A Fierce Green Fire (review)
I’m “biast” (pro): I would like not to live on a planet with 120-degree summers in “temperate” zones
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
How did we get here? How did we go from Teddy Roosevelt-endorsed concepts of “conservation” — or the notion that those who seek to protect wild spaces are the enemy of those who thought it was good for human society to exploit those wild spaces — to the urgency of climate change, or Oh Shit, Human Society Is In Big Big Trouble? You will be unsurprised to hear that a documentary subtitled “The Battle for a Living Planet” gives no voice at all to those who would dispute the dangerous warming of the planet by wholly human endeavors, and good on it: we’re well past the point at which we should feel the need to pretend that there’s another side to this scientific reality. Instead, this is a clear-eyed and much-needed overview of the modern history of people fighting for nature without even realizing, way back when, that they were also fighting for human beings as an inextricable part of nature. Focusing primarily on the era just after World War II right through today — with implications for the next half century,and the future of us all — writer Tom Turner and director Mark Kitchell trace the evolution of environmentalism as a public issue. The Sierra Club’s attempts, some successful and some not, to halt massive dam projects in the American West in the 1950s; the first images of Earth from space in the 1960s that helped create a new sense of human civilization as a global totality; 1970s hippie-fueled eco design that prompted us to start figuring out that sustainability doesn’t mean we have to give up our creature comforts; the 1980s race to save the Amazonian rainforests that made us realize just how interconnected all the varied environmental issues are… Taken together, they become a smack in the face to the ideas that privatizing natural resources — water or land or animals or air — is workable in the long run, or that dumping toxic waste in neighborhoods where poor people live is an acceptable business practice. (It hadn’t occurred to me before, but of course the concept of “environmental justice” — or, It’s Bad To Dump Toxic Waste On Poor People — had to be invented.) From Ronald Reagan defunding research into alternative energy and ceding the technological future to Europe and Japan to Love Canal mothers and Brazilian farmers organizing to save their lives and their livelihoods, there is despair here, but also a tiny bit of hope. Our priorities have been wrong and we need to rethink our civilization, but that won’t happen unless we demand change from our so-called leaders. In a few short decades, we’ve gone from “Save the Whales” to “Save the Humans,” and the work is only just beginning.