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.
The environmental film series at the annual Vancouver International Film Festival appears to have blossomed this year with over a dozen films dealing with issues ranging from food waste and sustainable seafood to climate change and the tar sands.
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.
Saturday night, people around the world will be participating in Earth Hour (8:30 pm local time) and taking a stand against climate change. We participants — over 1 billion last year in 128 countries — recognize that energy conservation and sustainable, clean energy solutions are crucial in making sure we have clean air and clean water now and long into the future. But WWF encourages us to go beyond energy and make everyday positive changes in our lives that, in myriad ways, help the planet just as much as they help us.
The Earth has limits just as our bodies do, and those of us paying close enough attention have noticed over the last few decades the changes that have made our natural systems unhealthy, and us along with it. We don’t have to look far to see it. That also means we don’t have to look far to see solutions. You, your neighbours, and your friends can all have a positive contribution that together adds up big time. Look at what powering off for just an hour can do:
In 2010, energy consumption for that hour dropped 1.4 percent province wide, with Burns Lake, BC, reducing its consumption by a whopping 7 percent. According to BC Hydro’s Team Power Smart, “If British Columbians implemented the same conservation measures (as they did in 2010) for just one hour every evening, the combined savings would be enough to power close to 2,200 homes for an entire year.” — Granville
Yesterday, I bought GOOD Magazine‘s energy issue. I spend a good deal of time drooling over their infographics, and their design in general, and delighting in navigating their information. Fortunately, they grace us with their online versions. (Their latest visualizes where the next earthquake is most likely to hit.)
In the midst of Japan’s disaster, it’s hard to find an item in their website’s environment section that isn’t about that, and given the discussions about nuclear power, I thought this particular interactive infographic not about Japan but about one of the world’s biggest energy consumers, would be relevant.
GOOD breaks down US energy sources and where it gets used. Petroleum, natural gas, and coal are the heavy hitters, with nuclear in fourth place a ways behind, but the government is interested in more nuclear power. It appears more than half of the country’s energy is wasted, which brings me to question why more isn’t being done to mitigate the wastage, and to reduce overall consumption, instead of constantly focussing on extracting and generating more.
While searching for articles more in-depth on the first issue here, I came across some interesting finds. If you can read between the lines, you’ll figure out my headline. (Unintentional cheesy rhyming.)
Bike parking at Stockholm Central Station. (Photo by EURIST e.V. via Flickr)
I read quite a great article about Stockholm’s sustainable qualities last year and can’t find it, but here are some interesting new-to-me tidbits I dug up tonight:
This is awesome: the 250,000 or so people passing through Stockholm Central Station every day generate a lot of heat, and one Swedish company has figured out how to harness the otherwise wasted energy to heat a nearby building. The system “lowers the energy costs of the office block by as much as 25%.” (Via GOOD)
This is the first in a series on green initiatives certain cities are undertaking to improve their public spaces and co-create a healthier environment. First up is Barcelona, where one neighourhood is tackling energy use, light pollution, and security with wirelessly-controlled LED street lights. It’s pretty nifty. As someone who has to put up with streetlights shining in her bedroom window and notices when the stars look dim, I’m hopeful this technology will gain traction in our brightest cities. Via GOOD.
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.”
— the Power of Community website
Friday June 6, 7:30 pm
Alice MacKay Room, Lower Level
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.