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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 possibility.

Robert Kropp can be contacted at rjkropp@yahoo.com.

 

 
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