May 19, 2014
Film Review: The Wisdom to Survive
by Robert Kropp
Filmmakers John Ankele and Anne Macksoud document the destruction of nature from the developed
nations' addiction to fossil fuels, but argue that there is still time to remake civilization in a
just and sustainable way. Second of a two-part series.
In my previous article, I wrote about a paper entitled Planetary Hospice: Rebirthing
Planet Earth, authored by the environmental activist Zhiwa Woodbury. In his thoughtful paper,
Woodbury described the fate of civilization as terminal, as it is now too late, he argues, to avoid
such destructive effects of climate change as the self-reinforcing effects of the release of
methane into an already warming atmosphere.
In their documentary The Wisdom to Survive: Climate
Change, Capitalism & Community, filmmakers John Ankele and Anne Macksoud do not flinch from the
dire effects of climate change already being felt, especially among the world's poorest people.
Extreme flooding and drought, two of the earliest effects of climate change, are already causing
the migrations of people in parts of developing nations; one need only consider the likely results
of the combination of a still-growing global population and resource scarcity to anticipate the
potential for chaos and violence in these migrations.
Also, as environmental lawyer James
Gustave Speth points out, “We are losing species today at thousands of times the rate that species
normally go extinct.” Ocean acidification is killing off plankton and other species crucial to the
marine food chain, and coral reefs are dying as well.
Even the US military considers
climate change to be a threat to national security, which in the current global configuration is no
doubt true. But it is also no doubt true that the same narrow self-interests of developed nations
that led to the out of control burning of fossil fuels and unprecedented wealth are not only
destroying the habitats and livelihoods of the world's poorest; as Bill McKibben of 350.org warns, “The same fossil fuels that made us rich
are now killing us. Somehow we have get off the thing that's at the center of our daily lives
before it does us in.”
Corporations and compliant political leaders are rightfully
criticized for actions that not only ignore the evidence of climate change but contribute to the
worsening of its effects. Controversial exploration technologies such as tar sands development,
deepwater drilling, and mountaintop removal compound environmental destruction while compromising
the quality of life of the communities in which they take place. Monsanto pressures the governments
of developing nations to have their farmers replace the seeds they have been using for generations
with its genetically modified alternatives.
“Climate Change is being used as an excuse,
and false solutions are being put forward, so that the profit motive could be advanced and could
continue,” an activist in the film charges.
How can the filmmakers see a potential for
hope in this grim diagnosis? “We're effectively killing ourselves, killing the ground of our own
being,” Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon
Institute observes. “The antidote to that is to get back in touch with our own deep, primal,
fundamental connection to what it is that makes us living beings.”
Or, as activist Joanna
Macy says, “As we speak the truth of our pain, we discover our interconnectedness with each other.”
Of course, a sense of interconnectedness alone will not rescue our civilization and life
on our planet from the machinations of a political and economic system that allows climate change
to worsen. But an awareness of interdependence is an essential feature of sustainability, and that
awareness can lead to action. Around the globe, people are organizing in movements and insisting
that their concerns be recognized.
It's difficult not to be skeptical of such worthy
movements succeeding, given the stranglehold on power enjoyed by corporations and the politicians
who are recipients of their largesse. But The Wisdom to Survive does not begin with the cellist
Eugene Friesen playing the songs of whales by chance; more even than scientists, the film argues,
artists will help describe the vision of an emerging world.
In his poem A Vision,
Wendell Berry writes of a specific locale after we have turned back from the brink and enacted a
just and sustainable world. He writes:
This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its
Robert Kropp can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.