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The appraisal of the renewables market is clearly out-of date in this 2015 film.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.

 

 

 

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.

 

Economic Colonialism: The World’s Dirtiest River

Citarum: Indonesian River Keeps Textile Industry’s Dirty Secrets

RT (2019)

Film Reiview

This documentary concerns the world’s dirtiest river, the Citarum River in Indonesia. Citarum Island, one of the poorest regions in the world, is home to 5,000  factories producing clothing for fast fashion labels such as H&M, Calvin Klein, Uniqlo, Tommy Hilfiger and Marks and Spencer (see The made in Indonesia opportunity). All illegally discharge toxic waste into the river.

In addition to irrigating 4,000 rice fields, the Citarum provides drinking water to 25 million residents. Rice farmers complain of severe skin rashes and ulcers, as well as the virtual collapse of their rice harvest.

After a three year investigation, local activists discovered that Citarum lead levels were three times and polonium* and chromium levels six to seven times higher than limits set by the Indonesian government. Treating waste water, which costs $1,000 per cubic meter, would either force contractors to increase the price they charge Western garment brands or cut into their profits.**

In 2018, activists won a lawsuit against Famatex, one of the largest textile contractors. After ordering the company to stop discharging toxic waste (according to Indonesian law the judge should have shut Famatex down), local authorities used cement to dam up illegal drainage pipes the manufacturer used to discharge toxic waste. Activists later found the company had removed the cement.

Famatex also refused to allow local activists to inspect their toxic waste treatment facilities as ordered by the court.

In 2018, the filmmakers collected Citarum River water samples to be tested by an independent Indonesian lab. The government has forbidden the lab to release the results.

Activists report household sewage and waste is at least 50% responsible for Citarum River contamination – local residents have no access to garbage collection, recycling facilities or sewage collection and treatment. The river is responsible for roughly two-thirds of the 2 million tonnes of plastic waste that ends up in the world’s oceans.


*Polonium is a highly radioactive element which is deadly in very low concentrations. In commercial applications, polonium is occasionally used to remove static electricity in machinery or dust from photographic film.

**Yet another compelling reason (in addition to its massive carbon footprint) to boycott fast fashion. See https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-017-0058-9

 

How Climate Change Drives Refugees

Fleeing Climate Change: The Real Environmental Catastrophe

DW (2019)

Film Review

Population scientists estimate the climate crisis will force 1/5 to 1/4  of the global population (2-3 billion) to migrate by the year 2050. Already the climate emergency has caused the displacement of more than 20 million people.

The filmmakers examine three parts of the world that are already impacted by climate change: Indonesia, Cameroons and Siberia.

An estimated 300 million Indonesians will be displaced by sea level rise. The coastal farmers of Dadap have already started moving inland due to flooding of their homes and fields. Some have emigrated to Saudi Arabia to work in construction. One-third of the city of Jakarta is below sea level, and in 2013 nearly half the city was under water.

The farmers and herders of Cameroons are being displaced by drought and increasing desertification. Many live in refugee camps and depend on international food aid.

In Siberia, 25 million Russians face displacement because the permafrost supporting  their roads, bridges, homes, public buildings and pipelines were is melting. Once thawing occurs, the wet soil erodes quickly causing these structures to collapse. The melting Siberian permafrost also substantially increases global warming because it releases large amounts of methane to the atmosphere.

The filmmakers point out that millions of refugees from these areas will be joined by millions more fleeing droughts in Brazil, hurricanes in the Caribbean and the total submersion of most of the Pacific islands.

 

Moving Past Cute Orangatans: The Cost of Rainforest Destruction in Human Lives

 

Spoils of Destruction. Indonesian villagers fighting palm oil giants to reclaim their rainforest

RT (2018)

Film Review

Spoils of Destruction is about the Indonesian resistance movement to reclaim rainforest illegally confiscated for palm oil plantations. In Indonesia alone, ten million hectares of tropical rainforest have been to destroyed to plant palm oil trees. In the process, tens of thousands of peasants have been driven off their land, as well as having their water and remaining land poisoned by pesticides.

I find it both ironic and predictable that the western non-profit industrial complex chooses to campaign solely about orangutans endangered by multinational palm oil companies, to the exclusion of the large human population that has been sacrificed.

Palm oil is a common processed food additive linked with diabetes, hypertension and cancer. Here in New Zealand, farmers import large quantities of palm kernel as supplementary feed for “grass-fed” dairy cows and beef.

The benefits the Indonesian government promised when the land confiscations began 20 years ago have never eventuated. At present only 30 percent of the population makes a living working for palm oil companies – the other 70% struggle to survive as subsistence farmers.

In the village of Semunjung Jaya, pesticide runoff has poisoned the river peasants formerly used for drinking water and a source of fish. Gone, too, are the wild boar villagers relied on for protein. Heavy pesticide use has also poisoned the soil on adjacent tracks of farmland – making it impossible to grow rice, vegetables or corn.

Villagers fighting to get their land back receive support and training from national groups fighting the illegal “occupation” of Indonesia by multinational corporations. With their support, residents of Semunjung Jaya are suing the Indonesian government and palm oil companies over illegal land confiscation. The government has responded by discontinuing the meager subsidy it was paying farmers who lost their land.

Should We Pay Corporations to Destroy the Planet?

Pricing the Planet Episode 1

Al Jazeera (2018)

Film Review

This documentary is about an endangered species trading scheme in which banks like J P Morgan and Goldman Sacks invest in projects that protect endangered species (eg bees, coral reefs, orangutans) or ecosystem services (eg (rain forests, clean water, wetlands clean air, topsoil). They then sell credits in these projects to corporations who wish to engage in mining and development that kill these species or destroy rain forests and wetlands.

In 1988, Bush Senior was the first to promote this model of environmental protection with his No Net Wetlands Loss policy. It enabled corporations that were destroying wetlands to purchase credits in wetlands that being set aside for preservation. This model was later employed in carbon trading schemes in which industries are allowed to emit CO2 pollution if they purchase credits in reforestation projects that capture CO2. After nearly 20 years of operations, this scheme has made speculators in carbon credits fantastically rich while allowing CO2 emissions increase exponentially.

Bankers and corporate executives argue that endangered species trading is the only way to save the planet because government regulation hasn’t worked (largely because banks and corporations have blocked effective environmental regulation). Most grassroots environmentalists oppose species trading. They argue that bees, reefs, orangutans and rain forests can only be saved with a total ban on activities that endanger them.

Globally Malua BioBank runs the largest “mitigation” project. They recently purchased the Malua Forest in Borneo for $64 million. They sell credits in the Malua Forest to palm oil companies to enable them to destroy other Indonesian rain forests, as well as companies that use palm oil products.

The Nature Conservancy (whose current CEO is a former Goldman Sachs banker) and other large environmental NGOs support “species banking” because they rely on large corporate donations to cover their staff salaries.

The video can be viewed free at the Al Jazeera website: Pricing the Planet

 

Social Enterprise in North Carolina: Building Local Communities

Real Value

Directed by Jesse Borkowski (2013)

Film Review

Real Value is about the reform potential of “social enterprise” – a business model in which local entrepreneurs pursue profit while delivering tangible benefits that strengthen their local communities.

The film profiles four North Carolina businesses:

TS Designs – an organic T-shirt manufacturer that morphed out of a vibrant textile industry destroyed by the North American Free Trade Act. In addition to growing organic cotton an manufacturing T-shirts, TS Designs, which is entirely solar powered, grows organic vegetables to ensure their employees have access to healthy local feed.

Sow True Seeds – an heirloom seed company dedicated to preserving crop diversity (in contrast to companies like Monsanto and Cargill that aim to increase profits by promoting monopoly ownership of monoculture* crops). Sow True Seeds donates leftover seed to schools and community gardens and allows local residents to trade their labor for free seeds.

Piedmont Biofuels – a cooperative that produces biofuels from locally sourced food waste.

Redwoods Group – an insurance company working to keep kids safe by gathering actuarial data and educating local businesses how they can reduce their insurance costs.

The film also explores the general theory of social enterprise (as taught by Harvard Business School). The model challenges the conventional wisdom that big and centralized is always better for the economy. They give the energy industry as an example – how the consolidation of control among a handful of corporate CEOs has resulted in a system of energy production that is enormously inefficient and environmentally destructive – mainly because the end users have no voice in how it operates.

It also explores one of the major hurdles social enterprises face at present, namely educating consumers about their purchasing habits, eg the value of paying slightly more for a T-shirt that doesn’t fall apart after three months or purchasing biofuel that doesn’t result from the destruction of Indonesian rainforests.


*Although they are extremely profitable for Food Inc, the major drawbacks of monoculture crops are their need for massive inputs of synthetic fertilizers that destroy the soil and their heightened susceptibility to pests.

** In Indonesia, thousands of acres of rainforest are destroyed every year to plant palm oil plantations for biofuel. This wholesale rainforest destruction is a major factor in creasing atmospheric CO2 levels.

Breaking the Silence on 1965 CIA Coup (and Genocide) in Indonesia

The Look of Silence

Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer (2014)

Tuesday night, Maori TV showed Joshua Oppenheimer’s 2014 ground breaking documentary about the 1965 Indonesian genocide instigated by the CIA. The documentary is available at the Maori TV website for the next 2 weeks:  The Look of Silence

The clip below is a 2016 Al Jazeera interview with the filmmaker.

More than a million people were brutally killed after a 1965 CIA-backed military coup that overthrew Achmed Sukarno – who became Indonesia’s first president in 1945 after leading their battle for independence (from the Netherlands) for more than 20 years.

Genocide victims were accused of being communists, although most were union members, teachers, artists, intellectuals and landless farmers who opposed General Suharto’s new military dictatorship.

For the most part the killers have stayed in power, living alongside the survivors and the victims’ families who were threatened into silence. Fear and anti-communist rhetoric persist in Indonesia today.

For nearly 10 years, American filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer researched and documented the atrocities.

He spoke to victims and their families as well as the perpetrators of the crimes, shedding light on Indonesia’s dark past and today’s impunity in his two films, The Look of Silence (2014) and The Act of Killing (2012).

His first film tells the story from the point of view of the killers – some of whom are celebrated as heroes in Indonesia today. The Look of Silence follows an optometrist, born two years after his brother was killed, as he confronts those responsible for his brother’s death.

The Earthship Movement – Transforming Garbage into Homes

Garbage Warrior

Oliver Hodge (2007)

Film Review

Garbage Warrior is a about architect and Earthship inventor Mike Reynold’s 30+ year rear radical experiment in sustainable living in Taos New Mexico. An Earthship is a home built out of tires packed with earth or sand and recycled glass and plastic bottles and other waste. Using the tires as a massive thermal mass to absorb heat, it relies on a passive solar design for heating and cooling. Totally off the grid in terms of power, water, and sewage, Earthships are typically build around a central greenhouse used for food production and temperature control.

All Earthshhips must incorporate five basic principles:

  • They must be built with natural or recycled materials
  • They must rely exclusively on solar or wind power and thermal mass for energy, heating
  • They must have a self-sufficient water harvesting system
  • They must have a self-contained sewage system.
  • They must incorporate food production

The Greater World Community

Reynolds began his first Earthship community, the Greater World Community, on ten acres of land in 1990. The idea was to give Mike’s young work crew and followers a low cost plot of land and support them in building their own Earthships. He eventually built two much larger Earthship communities in the Taos area.

Most of the film relates to the legal difficulties Reynolds encountered with local and state authorities, over the failure of Earthships to comply with building codes. In the early 1990s, he voluntarily surrendered his New Mexico architects license to avoid being sued for malpractice. In 2004 he reached a compromise with the county by reclassifying his Earthship “communities” as “subdivisions.”

After three years of intensive lobbying, in 2007 he persuaded the New Mexico legislature to approve his Earthship communities as a “sustainable living test site.” This effectively exempted them from state and local permit requirements. The best part of the film shows him teaching Andaman Islands residents whose homes were destroyed by the 2004 Indonesia tsunami how to build Earthships. This segment provides the most detailed depiction of the actual construction process.

2014 Update

The second film is a 2014 update of the “sustainable living test site” Taos Earthship community. It highlights a number of the technological improvements that have occurred in Earthship construction. It devotes special attention to the unique water management system that allows Earthship owners to survive in desert conditions with nine inches of rainfall per year.

Untold History of the US – Johnson, Nixon and Vietnam

Part 7 of Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States concerns the Johnson and Nixon presidencies.

The Johnson Presidency

Johnson continued Kennedy’s glorious tradition of overthrowing foreign democratic governments. He openly admitted the military aggression he authorized wasn’t about fighting communism – but about fighting third world peoples for their resources. He saw no other way 6% of the world’s population could control 50% of its wealth.

  • In 1963 Johnson reversed Kennedy’s order to draw down US “military advisors” and introduced ground troops to Vietnam.
  • In 1964 he ordered US troops to overthrow the democratically elected government of Brazil.
  • In 1965 he invaded the Dominican Republic to crush a popular insurrection against a CIA-inspired right wing coup.
  • In 1966-67 he authorized a bloody CIA coup to oust President Sukarno in Indonesia and replace him with the right wing dictator Suharto.
  • In 1967, he ordered the CIA to (illegally) spy on anti-Vietnam War protestors through Operation Chaos.
  • In 1967, he fired Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara when he opposed escalating the bombing in Vietnam.

When a bipartisan group of elder statesman called for US troop withdrawal from Vietnam, Johnson decided to focus on Vietnam peace negotiations instead of running for a second term in 1968.

The Nixon Presidency

Robert Kennedy was the clear front runner in the 1968 election prior to his assassination in July 1968.

Despite basing his campaign on a “secret plan” to end the war in Vietnam, Nixon and Kissinger (who secretly undermined the Paris peace negotiations to help Nixon win the elections) vastly expanded the war, which would last seven more years. More than half the GI deaths in Vietnam occurred under Nixon.

As president, Nixon made 13 separate threats to use nuclear weapons in Vietnam. Stone believes it was only the massive anti-war protests (which deeply unnerved Nixon) that prevented their use.

Nixon and Kissinger were also responsible for secretly and illegally bombing Cambodia and Laos, the 1973 coup that overthrew Chile’s democratically elected government, and Operation Condor, a secret dirty war against pro-democracy movements in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia.

Part 7:  Johnson, Nixon and Vietnam: Reversal of Fortune – Cataclysm in Vietnam