The Vital Importance of Local Food Production

Feeding Ourselves

Directed by Lisa Safarik (2020)

Film Review

The breakdown of the US food supply chain under COVID19 once again highlights the danger of our globalized food system. Feeding Ourselves reminds us of the importance of local farmers and a strong local food network during periods of national and international crisis.

Cinematographically this has to be one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. For the most part, filmmakers focus on small farmers in British Columbia harvesting their crops, preparing them for market, and undertaking a multitude of tasks to naturally replenish their soils. Small free range meat producers also feature prominently, demonstrating humane and sustainable pastoral management, home kill, and butchery techniques. A few vignettes depict small local food processors, restauranteurs, and farmers markets that bring freshly grown organic products to local residents.

Several of the farmers interviewed predict the imminent collapse of industrial agriculture (so far the COVID19 lockdown and collapse of North American food chains tend to validate these predictions). They feel it’s essential to prepare by creating a strong local food infrastructure.

With youth unemployment levels remaining really high despite the so-called post-2008 recovery, no one is very surprised that so many young people are choosing a career (organic farming) consistent with their values rather than financial gain.

The film also points out the role of factory farming in externalizing the cost of pest control. Industrial farming employs toxic chemicals that generate immense health and environmental costs, owing to their link to cancer, chronic illness, and species extinction. In contrast organic farmers must pay the full cost of human labor required to eliminate pests.

The full film can be viewed free at https://www.filmsforaction.org/watch/feeding-ourselves/

The Carbon Trading Racket

The Carbon Rush

Directed by Amy Miller (2012)

Film Review

This documentary is about the $300 billion carbon trading racket (aka the Emissions Trading Scheme) in which carbon polluters in industrialized countries buy permits to pollute from various corporate and and NGO scams that allegedly sequester carbon. Over 5,000 projects are registered with the UN carbon market initiated under the 1992 Kyoto Accord.

The filmmakers interview Third World residents and activists about the devastating effect of these schemes on their communities.

Brazil

Filmmakers visit several communities where multinational corporations have deprived subsistence farmers off their land to build giant eucalyptus plantations. The trees are harvested to make charcoal used to produce pig iron. Because the eucalyptus charcoal is ultimately burned (producing CO2), there is no net reduction in carbon emissions. Yet several dozen of these plantations scattered across the third world are authorized to sell carbon credits to First World polluters.

Delhi

One to two hundred thousand informal waste pickers essential to India’s recycling industry are losing their jobs to Refuse Driven Fuel (RDF) incinerators. The latter burn unsorted rubbish to produce electricity. Despite research showing that waste pickers are nine time more efficient than incinerators in reducing CO2 emissions, the multinationals running the incinerators are allowed to sell carbon credits for operating them. This despite fierce opposition by local residents due to the incinerators’ failure to filter toxic pollutants. There are several dozen RDFs selling carbon credits across the Third World.

Maharashta (India)

The Indian government has colluded with Tata Motors and various multinationals to force  subsistence farmers off their land to build a 1,000 turbine wind. The latter produces carbon credits to a Norwegian Mega Mall. Similar mega-turbine projects generate carbon credits across the global South.

Chiriqui (Panama)

The Panamanian government is collaborating with multinationals and the World Bank to illegally install 160 hydroelectric dams on indigenous land. Despite environmental devastation that has transformed thousands of hectares of land into desert, the corporations earn millions by selling carbon credits for building and operating the dams.

Aquan Valley (Honduras)

Following the 2009 coup,* the new right wing government allowed multinationals to clear cut old growth forest and displace subsistence farmers to build massive palm oil plantations for biofuel production. Despite clear evidence that replacing old growth forest and stable savanna with palm oil plantation increases, rather than decreases, CO2 emissions, a number of similar plantations throughout the the Third World are authorized to sell carbon credits.

The full film can be seen free at

https://www.filmsforaction.org/watch/the-carbon-rush-documentary/

The Delusion of Perpetual Economic Growth

Fairy Tales of Growth

Directed by Pierre Smith Khanna (2019

Film Review

This documentary is about the urgent need to abolish the mindset that measures human progress in terms of economic growth. It also emphasizes the price we pay for growth in terms of heavy resource extraction and even heavier human exploitation.

The filmmakers begin by referencing Limits of Growth, published by the elite round table group Club of Rome published in 1973. Relying on MIT computer modeling, it predicted unrestrained growth would lead to economic and ecological collapse in the early decades of the the the 21st century.

The film makes many of the same points as Michael Moore’s recent documentary Planet of the Humans (see The Corporatization of the Climate Movement). Both depict the notion of “Green Growth” as a corporate scam. Politicians and environmental NGOs who claim that a switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy will allow unlimited economic growth without causing irreparable harm to the planet are either deluded or deliberately lying to you.

Both films films assert our only option, at this point, for preventing environmental collapse is  to significantly reduce consumption and to prioritize human welfare and the environment over the continual acquisition of more stuff.

The filmmakers cite an interesting study revealing that every new purchase gives people an average of 15 minutes of happiness. In fact, a growing number of psychologists and sociologists believe improve if we focus away from material possessions to to improve health care and education, spending more time with our families, and rebuild our communities.

For me, the high point of the documentary is the link it makes between our debt-based system of money creation and the pressure for ever increasing economic growth. Contrary to public belief, at present 97% is created, not by government, by by private banks when they issue loans. (See We Need to End Money Creation by Private Banks – Urgently)

Because money only comes into existence when someone borrows money, the only way to keep enough money circulating in the economy is to continually increase (both private and government) debt. The cost of repaying this exponentially increasing debt is a continual increase in resource extraction, environmental degradation and pollution, and exploitation.

 

Cycle Advocacy: How Police Brutality Killed Portland’s Critical Mass Rides

Aftermass: Bicycling Post Critical Mass in Portland

Directed by Joe Biel (2014)

Film Review

This documentary relates the painful history which has made Portland Oregon the most bike friendly city in the US. Part relates to federal and state enabling legislation, and part to two successful lawsuits filed by Portland residents. However most relates to the massive Critical Mass rides that took place between 1993 and 2008, despite the brutal physical, legal, and psychological harassment by the Portland Police Bureau.

As of 2014, when the film was made, over 6% of Portland residents used bikes to commute to work. At the time, roughly 20,000 bikes crossed Portland’s city center bridges daily.

Enabling Legislation:

  • 1971 – Oregon Bicycle Act requires every state and urban roading project allocate 1% of their budget to cycling access.
  • 1973 – Oregon Land Conservation and Development Act creates framework to establish urban growth boundaries (to prevent sprawl) and limit construction of big box stores (eg Walmart).*
  • 1990 – Clean Air Act amendments sets strict toxic air emissions limits, forcing Portland (which violated the new Act at least twice a week) to reduce vehicle traffic.

Lawsuits

  • 1974 – grassroots coalition wins lawsuit blocking construction of Mount Hood Freeway through downtown Portland. Funds allocated for the freeway are invested in Portland’s light rail network.
  • 1995 – Portland’s Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BLA) wins lawsuit against city for failing to include designated bike lanes in their roading projects.

The majority of this film consists of footage of Portland’s Critical Mass bike rides held the last Friday of every month between 1993 and 2008. Critical Mass first started in San Francisco and quickly spread around the world among activists seeking to promote cycling as a carbon neutral alternative to fossil fuel vehicles (our local bike advocacy group has organized them here in New Plymouth).

They spread to Portland in 1993. The ultimate dream of early participants was to pressure the city to build a cycling infrastructure, comparable to those found in Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and other European cities, to safely separate them from motor vehicles. In survey after survey, prospective cyclists consistently identify the risk of injury (or death) from motor vehicles as the primary obstacle to using bicycles as their primary form of transportation.**

For most of us, the best part of Critical Mass rides is they allow cyclists to ride in total safety for the few hours a month they take over the streets from cars.

As depicted in this film, the extreme brutality Portland police subjected Critical Mass cyclists to (extensively documented in this film) is truly horrifying. In addition to being clubbed and manacled by cops, they had their cameras confiscated and were subject to repeated arrest. Although courts dismissed most of the charges, being summoned to court monthly seriously disrupted work and other obligations.

The rides were also infiltrated by police informants (which was illegal at the time), who repeatedly urged other cyclists to break windows or bash cars and who lied in court about other cyclists alleged criminal activities.


*Preventing sprawl is essential to developing cost effective public transport networks, and blocking box box stores helps preserve neighborhood businesses that residents can access via bicycle or on foot.

**Because cycling is so safe in Amsterdam that one third of all trips are made by bicycle.

Anyone with a public library card can view the full film free at Kanopy. Type Kanopy and the name of your library into you search engine.

 

 

Will the Green Revolution Save Us?

Breakpoint: A Counter History of Progress

Directed by Jean Robert Vialett (2019)

Film Review

This is a bleak but fascinating documentary about the downside of so-called “progress” associated with the two century-long fossil fuel age. Starting with the replacement of wood with coal in the early 18th century, the film examines each new technological innovation the ruling elite celebrates as “progress.” By the end of the film, it is alarmingly clear that the great majority of the global population has paid an enormous price for this progress, in terms of chronic exposure to toxic chemicals and radionucleotides, global warming, near total deforestation, collapse of our fish stocks, colonization, massive poverty, and destruction of formerly vibrant public spaces by the automobile.

In the filmmaker’s view, what is commonly called “progress” are actually wealth making schemes that have made a few hundred people fabulously wealthy by destroying the health and wellbeing of the rest of us.

There are a number of surprises in the film. Previously I had no idea that social critics were warning against deforestation at the beginning of the 19th century, nor that this was a principal driver of the shift to coal. Nor was that the first solar PV technology was developed during World War II to reduce domestic demand for oil (needed for the war effort). The first solar home, built in 1948, was 75% self-sufficient. The early 1950s saw the production of 100,000 solar water heaters in the US. Eighty-percent of Florida homes were solar equipped at the peak of the first solar boom.

The early solar industry would be strangled in its infancy by a conspiracy between railroads, coal companies, and property developers to ensure all new power plants were coal-fired and all post-war boom homes connected to the grid.

The 1973 oil shock and Club of Rome study Limits to Growth inspired Carter to push energy conservation policies, as well as installing solar panels on the White House a second time in 1979. The solar industry would be killed a second time by the wave of neoliberal globalization launched by Reagan and Thatcher.

I was also horrified to learn about Project Plowshare, which promoted the use of nuclear bombs for “peaceful purposes” during the fifties and sixties. For 20 years, the US government detonated 27 atomic bombs to build a ship canal in Alaska. This cost taxpayers $770 million ($4 billion in today’s dollars).

The Soviets deployed 150 atomic bombs for similar civilian purposes.

The filmmaker is extremely pessimistic about the Green Revolution “saving” us given the massive demand for rare earth minerals (such as lithium, cobalt, and nickel) required to make solar panels and storage batteries.

Anyone with public library card can view film free at Kanopy – just type Kanopy and the name of your library into the search engine.

 

 

Civilian Conservation Corp: Lessons from the Great Depression

“American Experience”: Civilian Conservation Corp

Directed by Robert Stone (2009)

Film Review

Between the COVID19 lockdown, curfews in many cities, and impending martial law if the riots continue, the US economy is taking a severe hammering – which many predict will produce higher unemployment than the Great Depression.

This 2009 documentary looks at the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) Roosevelt created when he took office in 1933. It served the dual the dual purpose of putting 2-3 million men to work and repairing the vast environmental damage wreaked by 200 years of laissez-faire agriculture. Prior to the 1930s, US farmers were unaware of the importance of using windbreaks to prevent erosion, replenishing soil nutrients with fertilizers, or rotation cropping. Until 1900, farmers and plantation owners simply abandoned their land when it became infertile and moved west.

In the 1930s, thousands of US farmers were forced to abandon their land, due to droughts, brought on by rampant deforestation, and massive topsoil loss in dust storms.

Roosevelt’s CCC was the very first national environmental program in the US. CCC members planted 2.3 billion trees, created 800 billion state parks, fought forest fires, and restored healthy pastures on thousands of farms. In addition to cutting ski trails in New England (thus launching the US ski industry), the CCC built Camp David,* the Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and the Appalachian Trail.

Closed to women, the CCC was run by the Army with rigid army discipline. There were 200 men each camp and all US states had several. They received $1 a day for six hours work, plus all the meat and eggs they could eat.** All recruits who were illiterate learned to read. There was also an opportunity to undergo vocational training in the evening (mainly typing, plumbing and electrical work.

Most men sent $25 a month to their families, which was instrumental in reviving many local economies.

After Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the CCC was dissolved, and nearly all 2.3 million recruits were mustered into the US Army.


*Camp David is the country retreat for the US president.

**As with the COVID19 lockdown, farmers were forced to slaughter most of their cattle prior to the formation of the CC. Owing to massive unemployment, no one could afford to buy their meat.

 

 

The Petroleum Industry: Shifting from Fossil Fuels to Plastic

Plastic Wars

PBS Frontline  (2020)

Film Review

This documentary reveals how the climate movement and the exponential growth of renewable energy has led the petroleum industry to shift their focus from fossil fuels to plastics production. At present they are investing tens of billions of dollars in new plants to transform gas and oil into plastics.

Meanwhile the plastics lobby still tries to shift responsibility for widespread plastic pollution pollution to consumers and local government (for their failure to recycle them). This despite the reality that only 10% of plastic can be economically recycled. Because the price of new plastic is so cheap, the vast majority of recycled plastic is far too expensive to compete.

Prior to watching this film, I had no idea the concept of plastic recycling originated with an industry lobby group known as the Plastics Council. They’re also responsible for the little recycling symbol stamped into the bottom of all plastic containers. Its purpose is to deliberately mislead consumers into believing the containers are recyclable.

Up until 2018, China accepted most of the plastics recycled from the industrial North. They, too, could only recycle 10% of them (the milk and soda containers). They burned the rest, greatly aggravating their deadly air pollution problems.

At present, Indonesia has replaced China as the major recipient of First World plastic waste. They convert about 10% of it into tiny pellets which are used to make new plastic. The rest is either burned or illegally dumped on empty fields.

Sixty percent of the plastics clogging up oceans and killing sea life originates from Asia.

 

Feeding Ourselves: Preparing for the Collapse of Industrial Farming

In Our Hands – Seeding Change

Directed by Jo Bailey and Silvie Planet (2018)

Film Revew

With the COVID19 lockdown already driving shortages in milk, meat, and flour in Britain and impending meat shortages predicted for the US, this documentary offers an inspiring vision for a “normal” in which people produce, process, and consume local traditionally grown food.

The film concerns the Landowners Alliance, an organization of British farmers that is part of Via Compesina, and international organization of more the 200 million small farmers. Contrary to the public image promoted by the corporate agriculture lobby, small landholders still produce 70% of the global food supply.

The film begins by tracing how industrial agriculture has already bankrupted thousands of British farmers. It has done so by monopolizing seed production at the front end and processing, transportation, and marketing at the back end. In this way, they capture so much of the food pound, farmers who persist who persist in industrial farming no longer recoup sufficient revenue to cover their costs.

At the same time, corporate industrial agriculture is also systematically destroying soil fertility and the environment, as well as food security for most residents of the industrial North.

Farmers in the Landowners Alliance support each other by forming coops to save and share heirloom seeds,  farm machinery, and joint processing and marketing schemes that bypass corporate middlemen to sell farm produce directly to consumers.

The organization also promotes organic permaculture (aka polyculture) farming (as opposed to the monoculture cropping practiced by industrial agriculture),** heritage open pollinated grains, and urban farms in Britain’s big cities.


*The filmmakers definite food security (aka food sovereignty) as the right of every human to access healthy food grown on their own land. Under the current global industrial agriculture scheme, 40% of soy and grains produced are fed to livestock. Not only is this unconscionable in the face of growing world hunger (rough one billion out of the seven billion global population), but totally unsustainable in the long run.

**Decades of research reveal that this permaculture farming produces far higher yields (measured in calories per acre) than industrial farming.

 

Healing the Environment by Copying Nature

The Promise of Biomimicry: Resilient Design in a Climate Impacted World

Biomimicry Institute (2020)

Film Review

In this documentary Janine Benyus, co-founder of the Biomicry Institute, explains the Institute’s work.

Their main purpose is to identify natural designs that provide potential solutions for societal problems. In my view, their most important initiative is the Ask Nature.org website. The site enables scientists and engineers to enter a specific engineering problem (eg protecting from fractures, protecting from floods, producing color, conserving water) into their search engine to investigate how nature addresses it.

Because it’s rare for engineers to study biology, an engineer developing a pump would be unlikely to know that the whale heart is the most efficient pump on earth.

The Biomicry Institute partners with the Ray Anderson Foundation** to run an annual Student Design Challenge that offers prizes for the best biomimicry-inspired inventions. Among recent winners are teams that invented a solar underwater trap for mosquito larvae based on a carnivorous plant known as the bladderwort; a passive (ie energy neutral) air conditioning system based on cooling features found in cacti, termite mounds, and wheat stalks; a passive sewage treatment technology employing anaerobic bacteria found in the cow stomach; a robotic tool that seeks out water mains leaks based on the squid’s hydraulic suction cups; and a reverse osmosis desalinization filter based on the self-cleaning surface found in blood vessels and on shark and dolphin skin.

The Institute also provides marketing advice and financial assistance to help winners to bring their products to market.


*Biomimicry is the imitation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems.

**Ray Anderson, founder and longtime president of Interface Carpet and long time admirer of Benyus’, work was one of the first corporate entrepreneurs to take a strong stand on industrial ecology and sustainability.

The Corporatization of the Climate Movement

The Planet of the Humans

Directed by Jeff Gibbs (2020)

Executive Producer Michael Moore

Film Review

This very alarming film mainly (released on Earth Day on Michael Moore’s YouTube channel) concerns the capture of the climate movement by Wall Street interests. It places special emphasis on environmental NGOs, like Serra Club, 350.org, and the Nature Conservancy, which are increasingly partnering with Wall Street banks and corporations to promote technological solutions (such as solar panels, wind turbines, concentrated solar mirrors, and large scale biomass and biofuel production). These technologies are immensely profitable for corporations, but as director Jeff Gibbs demonstrates, are unsustainable in the long term without addressing population growth and massive overconsumption in the industrial North.

The film begins by closely examining, in turn, each of these heavily promoted renewable technologies. For me, the issues raised about solar photovoltaic and wind turbine technology, both strongly embraced by climate activists, are the most concerning. Gibbs reminds us that all solar panels and turbines have a fairly short lifespan (20 year), which is most concerning in light of the large environmental and carbon footprint they leave during mining and manufacture of the raw materials they consume. The steel and cement required for wind turbines have a sizeable carbon footprint in themselves, and the mining (in third world countries) of cobalt, lithium, nickel, tin, and rare earth minerals used in solar batteries and electric vehicles produces substantial quantities of uranium, radon, and other radioactive isotopes as waste products. The mining process also produces a significant quantity of sulfur hexafluoride, a  greenhouse gas 23,000 times more potent than CO2.

Gibbs ends by examining specific ties between environmental NGOs and Wall Street players:

Sierra Club

  • received millions in donations from the world’s leading timber company for their support of biomass energy (ie clearing of native forests to produce wood chips).
  • received millions in donations from Michael Bloomberg to replace coal fired power plants with those powered by (equally polluting) natural gas.
  • major backer of Green Century Mutual Funds, which are 1% invested in solar and wind technology and 99% invested in oil, gas, tar sands, and unsustainably produced biofuels.
  • sell solar panels and electric vehicles from their website.
  • is biggest international investor in Viva, the biggest corporate destroyer of native forests.

Bill McKibben and 350.org

  • assisted Goldman Sachs in raising capital for a Brazilian project to increase sugar cane production for ethanol (increasing Amazon deforestation and displacing indigenous populations).

Al Gore

  • co-founder of Generation Investment Management, a company specializing in biomass and biofuels production (this was prior to the 2005 release of his film An Inconvenient Truth).
  • co-founder of a multibillion dollar sustainability investment fund based in the Cayman Islands.

Koch Brothers

  • largest corporate recipient of federal biomass subsidies.

The second video is a Q&A hosted by Michael Moore (executive producer), Jeff Gibbs (director), and Ozzie Zehner (producer) on April 23rd.