Saving the Earth, One by One

The election is over, and a new future is about to be ushered in.

I don’t usually write publicly about political matters, and I promise not to address the myriad topics I could in this blog as a result of what happened on election day. But there’s one topic I’d been planning to write about, even before the election results came in: Planet Earth. I’m sticking with that plan because the environmental concerns that plague our planet are perhaps now more important than ever, especially now that President-Elect Trump has chosen Myron Bell, a vocal opponent of climate change policies, to head up the EPA.

Dana Fisher, director of the Program for Society and the Environment at the University of Maryland, said earlier this week that the “Paris Agreement and any U.S. leadership in international climate progress is [now] dead.” Staff writer for The New Yorker Elizabeth Kolbert wrote that the stakes in the election, for our planet, were enormous. “The ramification of Americans’ choice will be felt, literally, for millennia,” she said.

The future of our planet was a key topic last weekend at the Friday Harbor Film Festival, which I had the good fortune to attend. Over the course of three days, I saw several films that focused on how our military/industrial complex, as well as some of our choices for so-called entertainment, are seriously threatening the future of many plants and animals even before you get to the subject of climate change. And yes, climate change is very real despite what our president-elect has said, and it will have profound effects on our future if we don’t make changes now.

I walked away from the festival greatly inspired to do what I can, as just one person, to save our Earth. As one person said in one of the films, we don’t even know if there’s life anywhere else in the universe, and certainly we’re not aware of any other planet with such a diverse collection of beautiful life forms as this one. It should be both a duty and a privilege for we human beings to act as stewards of all this magnificence.

I’m sharing a brief summary of five must-see films for you here, as well as a variety of other books, films, and websites I encourage you to check out.

1. How to Change the World is the story of a hippie journalist and his rag-tag set of friends that set out for the Bering Sea in early winter–in a fishing boat with questionable seaworthiness–to protest and hopefully halt an underground nuclear bomb test in Amchitka, Alaska. The same group, with a few additional friends, later raced across the sea in flimsy inflatable zodiacs and positioned themselves in front of giant fishing ships to save some whales. The group became known as Greenpeace. Their shocking but heroic actions, and their discovery that change can be driven through mind bombs (images that ripple through electronic media to shock the world) gave birth to what is now contemporary environmental activism. Huffington Post called this multi-award-winning film “a real life thriller with larger than life heroes.”

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How this impacted me: I was inspired by the stand these “normal” people were willing to take in defense of their convictions, and I was also horrified by the graphic killing of whales by floating factories.

To watch:
Trailer
Full film on Netflix

To learn more:
Greenpeace
Sea Shepherd

2. Blood Lions portrays the multi-million dollar South African industry that breeds lions and other great predators inhumanely for canned hunts. What is canned hunting, you might ask? Imagine this: a lion cub is taken away from its mother within a few days of birth, raised by humans, and trained to come when whistled. A trophy hunter sees a photo of this lion online and clicks on it: that’s the one I want to shoot. The hunter goes to South Africa and climbs into a Jeep. The targeted lion is dispatched to the vicinity. The trainer whistles. The lion comes out of the brush and bam! It’s shot, and the trophy hunter celebrates with a cigar and champagne beside the lion as it bleeds out. If that’s not bad enough: These “lion farmers” call themselves conservation-conscious sanctuaries and suggest they’re helping the lion population overall. Students and tourists from around the world pay big bucks to volunteer on these farms so they can pet the cute little feline orphans, unaware their money is lining the pockets of lion factory owners. Lions are also raised here for the Chinese lion bone trade, and these lions are often mistreated and malnourished because their health and appearance “don’t matter.”

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How this impacted me: I fell in love with the cubs, was sickened by the horrific deaths of these beautiful creatures, and was angered that the South African government and so many other people are “blind” to the truth behind these sanctuaries.

To watch:
Trailer
Full film on Amazon
Full film on PBS

To learn more:
Bloodlions.org
What’s Happened Since Cecil Died

3. If you’ve ever had the chance to gaze out over the ocean, you know how peaceful it can seem with the waves lapping at the shore and the gulls soaring overhead. But Sonic Sea reveals how this isn’t the case for marine life. The ocean is like a symphony, and many of its inhabitants–including whales and dolphins, which have extremely sensitive hearing systems–rely extensively on sound to locate food and friends and to survive overall. Massive noise from giant container ships, exploratory detonations from oil and gas companies, and naval sonar tests are wreaking underwater havoc for marine life to the extent that some whales and other mammals have voluntarily beached themselves and committed suicide.

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How this impacted me: I learned something new and am already determined to focus more on local food and products and fewer imports, and to seek out ways I can rely less on fossil fuels.

To watch:
Trailer
Upcoming screenings

To learn more:
Sonic Sea Take Action

4. I am Morgan is a 5-minute film about a captive killer whale in Spain. Since 1961, at least 150 killer whales have been taken into captivity. Today, there are 56 still held, according to WDC (Whale and Dolphin Conservation). Killer whales have a rich history in real life and folklore but they have never harmed a human in the wild. As apex predators, they are critical to the balance of our ecosystem.

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How this impacted me: I was already becoming increasingly opposed to zoos and aquariums, but this (along with Blackfish–see below) sealed the deal for me. (Note: a friend of mine, who spent much of her professional career at a leading wildlife conservation institution that also manages several zoos and an aquarium, points out that there is a difference between “roadside” zoos and those scientific institutions that truly work with governments to protect wild places around the world. Point taken.)

To watch:
Full film on website

To learn more:
Of Orcas and Men, by David Neiwert
Blackfish

5. “How dumb could you be?” So asks Lyndon Rive, a solar panel industry leader in Time to Choose. Numerous other leaders in the climate and energy fields appear in this visually powerful film to emphasize the horrific dangers of mountain-top removal for–and cleaning of–coal, the destruction of carbon-absorbing forests for livestock or other agriculture, and the pervasive corruption around the world about our environmental crisis. Christiana Figueres, a global leader of environmental policy, says we have a clock ticking in front of us regarding the health of our planet’s climate. The good news? There is still time to take action–but not much.

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How this impacted me: This film really opened my eyes! I’d never even heard about some things, like how the process to “clean” coal leaves behind incredibly nasty toxins that now pollute the Appalachian landscape. It also reinforced the need to make good choices in my everyday life, like buying local, eating organic and more plant-based, and reducing my family’s dependency on fossil fuels as much as possible.

To watch:
Trailer
Full film on iTunes
Full film on Amazon

To learn more:
Paths to Change
The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, both by Michael Pollan

In conclusion

The film festival was life changing for me, and now that I know the election results, I’m more determined than ever to do my part. Don’t get me wrong; change is hard, and I’m far from perfect. There will be some changes I won’t be able to make at all, and some that I can only do to a limited degree or that might take more time. But change starts with awareness and intent, and that’s where I’m at right now.

Malcolm X said the “greatest mistake [was] trying to organize a sleeping people around specific goals. You have to wake the people up first, then you’ll get action.”

Waking up means becoming informed through the Internet, film, books, community groups, and whatever other resources might be available. Action can mean everything from making more environmentally friendly choices in our own lives, like eating organic or driving electric cars, to joining activist groups and pressuring our governmental leaders to make better decisions. It can even mean litigation.

This week, a federal judge in Oregon supported a climate lawsuit brought by a group of youths. Counsel for the plaintiffs called this “the trial of the millennium” and said “these young plaintiffs will prove that their federal government, in cooperation with the fossil fuel industry, has knowingly put them in grave danger, trading their futures for present convenience and gross profits for a few.”

I am grateful, in this Thanksgiving season, for the planet we have and also for the resources we have to learn how to be better stewards of the earth. I’m also grateful for everyone who’s already stepped forward, from the original Greenpeace participants to the young Oregon plaintiffs, to try and change the course of the future. Thanks to you, too, for reading all the way through this newsletter. I hope you’ll join me in a renewed environmental awakening.

If you’re looking for more books to read about the environment, check these out:
25 Novels That Will Turn You Into An Environmentalist
10 Game Changing Environmental Books

Still with me? Why not take a look at Joni Mitchell’s 1970 performance of Big Yellow Taxi? Forty-six years later, we’re still destroying paradise, only now the carbon impact of this destruction is far worse than that of an asphalt parking lot. Watching this kinda gave me the chills.

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