What if our economic system was modelled after natural systems? What if business operated collaboratively instead of competitively? What if companies’ shareholders and beneficiaries were their own community?
Most of us live in a broken system where the distribution of monetary wealth is becoming increasingly top-heavy, and the consequences of this push down and exploit the people at the bottom of the ladder instead of uplifting everyone. But there are entrepreneurs around the globe working with a different set of values and a different idea of what wealth means. Named after this alternative vision, A New Economy is a heavily-researched film from director Trevor Meier looking at democratic, cooperative and equality-driven ventures in various cities, mainly in Canada. It asks: “What if working together for the good of all was the most common business model?” The team pored over hundreds of case studies and whittled them down to seven inspiring social innovators for this film, including Vancouver’s own Sole Food farms, where employee and interviewee Lyle speaks with heartbreaking candour. Profiled ventures also include a cooperative brewery, an innovative independent hotel, and an open-source tech company.
David Suzuki pointed out that the economy is a human invention that we anthropomorphise and worship. It becomes the centre of everything at the expense of not only our planet but our people. It’s not sustainable (endless growth is not possible on a finite planet), and is given higher importance than what we truly value or need: family, friends, food, clean air and water, culture, community. The new economy innovators turn this on its head for a sustainable, human-centred approach.
Another approach not explored in this film is the gift economy. I recently listened to a very inspiring Permaculture Podcast interview with permaculturist Ethan Hughes in which he talks about this alternative form of sharing and spreading wealth. It’s well worth your time.
Ticket proceeds from the first film screening were donated to Sole Food — $2,742.90 that stays in the local economy and helps 35 people to keep making a big difference in a small city.
I wondered for a long time why climate change deniers existed. Maybe, I thought, because the truth is scary and requires us to change our ways — not a comfortable request for a society so deeply anchored in business as usual. While it’s true that climate change is indeed frightening and changing ourselves can be met with resistance, the actual reason is that there is a handful of very wealthy people who stand to lose a lot of money from the societal shift required to prevent catastrophic climate change. The rest of us, well, what we stand to lose by doing nothing can’t be measured in dollars.
Some of them are surprising for their genre: Burning Ice brings artists, musicians and poets to the Arctic, and People of a Feather takes us intimately into the lives of Inuit whose very existence depends on the down of eider ducks.
Premiering on Tuesday is a film about Canada’s energy use by local filmmaker Charles Wilkinson and produced by his partner, artist Tina Schliessler. I’m particularly excited to see this one as I’ve known the family since my childhood. Peace Out features interviews with both opponents and proponents of our current destructive energy systems, and aerial footage of the tar sands in Alberta, a project so massive it can be seen from space. Seen from a plane, it’s utterly heartbreaking. Ultimately, we all need to use less energy.
You might expect a film about a Vancouver couple who spend a year almost zero-waste and without buying any stuff to be a tale of unimaginable hardship and sacrifice. Indeed, the prospects of using the same toothbrush for 365 days, not replacing worn-out clothing, or making crackers from scratch are daunting but The Clean Bin Project‘s Jen and Grant take a delighted, energetic approach akin to Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon’s The 100-Mile Diet, but on the screen. The project was for them a competition for who could produce the least amount of garbage by year’s end (I won’t tell you who won), and involved learning about plastics, asking for their cheese unwrapped in their reusable container, and making the most of an old razor. Their enthusiasm was infectious. The 76-minute film is merely a glimpse at an entire year, but if it suggests anything about the 525,600 minutes they spent saving the planet, I think they enjoyed most of them.
Their artistically delicious film intersperses their own narrative of discovery — and occasional humourous disappointment — with the broader view of our consumption-based lifestyle and its consequences: successful community recycling initiatives; the Pacific Garbage Patch (which is twice the size of Texas); albatross death by plastic; landfills; and incomprehensibly large volumes of disposable stuff as depicted by Seattle artist Chris Jordan.
I was very fortunate to have attended David Suzuki’s Legacy Lecture in December, 2009. It’s hard to believe it’s been over a year since that evening at the Chan Centre that induced goosebumps and inspired the longest standing ovation I’ve ever witnessed. It became a book and award-winning documentary, and this Sunday, the venerable CBC airs Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie at 8pm. (Repeats April 3.)
I knew the power of his voice and his story the first time I heard him speak in our humble gathering space at the Foundation’s office. I’d never been to one of his lectures but I knew David had been toiling over his Legacy speech for quite some time before the nearly flawless delivery that evening, an intensely rehearsed and refined story that dances its way into our hearts. Like any good story it hits varying emotional points, triggers tears and joy, but inevitably leaves us feeling uplifted. If his intent as an environmentalist and scientist was really about fear-mongering like detractors suggest, the mood at the end would have been gripped in paranoia, instead of the recognition that we can dream, imagine and create, together, a future in which we live within the limits of nature. That future is not a return to dark ages; indeed, it’s full of vivid life, community and bright ideas. It’s a future where we’re no longer talking about “being green,” it’s intrinsically our way of life. What is so fearful about that?
Will Allen harvesting (Photo credit: Growing Power)
Back-to-back films on agriculture at the World Community Film Festival this afternoon left me uplifted and feeling like change is on the horizon. Dirt! The Movie, Fresh and A Thousand Suns reminded me how many people there are who think like me — including those attending the event — and what amazing impacts these people are making around the world.
One farmer in the US took it upon himself to build a wind farm on his farm as security for survival. (Actually, I think that was part of Dirty Business, a film about coal and energy which followed. I saw four films in 6 hours, so please forgive me if I confuse them.) Will Allen, a former basketball player, returned to his family’s farming roots and started Growing Power, where compost is everything. Joel Salatin is a farming hero, Michael Pollan speaks the truth in terms people can understand, schools are tearing up asphalt for gardens, and rehabilitation programs for inmates are reconnecting people with the land.
The 10th annual World Community Film Festival presents “social justice and environmental films set around the world and across the street.” Opening tonight, it runs through Sunday afternoon at Langara College.
I’m particularly interested in films like Dirt! and Fresh, both to do with sustainable agriculture. There are films on water, pollution and biodiversity as well. Also, if you missed it in theatres, Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie plays Sunday at 3:30pm.
Come check out this variety of films that address social justice and environmental issues — two things that are inextricably linked!
It’s a familiar pattern now: Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon ate locally for a year and wrote a book about it; Jen and Grant went zero-waste for a year, blogged and filmed a documentary about it. If doing either of those things doesn’t seem crazy and transformative enough, Colin Beavan’s family of three did both for a year, and turned off their electricity (for 6 months), self-powered their transportation, went vegetarian and stopped using toilet paper. The project, No Impact Man, is a film, a book and a blog about eliminating one’s personal impact on the environment.
The point of doing something this extreme, he cautioned, was not to suggest that everyone do it, but that everyone can do something. Individual actions, he says, inspire and engage others to act. That’s the power of community, something he says has eroded. It’s also a challenge to us to consider what really is necessary for daily life and what we could do without. As Colin puts it, living with a low impact is about “doing more good than harm.” At the end of their year, Colin’s wife Michelle decided she’d like to keep cycling (something she’d never have considered a year earlier) and not bring back their TV — except on vacation.
In a desperate attempt to appease his unhappy wife with a transfer to the French Riviera, Philippe Abrams (played by the very charming Kad Merad) instead gets sent to the middle of nowhere. The town of Bergues to be exact, in a remote corner of northern France called the Pas de Calais. Here the locals have their own way of doing things, and saying things. The townspeople speak a dialect called Ch’ti, which to Philippe’s ears is little more than gibberish. At first, Philippe has trouble understanding what anyone has to say, let alone being able to make any friends. But as the rural eccentrics gradually worm their way into his affections, he comes to appreciate the gentle pace of life in his new home. — From The Guardian, via VIFF.org
Tonight the Vancouver Public Library is hosting a screening of the film, The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, as part of its Necessary Visions series. It’s a free program and will be held at their Central branch, downtown at 350 West Georgia. Details below, and more events at the VPL website. Hope to see you there.
The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil is a project of The Community Solution, a non-profit organization that designs and teaches low-energy solutions to the current unsustainable, fossil fuel based, industrialized, and centralized way of living.”
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, Cuba’s economy went into a tailspin. With imports of oil cut by more than half — and food by 80 percent — people were desperate. This film tells of the hardships and struggles as well as the community and creativity of the Cuban people. They share how they transitioned from highly mechanized agriculture to using organic farming and urban gardens.
The Necessary Visions series features screenings of locally made documentary films, followed by discussion afterwards with the filmmakers.
For more information please contact Vancouver Public Library at 604-331-3603. Sponsored by Necessary Voices and Cinema Politica.
POST-EVENT UPDATE: This film is excellent! The turnout was impressive — two hundred people maybe? — of all ages and I do believe everyone truly enjoyed it. Lots to think about, be inspired by, and make strides towards. I took 3 journal-sized pages of notes and that’s like 4.5 pages for a person with normal-sized handwriting. A small country with a truly remarkable recent history, Cuba is an example for the world on how to live. Shocking statistics revealed visually the massive differences between their way of life and that of Americans: they use one eighth of the energy and yet maintain the same (if not better) life expectancy. Given that diabetes and heart disease rates have dropped in Cuba, but the opposite is happening in the US where we forecast life expectancy to drop for the first time, I don’t doubt that a gap will start to appear. It is probably time that the US started looking to Cuba as a model for sustainable living, rather than shunning them. Not that Cuba appears to need them anymore! They’ve got it all figured out.