Sunday, May 10, 2015

Revolution - a film by Rob Stewart

Watch the trailer here: 
This review also available on The Sustainable Futures Show (podcast)

What’s it all about?

This film will appeal to anyone who is concerned about the environment, sustainability or climate change. Anyone else could well tune out and switch off in the first few minutes.

What’s it all about? It’s a film about our relationship with sharks. No, wait, here’s Rob Stewart mugging to the camera home-movie style. It's a documentary about making a documentary about sharks. No, wrong again, we’re now talking about coral reefs, the acidification of the oceans and the threat to fish stocks. Now we’re looking at global forests, at the destruction of some 75% of the world’s forests and its effects on the production of oxygen. And finally - it’s about CO2 emissions, it’s about man-made climate change, it’s about mega-corporations, coal and particularly about Canadian tar sands.

There is so much information in this film. There’s some amazing photography, especially the underwater scenes. There are some pretty disturbing scenes. There are things everyone should know. I had no prior knowledge or expectations of this film and we could have done with some signposting. It would have helped if I’d seen the trailer beforehand. Why watch this film? What’s it going to tell us? Why is it important? How does it affect me? Without answers to some of these questions I’m afraid the general viewer will just switch off. There is no clear thread at the start. 

The later part of the film shows how concerned citizens took their message to COP15, the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, and how the conference closed with no real result. We saw anti-coal protesters outside the White House in Washington. There was detailed coverage of the protests at COP16, the 2010 conference in Cancun, Mexico. Again, little was achieved and this time the protesters were expelled.

My main criticism of this film is that it lacks a strategy for action. The filmmakers suggest that if you don’t like what the government is doing on climate change you should elect another one. (We tried that in the UK last week and it didn’t work. Climate change and the environment were never discussed in the election campaign. Public awareness is the first challenge. People don’t know so people don’t care.)

This film reminded me of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”. They both give an account of the threats and risks to our planet and to our life on earth, but they don’t say what we should do about it. “The Age of Stupid” was a similar film. “How could we have been so stupid as to get into this mess,?” it asked, but it didn't suggest any solutions. If you wait to the end of Al Gore’s film, as the credits roll you see little hints like, ”Drive a smaller car” or “Turn the heating down 1 degree”.
If you wait to the very, very end of Revolution, after all the credits - which are extensive - after the Canadian tax status statement, the very last line before fade to black  reads: “Open your eyes. Be brave. Fight for something.”

What? Fight for something? Is that it? If we don’t know what we’re fighting for we’re certainly not going to achieve anything.

The most memorable statement in the film for me came from Dr Patrick Moore (no, not the astronomer) A former Greenpeace activist and now an advocate of exploiting the Canadian Tar Sands. He said: “Tomorrow morning 300m vehicles in America need to start up to keep civilisation running. If they don’t get their oil from here, they’ll get it from somewhere else.” You can’t argue with that. At least, not in the short term.
The film criticises the negotiators at the Climate Conferences for all talk and no action. But we could criticise the activists and the filmmakers for all protest and no solutions. Ban coal, ban oil, but what then? And the Cancun conference was in 2010. Why nothing about the conferences which have taken place since? Why nothing about COP21, the next major UN Climate Change Conference coming up in Paris in December?

If you’re interested in the environment, in sustainability and climate change, you should see this film. It will remind you of the issues and probably add to your knowledge. If you’ve never taken an interest in these issues, you too should watch Revolution. It’s hard work to start with, but it provides a wealth of information. Make up your own mind as to what the action points should be. It’s not time for panic, but it’s no time complacency either.

Of course, you might turn round to me and say, “Right, if you’re so clever what course of action do you recommend?” And I could respond that I’m just the reviewer of the film; it’s not up to me. 

That’s  tempting, but it’s too easy, so here’s what I suggest.

We need to lobby governments to commit to clear targets for agreement in Paris in December. 
  • A global fixed price for carbon, increasing year by year would be a start. 
  • All those 300m vehicles, and all the others in the rest of the world, need to start up every day until we can create alternatives. Tax incentives must encourage rapid innovation in transport.
  • We need to decarbonise electricity production by 2050, maybe earlier. This means that no-where in the world will we use fossil fuels to generate electricity. It’s a big ask, but many experts believe it’s possible. Make no mistake, to do this we will have to manage demand as well and eliminate waste so that demand can match supply.
  • Governments must implement a public information programme so that people understand the reason for changes. This is probably the biggest challenge of all, because many politicians themselves do not understand the issues and quite a lot of them don’t want to believe the facts, for whatever reason.
  • The international community must recognise that in the short term at least, poor countries and poorer people in developed countries will be hardest hit by the change from fossil fuels. Steps must be taken to protect them, for two reasons. One is that we have a moral duty to help those worse off than ourselves, and if you don’t buy that then if we neglect the poor there’s good chance that they will all rise up and destroy what we’re trying to do.
  • Finally, it’s all very well to demonise mega-corporations, but given the vast proportion of the world’s assets that they control, it’s unlikely that we will achieve a low carbon world without their involvement. Governments must give them incentives to reinvent themselves, and penalise business as usual.

What do you think?