriculture: Saving the Planet While Restoring Topsoil and Growing Healthier Food

The Need to Grow

Directed by Rob Herring and Ryan Wirick (2019)

Film Review

This documentary focuses on the Earth’s dwindling supply of topsoil for growing food crops. According to filmmakers, decades of unsustainable agriculture practices have left humankind with only 60 years of farmable soil.

Although most environmentalists agree that modern-day agriculture is the most environmentally destructive process on the planet, the process of soil destruction began around 10,000 years ago when human beings first tilling (plowing) soil they use to grow food. Recent studies show that one tablespoon of healthy topsoil contains one billion microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, etc) are essential to plant health. In nature, all plants and organisms live in complex networks that are destroyed when soil is cultivated.

Because most industrial farming occurs in “dead” soil (where these organisms have been killed), farmers must apply massive amounts of chemical fertilizer and pesticide and produce food containing significantly nutrients than crops grown in healthy topsoil. Decades of research reveal that organic farming produces not only produces more nutritious food, but equal or greater yields (measured in calories per acre). Organic farming also consumes 40% less energy, while producing 35% lower carbon emissions.

Most of the film focuses on pioneers in the field of regenerative agriculture, a process dedicated to restoring soil health through “no-till” farming. The high point of the film features a computer programmer who designed a waste disposal system that uses solar energy to convert waste woody biomass into biochar, electricity, and heat to warm greenhouses and algae-producing aquaculture tanks.*

I was also intrigued to learn about the 7-year-old who obtained 45,000 signatures on a petition asking the Girl Scouts of America to discontinue their sales of GMO-containing cookies – and the abominable way she was treated when she visited their New York office to deliver her petition.


*When organic farmers apply the biochar/algae combination to soil, it speeds up topsoil production. Soil experts estimate it accomplishes in 4-5 years what normally takes 400-500 years.

The film can be viewed free on Kanopy with a public library membership. Type “Kanopy” and the name of your library into your search engine.

 

Hot Air: Corporate Corruption New Zealand-Style

Hot Air: Climate Change Politics in New Zealand

Directed by Alistair Barry Abi King-Jones (2013)

Film Review

This documentary left me with a sick, futile feeling about the hopelessness of real democracy occurring any time soon in New Zealand. It tells the really sad tale of wealthy business interests aggressively blocking meaningful action on emissions reduction for over 30 years.

I was previously unaware that in 1990 the incoming National (conservative) government set a target of reducing NZ’s carbon emissions by 20% in 10 years. Alarmed by data being released by international climate scientists, National’s Minister of the Environment Simon Upton persuaded cabinet to agree to a $10/tonne carbon tax. His plan was to implement the tax in 1997, if polluting industries failed to achieve voluntary emissions targets.

In 1993, Upton established a board of inquiry to hear the resource consent for the Stratford (Taranaki) Power Station. The final consent mandated that Electrocorps plant 5,000 trees per year to mitigate the additional CO2 emissions produced by the power station. Not a single tree would be planted, after  Taranaki Regional Council used their powers under the Resource Management Act (RMA) to remove this stipulation.

When Upton launched the Working Group on Climate Policy (WOGOCOP), New Zealand’s Business Roundtable (under the guidance of Carter Holt Harvey*) quietly arranged for US climate denier Fred Singer (to to tour New Zealand.

The company’s next move was to form the Greenhouse Policy Coalition with New Zealand Steel, Coldco (a company specializing in refrigeration which has since been liquidated), Melbourne Cement and the New Zealand Oil Refining Company. Through massive lobbying, this Coalition successfully blocked each and every regulation aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

By 1996, when New Zealand enacted an MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) voting system, New Zealand’s per capita carbon emission were 7% higher than 1990 (and higher than most other industrialized countries).

In 1997 New Zealand signed the Kyoto treaty, committing New Zealand to reduce carbon emissions 5% from 1990 levels by 2012. It would be two years before Parliament ratified the treaty, after a Labour-led coalition under Helen Clark assumed control of government. At this point, the dairy cooperative Fontera and Tiwai Point aluminum manufacturer joined the pro-corporate Greenhouse Policy Commission in commissioning a statistically flawed Institute of Economic Research study. It claimed a carbon tax would reduce New Zealand GDP by 1%.

Under the New Labour government, Contact Energy received approval for a new gas-fired power plant and Genesis Energy a permit to increase coal burning (and carbon emissions) at their Huntley power plant. During the same period, Fonterra massively increased their use of coal (and their emissions) to dry milk solids (for export to China).

In 2005, New Zealand’s richest man Graeme Hart bought Carter Holt Harvey and began pulling down the company’s forests to replace them with dairy farms. Under Kyoto, this represented a potential cost to NZ taxpayers of $68 million (for disestablishing the carbon credits they had committed to).

Until 2006 when Al Gore released his film The Inconvenient Truth, Labour Environment Minister Pete Hodgson essentially carried the climate change issue alone – with the Green Party, Greenpeace, and other New Zealand environmental groups only signing on after 2006.

In lieu of a carbon tax, the Labour-led coalition, with the support of the National Party, opted to join the global Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)* in in 2008. The same year, National would resume control of government, withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol in 2012.


*Carter Holt Harvey specializes in forest plantation management and timber production.

**Under NZ’s ETS, the biggest polluters (outside of agriculture, which is exempt), can purchase credits to produce carbon emissions by investing in carbon sequestration schemes in the Third World. It has proved totally useless in preventing the continuing rise of our country’s carbon emissions. See link The Carbon Trading Racket

The film can be viewed free at https://www.hotairfilm.co.nz/

Building Our Own Zero Carbon Homes

What is a Colloquium?

Matt Anderson (2020)

Film Review

This documentary is about a 20 year old group, “The Natural Building Colloquium,” dedicated to improving and teaching natural building technology, as well as sharing their skills with various Third World countries in crisis.

Members believe industrialized society needs to consume less to help conserve scarce resources, to reduce environmental destruction, and to prevent catastrophic climate change. They point out that humankind lived sustainably without damaging the planet for 250,000 years. It’s only with the rise of civilization they have begun destroying it. They also emphasize the importance of learning and teaching natural building techniques in strengthening community building, as well as providing emergency housing when mainstream culture is in crisis.

There seems to be consensus that “natural” buildings need to be constructed of locally available materials, be they straw bales, cob,* cordwood,** or bags of compact gravel.

Some of the important milestones members describe include 1) the ability to teach anyone to build their own zero carbon home (and avoid a 30-year mortgage) with two weeks of training, 2) the group’s international presence and 3) the participation of younger generations in the movement.

I was most impressed by the development of an organization growing out of the Colloquium called Builders without Borders. The organization has helped Third World communities build natural homes following disasters (such as earthquakes) in Mexico, South Africa, Pakistan, Haiti, and Nepal and on Navajo reservations.


*Cob is a natural building material made from subsoil, water, fibrous organic material (typically straw), and sometimes lime.

**Cordwood is wood that has been cut into lengths of four feet so that it can be stacked (in cords). A cord is a stack of wood that is four feet tall and wide and eight feet long.

The film can be view free at https://www.filmsforaction.org/watch/whats-a-colloquium-2020/

Vendana Shiva: Fighting Climate Change Requires a Paradigm Shift

Inner Climate Change Documentary

Climate Change and Consciousness (2020)

Film Review

This documentary is a video record of the remarkable Climate Change and Consciousness conference that took place in Findhorn Scotland in April last year. Along with other communities, Taranaki climate activists have formed a local hub to carry on the work started at Findhorn. See https://www.facebook.com/groups/2319312678282465/

The purpose of the conference was to explore the changes in consciousness that must occur to win public support for the drastic changes that are needed. The film presents a range of viewpoints and approaches to the topic.

My favorite presenter was Indian environmentalist Vendana Shiva, who stressed the following points:

  • We’ve all be raised to view the world as a mechanical object and ourselves as cogs in that machine – this must change – we must start to see ourselves as partners with nature rather than nature’s master.
  • We must fully appreciate our connections to all life on the planet. According to EMF measurements, even plants get their feelings hurt if you say nasty things to them.
  • We need a total paradigm shift – people don’t need to understand the science of climate change – they need to fully commit to life.

 

What if the Agricultural Revolution Was a Mistake?

Masanabu Fukuoka Natural Mind – Interviews with Larry Korn

City as Nature (2019)

Film Review

City as Nature has released this three-part interview as a tribute to Larry Korn,* who died in 2019. They concern his work with the so-called “father of natural farming” Masanabu Fukuoka.

Fukuoka (and Korn) believed that humanity made a serious error 12,000 years ago in departing from the way human beings had lived for hundreds of thousands of years.

During the agricultural revolution, which occurred around 10,000 BC, human beings decided they were separate from nature and superior to other species. This led to the widespread adoption of the myth that science and “progress” improve the quality of our lives.

They also took up three specific technologies that have proved disastrous for the biosphere and human welfare: plowing, logging, and irrigation. Ironically Fukuoka made these observations decades before soil scientists discovered that 1) plowing and logging destroy essential soil bacteria that enable plants to take up basic nutrients and 2) irrigation destroys soil by making it more saline.

Since then (according to Fukuoka and Korn) all new farming innovations (synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, etc) have simply been unsuccessful attempts to mitigate the damage caused by plowing, logging and irrigation.

In the first video, Korn describes Fukuoko’s philosophy of natural farming: that by fully accepting themselves as part of nature, human beings will intuitively know how to produce the food they need to survive.

In the second video, Korn describes how Fukuoko taught himself natural farming by systematically challenging conventional agricultural practices. He eventually discovered not only that plowing was unnecessary, but also weeding, composting, pruning and flooding rice fields. His approach mainly involves scattering food crop seeds among plants occurring naturally in ecosystems. Once he restored a natural insect habitat to his fields, he found they attracted enough insect predators that he no longer needed to apply (natural) pesticides to his food crops.

In the third film, Korn describes how the economics of industrialized society supports a materialistic lifestyle that’s harmful to nature. After working with Fukuuoka, Korn began to actively challenge many of his other personal beliefs. He found the vast majority were cultural precepts he had learned via indoctrination. Four he considers the most dangerous are progress, open field agriculture and the dogma that science will find a solution for all our problems.


*Larry Korn, a student of Masanobu Fukuoka, helped translate and edit the English language version of The One-Straw Revolution. He was also an educator, consultant, editor and author in the fields of permaculture, natural farming, sustainable landscaping and local food production.

 

 

Indigenous Activists Fight Climate Change

Immunto (Change)

Island Reach Foundation (2020)

Film Review

This is a documentary about indigenous activism against climate change and growing collaboration between Third and First World activists to minimize and mitigate catastrophic climate change.

The indigenous communities featured are from Vanuatu, Morocco, Uganda, and Vietnam.

Owing to rising sea levels and a loss of protective coral reefs, the islands of Vanuatu are facing flooding of coastal homes and loss of crops due to salinization* of their soils. They also face more frequent and devastating tropical storms. Their climate activists are working to regenerate their reefs via a process known as “coral gardening.” They are also replanting forests and trying to strengthen ties with first world activists.

Morocco and Uganda are experiencing increased desertification due to decreased rainfall. In Morocco, activists are trying a new technology called “fog harvesting.” They use finely woven nets to trap rainwater, which they collect and pipe to local villagers.

Vietnam is experiencing record heatwaves, droughts, and floods, in addition to salinization of their ground water.

Climate activists there have launched a campaign against international banks seeking to fund a new Vietnamese coal plant.

The film also looks at successful climate action campaigns undertaken by Scottish XR members (eg when they occupied the Scottish parliament to hold their own citizens assembly) and climate activists at Standing Rock and in Boston and various Dutch cities.

The filmmakers finish by highlighting an international campaign to pressure the UN to declare ecocide** an international crime subject to International Criminal Court jurisdiction.


*Soil salinization (salinisation) refers to increasing salt concentrations in soil. It’s most often caused seawater contamination (due to rising sea levels).

**Ecocide is criminalized human activity that violates the principles of environmental justice, such as causing extensive damage or destroying ecosystems or harming the health and well-being of a species.

The Murky Science of Predicting Rising Sea Levels

Rising Sea Levels

DW (2019)

Film Review

This documentary focuses on the murky science of predicting sea level rise. As well as visiting cities already facing flooding and storm surges from rising sea levels, the filmmakers examine preparations several major coastal cities are making to cope with increased flooding.

According to filmmakers, there was no effort to measure sea levels prior to the 17th century. A tide gauge in Turing Germany which has been continually measuring sea levels since the late 1700s reveals they rose at an average of one millimeter per year until the 1960s. Since then average global sea levels have risen by three millimeters per year, a total of 180 millimeters.

Apparently sea levels don’t rise at equal rates in different regions (due to variance in ocean currents, prevailing winds and tectonic plate movements). Sea levels are rising by one centimeter (10 millimeters) per year in Sweden, 20 centimeters per year in Indonesia, and roughly six millimeters a year in New York City.

As the frequency of catastrophic storms and flooding increases, planners in coastal towns and cities must make the difficult decision whether to relocate residents inland or build permanent flood defenses. In most cases, it comes down to a community’s financial resources. Poor communities are generally forced to relocate.

For example, Indonesian leaders are making plans to move the entire capitol Jakarta to higher ground. New York City is building flood defenses to protect lower Manhattan and Wall Street, but residents of Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens, and the Bronx will be forced to relocate. The German constitution commits the government to protecting the coastal integrity of the entire country, and leaders are planning to construct a network of dykes.

Current sea level rises stem from the gradual melting of Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets as the planet slowly warms. The melting of both ice sheets is predicted to result in a total average sea level rise of 66 meters.

 

 

Climate Justice: The Global Movement

Tomorrow’s Power

Directed by Amy Miller (2016)

Film Review

This documentary compares local climate justice movements in Gaza, Arauca (Colombia), and Germany’s Rhineland.

Gaza

In Gaza a consortium of doctors are working with the UN Development Fund to procure solar panels and batteries for the Gaza City Hospital. The Gaza strip has experienced repeated power outages ever since Israel bombed their power plant in 2010. Owing to the blockade on their borders with Israel and Egypt, engineers have been unable to repair the damaged turbines. With only two working turbines, Gaza residents get an average of four hours of electricity for each ten hours of outage.

Because the solar operation is insufficient to supply the entire hospital, the solar feed is used for operating theaters and intensive care, neonatal intensive care and dialysis units. Even brief outages in any of these critical facilities can cost patient lives.

Araucua

The climate justice movement in Arauca (on the Colombia-Venezuela border) is a compesino movement focused on preventing multinational oil companies from illegally evicting indigenous and Afro-Caribbean farmers from their land. I found it intriguing to learn the true purpose of the US government’s notorious Plan Colombia. Despite the spin fed to the American public (ie about Plan Colombia shutting down Colombian coca production), its true purpose was to assist the Colombian military (and paramilitary forces) in seizing, torturing, and murdering human rights activists. It was actually the campesino movement that shut down coca production in Arauco between 2007-2011.

In addition to organizing protests and direct actions, Colombia’s climate justice movement has organized large local food coops to support their local economy and to resist schemes by multinationals to rip off their cacao crop and sell it back to them as chocolate.

Their movement  has become so large and powerful that the Colombian military has ceased trying to evict them from their lands.

Rhineland

Germany’s climate just movement is focused on shutting down coal mining and coal-fueled power plants. Coal powered plants largely replaced the nuclear industry after activists forced the German government shut it down after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

Time to Choose

Time to Choose

Directed by Charles Ferguson (2015)

Film Review

The appraisal of the renewables market is clearly out-of date in this 2015 film. Nevertheless  it contains excellent new material on mountaintop removal (for coal) and coal mining and pollution in China; the growing rollout of rooftop solar in the Third World (as of 2015, 70% of Bangladeshi residents still lacked access to electricity); and the disastrous replacement of Indonesia’s tropical forests with palm oil plantations.

As of 2015, 70% of the world’s carbon emission come from burning fossil fuels and 30% from destroying the world’s forests for agriculture.

The filmmakers link Brazil’s ongoing destruction of the Amazon to the country’s growing export of soy to Chinese pig farms. The country’s massive rainforest destruction has significantly reduced rain fall, leaving Sao Paulo’s 20 million residents to confront chronic water shortages. Illegally driven from their land to create soy plantations that only benefit a handful of billionaires, many subsistence farmers are left with no way to support themselves.

Illegal destruction of Indonesia’s tropical rainforests for palm oil production also displaces many of the country’s subsistence farmers, as well as leading to the near-extinction of orangutan populations. Palm oil is the main ingredient in many processed foods.

Owing to the clear cutting and burning of their rainforests, Indonesia currently has the third highest level of CO2 pollution after China and the US.

The main premise of this film is that we already have all the necessary technology to end rainforest destruction and replace fossil fuels with cheaper and cleaner renewable energy. For decades, the main obstacle to environmental reform has been billionaire oligarchs blocking forest conservation and the roll-out of renewable energy technology.

Filmmakers also emphasize the contribution industrial agriculture plays in increasing carbon emissions. This relates to the abandonment of traditional farming practices that capture carbon in the soil. At present real food (ie non-processed foods produced by traditional farming methods) is referred to as “specialty crops.”

Anyone with a public library card can view the film free on Kanopy. Type “Kanopy” and the name of your library into your search engine.