Documentaries Portray an Ailing Planet
TORONTO, Canada, Oct (IPS) - Global warming is a life and death issue for the
people of Tuvalu, as rising sea levels slowly drown their low- lying island
nation in the South Pacific.
"U.S. policy (on global warming) is a slap in the face to Tuvaluans and others
in low-lying countries," says the country's U.N. ambassador in the new
French/U.S. documentary "Trouble in Paradise".
In less than 50 years, Tuvalu will be the world's first sovereign country to
disappear beneath the waves of the Pacific, the film argues.
Global warming is literally reshaping the Earth, and documentary filmmakers are
recording those changes and the impacts on people and wildlife. Three of these
were recently featured at the Planet in Focus International Environmental Film
Festival in Toronto.
In the British documentary "The End of The World as We Know It", presenter and
writer Marcel Theroux is a young climate change sceptic who treks across the
planet to discover the truth on his own. He visits the melting icecaps of
Alaska, West Bengal in India, and talks to scientists, environmentalists,
economists and even the ex-chairman of the British division of Shell Oil.
Seeing the evidence of climate change with his own eyes, Theroux comes to
believe that the Earth is undergoing the biggest change since that last ice age.
He ends up agreeing with Britain's chief scientist that global terrorism is a
trivial issue compared to global warming.
Theroux also realises that modern, materialistic lifestyles are the cause of the
problem. Convinced of the need to save energy and reduce emissions of greenhouse
gases, the film documents his struggles to reduce his own personal impact.
Deciding that it is impractical if not impossible to reduce emissions 60 to 70
percent, as some scientists say is necessary, Theroux searches for energy
Green energy sources like wind and solar are given short shrift in the film as
insufficient to meet energy demands or impractical in Britain. Theroux consults
with the eminent scientist Sir James Lovelock, the developer of the "Gaia
theory" that the Earth is a living organism.
Surprising Theroux, Sir James passionately endorses nuclear energy as our only
hope. Sir James is plainly worried there is little time left to dramatically
reduce greenhouse emissions before irreversible changes occur and re-shape the
A former anti-nuclear energy protester, Theroux ruefully agrees that maybe
Britain ought to start building nuclear power plants instead of mothballing the
ones it still has.
Despite the overwhelming evidence of the impacts of climate change in places
like Alaska, the hunt for oil continues. "Oil On Ice" documents the battle being
fought over oil development in the Hula Hula Arctic Refuge in Alaska. At stake
is the culture and livelihood of the Gwich'in Athabascan Aboriginals, the
Inupiat Inuit, and the migratory wildlife.
The film shows the impacts from existing oil development on native peoples and
wildlife, and suggests it will be little different in the Arctic Refuge. Alaskan
politicians and oil service companies like Halliburton strongly favour the
money-making drilling, citing the U.S. energy crisis.
However, the film shows that the limited amount of oil in the Refuge will do
little to ease energy security concerns. In fact, if less than one percent of
U.S. cars were fuel-efficient vehicles like hybrids, there would be no need for
it additional oil from the Refuge.
And finally, once the oil is extracted, oil companies can sell it to the highest
bigger. Much of Alaska's oil production is sold to Asia.
While the Arctic region is changing rapidly from global warming, the slow rise
of sea levels has not gone unnoticed by people living on low-lying islands. At
high tide, large waves now sweep across the islands of Tuvalu, while hurricanes
are battering the nation for the first time in its 4,000-year history.
With a population of about 11,000 living on a total land mass of 20 sq miles,
Tuvalu is the earth's first sovereign nation. "Trouble in Paradise" shows the
former British colony struggling economically while confronting the likelihood
of having to evacuate their homeland within the next 50 years.
Indeed, 70 Tuvaluan environmental refugees have already been relocated to New
Zealand, which has agreed to accept 75 people each year.
The film captures the unique warm-spirited, community-oriented culture of the
people and their pride as a nation. It also shows how the rising waters are
affecting a country less than two metres above sea level. Precious drinking
water and soil is contaminated by salt water intrusion up through the porous
coral rock. Vegetables and fruit trees die and more food must be imported.
Beaches vanish and houses are flooded by sea water.
"Tuvaluans are modest, polite, non-confrontational and were reluctant to express
their anger," said director Chris Horner.
For nearly 10 years, Tuvalu has been asking the world community to take climate
change seriously. Many are shocked that nearly all powerful countries continue
to put their economic success ahead of the impacts on small impoverished
nations, Horner said in an interview.
At the same time, the film shows that the increasing modernisation and
materialism of residents is not only contributing to the problem of global
warming, but their own wastes are fouling their island paradise. While most
people see advantages in being more environmentally sustainable, they are still
struggling with it, he says.
"Tuvalu is a microcosm of the many issues around global warming, including our
own behaviour," Horner said.
Reflecting that view, the documentary ends with this admonition: "We are all
Tuvalu and the clock is ticking." (END/2005)