Climate Change at the Movies

Here are some movies and videos about climate change and human society, which I found interesting and recommend.

I think you all would enjoy the short movie, “Mazz Alone,” by Ken Avidor. This fictional story is about a man’s survival through an abrupt climate change of runaway heating. The style of presentation is a slideshow (a sequence of still images) each drawn and colored by the filmmaker, and with a running narration of the plot. It is a clever 23-and-a-half minute production that is both factually rich, entertaining, and thought-provoking. It is easy enough to image a big-budget Hollywood version of this movie, but Ken Avidor has already produced the essential work, so there’s really no need for wasting a big carbon footprint for a Hollywood extravaganza on this story.

Mazz Alone
[23:35]
https://vimeo.com/319602435

A movie I thought was really clever as regards the whole overpopulation/climate change conundrum was “Downsizing.” This film is the product of the fertile imaginations of Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor (and directed by Payne). “Downsizing” is a social satire with extravagant special effects, but as it was a very subtle and – by American standards – an intellectual movie, it lost money ($65+M invested, $58M take). The comic book mentality of sci-fi movie viewers did not appreciate the insufficiency of whiz-bang action, and the “boring” slide into explorations of human emotions and struggles with adaptation to extinction-avoidance. To my mind the last scene of this movie is a very powerful and poignant expression of what I think is the essential truth about personally dealing with extinction/climate change — and life in general — should be: be good to the ones you love, and expand on that as you are willing. I suspect any decent Hollywood movie these days has to be a failure.

Downsizing (2017) – Official Trailer – Paramount Pictures
[2:31]
https://youtu.be/UCrBICYM0yM

Here are a few more, but all of the following are documentaries, not fictional-plot entertainment as are “Mazz Alone” and “Downsizing.”

The Age of Stupid” is a marvelous and ahead-of-its-time (for a behind-the-times-and-unaware-of-reality mass consciousness) documentary from 2009 (made during 2005 to 2009, the years of the second G. W. Bush Administration). It presents itself as a “look back” from 2055 at the stupid lack of recognition and action by the people of 2005-2009 to the climate catastrophe that was soon to engulf them. A wonderfully factual and nicely paced film, deliciously critical of the NIMBY attitude toward wind-power and by extension green energy efforts generally, and British, so it has that patina of accessible sophistication that American audiences love about their imported PBS shows. Because of societal inertia “The Age of Stupid” has not aged (we’ve done nothing about climate change; just ask Greta), but even so a 10 year retrospective was produced by The Guardian newspaper, and it too is interesting.

The Age of Stupid
2009
[1:28:44]
https://youtu.be/awVbLg59tR8

The Age of Stupid revisited: what’s changed on climate change?
15 March 2019
[11:04]
https://youtu.be/GqHKYwxEIRA

A succinct and yet richly detailed summary of “where we are today” on climate change trends, and why COP25, like all such meetings, was a failure was very recently given by Dr. Peter Carter. This “movie” is really an interview that is nearly a monologue (which is a good thing). This has no plot and is not entertainment like a feature film, but it complements “The Age of Stupid” perfectly. This is one of those less-than-half-hour films that should be widely viewed and thought about, but, you know: sports fans and sci-fi fans couldn’t even begin to process it with its lack of comic book plot, explosions, and eye-popping CGI special effects. Human extinction is just boring.

Dr Peter Carter: summarising the lack of “climate emergency” at #COP25
[23:11]
10 December 2019
https://youtu.be/oa13KrOvE2s

For me, one of the most important videos I saw in 2019 was the presentation by Dr. Scott Wing on the scientific investigation of the global warming that occurred 56 million years ago, at the Paleocene-Eocene temporal boundary. I know this video would bore most people to tears — how unfortunately! — but it is the most wonderful and clear presentation of just exactly what happens on Earth when the global temperature (driven by massive CO2 injection) moves up 4°C, or 8°C, or more beyond today’s level. To make the information in this video more palatable to a wider audience, I made the effort to analyze this video in detail and “transcribe” its many detailed facts into my article “Ye Cannot Swerve Me: Moby-Dick and Climate Change,” which became my biggest “research paper” of the year. I think that if you are patient and watch Dr. Scott Wing’s entire presentation, you will be thoughtfully satisfied.

Global Warming 56 Million Years Ago, and What it Means For Us
30 January 2014
Dr. Scott Wing, Curator of Fossil Plants,
Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
Washington, DC
[1:44:12]
https://youtu.be/81Zb0pJa3Hg

Ye Cannot Swerve Me: Moby-Dick and Climate Change
15 July 2019
[text to accompany the above video]
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/07/15/ye-cannot-swerve-me-moby-dick-and-climate-change/

Finally, a “fast food” or “quickie” complement to Dr. Scott Wing’s video-recorded presentation on the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) is the following 11 minute video produced for PBS. Enjoy it, certainly, but don’t take it as an adequate substitute to the real thing, above.

The Last Time The Globe Warmed (PETM)
PBS Eons [10:53]
4 December 2017
https://youtu.be/ldLBoErAhz4

I have not included sci-fi disaster-action-drama movies like “The Day After Tomorrow” here, because I don’t see them offering any useful thoughts about actual climate change (and population growth). Their entertainment takes you away from thinking, not into it.

Maybe some filmmaker will succeed next year, or later, in producing a Hollywood-style climate change urgency/doom movie that combines the factually-rich and dramatic narrative punch for Ken Avidor’s art film “Mazz Alone,” with the screen-writing polish and high production values of “Downsizing.” But, this may be as likely as our governments actually addressing climate change as the monumental emergency it really is.

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See “Official Secrets”

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See “Official Secrets”

The movie Official Secrets, which is just out, is about Katharine Teresa Gun, the British translator in the U.K. government’s equivalent to the U.S.’s NSA, who leaked a top secret memo in an effort to prevent the Iraq War (in which up to 1 million Iraqis and over 35 thousand U.S. and U.K soldiers died, and many hundreds of thousands of others were injured).

That war was entirely illegal because: 1, Saddam Hussein (Iraq’s dictator in 2003) did not have weapons of mass destruction — as G.W.Bush and Tony Blair lyingly claimed, so there was no “necessity” of preemptive war as an act of self defense by the U.S. and U.K; and 2, because the U.S. and U.K. did not get a U.N. Security Council resolution to go to war against Iraq, because the world body did not see Iraq as a threat to the rest of the world. The failure to get that U.N. resolution was a result of the publication of Katharine Gun’s leaked information.

The memo Katharine Gun exposed was from a “Frank Koza” at the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) to the U.K. Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ, the U.K.’s NSA equivalent) asking the Brits to help bug the communications of other members of the U.N. Security Council (the non-permanent members at the time) to dig up dirt to be used to blackmail them into voting for war as Bush and Blair wanted — despite the lack of evidence (no WMDs) that war was justified.

Gun’s information eventually made it to the public, and caused such embarrassment to the British Government that after a year of terrifying harassment of Gun (including almost deporting her Turkish Kurdish husband), and taking her to trial (with a long sentence if found guilty of “treason,” and she had confessed), they dropped the case rather than reveal the government documents requested as evidence by the defense, because those documents (findings on the question of the legality of the proposed war, by Lord Goldstone, the U.K. attorney general) in fact explicitly stated that the war was illegal and Bush and Blair were fabricating fake intelligence to try and pull the wool over the eyes of the U.N. and the American and British public.

Katharine Gun (and the reporters and attorneys who worked to expose the government lies and defend Katharine) were exonerated, and she is a real-life heroine of historical significance — Daniel Ellsberg stated that her actions were more significant than his! Bush, Blair and their government associates, who perpetrated the massive Iraq War Crime (20 March 2003) — whose massively bloody and tragic consequences continue to this very moment — remain free, wealthy, untroubled by even a hint of Nuremberg style prosecutions, and are now even nostalgically “rehabilitated” (in the media stories aimed at the gum-chewing ADHD public, as by a sweet-smiling Michelle Obama cozying up to “oh gosh” Georgie Porgie) by comparisons to Trump today.

Once again, America managed to destroy a country, Iraq, and consume monumental amounts of American national treasure, and sacrifice thousands of American lives (as well as thousands of British lives, and hundreds of thousands to perhaps a million Iraqi lives) to lose a war — “lose” since it had no value to the public from the get-go — a war of choice, and an illegal war of aggression (just like Hitler’s war in Poland on 1 September 1939) which our highly privileged war criminals perpetrated. But, they got away with it.

America as a nation failed again (remember Vietnam?). The United Kingdom as a nation failed. To the extent that the American people and the UKanian people do not remember all this, and apply the tragic lesson of the Iraq War — and the Vietnam War — today to prevent the new called-for wars: on Iran, or in Yemen (to help the war criminal Saudis? to help the war criminal Israelis?, really?) and elsewhere that our highly privileged war criminals think they can make a buck and puff up their Wall Street portfolios; to the extent that these publics are so out of touch that they have no flaming anti-war consciousness, they and their nations are failing miserably. Failure is paid for in oceans of blood shed by innocent, naïve, common people, both foreign and domestic.

So I urge you to see the movie Official Secrets. It is well-made, well-played, literate, intelligent, riveting, honest. By doing so you can thank and honor an incredibly brave woman of inspiringly solid moral principle — Katharine Teresa Gun — as well as the journalists and lawyers who made their best efforts to prevent an illegal and unnecessary war; and you can use that viewing experience to help invigorate you own convictions to become aware of truth and not be lulled by indolent comfort or stupid bigotry into acquiescing to the war crime schemes (and the theft from the public commons schemes) of our all-too immune highly privileged war criminals, past and present.

By the way, a kid in my high school class (1968) was called “Frank Koza.” Don’t know if he’s the same one.

Here is the trailer to “Official Secrets”
https://youtu.be/V3vIYy38Fys

Here are the two parts of a round table interview of Katharine Gun, conducted by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!; as well as of the movie’s director, and the two key journalists who broke the story using Katharine’s information.

PART 1:
This U.K. Whistleblower Almost Stopped the Iraq Invasion. A New Film Tells Her Story
July 19, 2019
https://youtu.be/u6n1VFDJ3CY

PART 2:
15 Years Later: How U.K. Whistleblower Katharine Gun Risked Everything to Leak Damning Iraq War Memo
July 19, 2019
https://youtu.be/CWtIu7mbnbM

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For more about my photo taken at the Iraq War protest in San Francisco, in 2003, see:

https://manuelgarciajr.com/2016/04/10/iraq-war-protest-sf-2003/

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Societal Death or Transfiguration?, Cinema Visions of Humanity Facing Extinction

How should world society respond to the approach of human extinction compelled by implacable external forces, such as: radioactive fallout after a global nuclear war (as in Nevil Shute’s novel On the Beach), or an alien invasion by a species of technologically superior beings from outer space, or an impending collision between Earth and a massive planetoid, or (as seems most likely today) by runaway and irreversible Climate Change?

The general question has long been the seed for spinning out entertaining speculations in fantasy novels and science-fiction movies, but now it has become a serious matter of immediate concern for an increasing number of geo- and social- scientists and social planners. Mayer Hillman, an 86-year-old social scientist, urban planner and senior fellow emeritus of the Policy Studies Institute in England, says (in an article published by The Guardian on 26 April 2018, https://amp.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/26/were-doomed-mayer-hillman-on-the-climate-reality-no-one-else-will-dare-mention):

“We’re doomed. — The outcome is death, and it’s the end of most life on the planet because we’re so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. There are no means of reversing the process which is melting the polar ice caps. And very few appear to be prepared to say so. — I’m not going to write anymore [about the projected consequences of runaway Climate Change] because there’s nothing more that can be said. — With doom ahead, making a case for cycling as the primary mode of transport [instead of automobiles] is almost irrelevant. — We’ve got to stop burning fossil fuels. So many aspects of life depend on fossil fuels, except for music and love and education and happiness. These things, which hardly use fossil fuels, are what we must focus on. [Hillman is amazed that our thinking rarely stretches beyond 2100 when discussing scientific predictions on the increase of average global temperature.] This is what I find so extraordinary when scientists warn that the temperature could rise to 5C or 8C. What?, and stop there? What legacies are we leaving for future generations? In the early 21st century, we did as good as nothing in response to Climate Change. Our children and grandchildren are going to be extraordinarily critical. — Even if the world went zero-carbon today that would not save us because we’ve gone past the point of no return. [Action by individuals to limit their ‘carbon footprint’ – their direct and indirect production of greenhouse gases is] as good as futile. [National action by the UK along the same lines is also irrelevant] because Britain’s contribution is minute. Even if the government were to go to zero-carbon it would make almost no difference. — [The world as a whole would have to go zero-carbon, but can that be done without the collapse of civilization?] I don’t think so. Can you see everyone in a democracy volunteering to give up flying? Can you see the majority of the population becoming vegan? Can you see the majority agreeing to restrict the size of their families? — Wealthy people will be better able to adapt but the world’s population will head to regions of the planet such as northern Europe which will be temporarily spared the extreme effects of climate change. How are these regions going to respond? We see it now. Migrants will be prevented from arriving. We will let them drown. — [Few scientific, political; and religious leaders have been honest with the public on all this, in order to protect their own positions] I don’t think they can [be forthright] because society isn’t organised to enable them to do so. Political parties’ focus is on jobs and GDP, depending on the burning of fossil fuels. — [Can the now obvious signs of advancing Climate Change spark an epiphany in humanity’s collective mind, and cause it to relinquish its ultimately self-destructive fossil fueled binge?] It depends on what we are prepared to do. Standing in the way is capitalism. Can you imagine the global airline industry being dismantled when hundreds of new runways are being built right now all over the world? It’s almost as if we’re deliberately attempting to defy nature. We’re doing the reverse of what we should be doing, with everybody’s silent acquiescence, and nobody’s batting an eyelid.”

Now, let us consider the 2017 American movie Downsizing, given this context.

Downsizing is an intelligent and, by American standards, subtle cinematic science-fiction social satire about the individual’s problem of securing sufficient wealth to comfortably sustain their lives in a secure cosmopolitan community for the duration of their lifespan. This movie was conceived by Alexander Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor, and directed by Payne who has numerous successful movies to his credit: Election (1999), About Schmidt (2002), Sideways (2004), The Descendants (2011) and Nebraska (2013). Downsizing was not well-received by the majority of the viewing public because it is a film about ideas, thus requiring thinking for its enjoyment, as opposed to being a cinematic delivery vehicle for emotive sensations and jolting stimuli to provide passive unthinking viewers with 135 minutes of thrilling distraction.

The central pit in Downsizing, around which the screenplay and the screenwriters’ implied social commentaries have been grown like the flesh of a stone-fruit, is that science has discovered a process for harmlessly shrinking living cells and organisms, enabling humans to be reduced to Lilliputian size so that their existing savings and equity in the “big world” can economically sustain them in lifetimes of luxury in the “small world,” because their “ecological footprints” – both for consumption and waste production – have been miniaturized. The attraction for “getting small” is basically a get-rich-quick scheme leading to an endlessly sustainable high-life coupled with the pleasurable sense of eliminating one’s big-world guilt over contributing to Climate Change and the environmental degradation of the planet, which is caused by its “overpopulation” with “big” capitalist-minded, wasteful and exploitative people. In brief: having it all.

The problem with making an expensive ($68M) artful cinematic work whose purpose is to stimulate thoughtful societal awareness – if you want to recoup your investment – is that you have to market it successfully to the masses of cinema-viewing yahoos. Downsizing was released on 22 December 2017, and as of 1 February 2018 (its theatrical closing) had only grossed $55M. It just didn’t hit the yahoo g-spot, and they hated it for boring them.

The “lesson” in the screenplay of Downsizing, which was delivered in a clear sedately-paced and understated way (which I like), is that the solution for achieving fulfilling individual lives in peaceful and comforting societies is for the people of such would-be societies to take care of one another: popular humanitarian socialism. Regardless of whether a society enjoys being situated in a natural or artificial paradise and is economically secure, or whether it is environmentally and economically stressed and doomed to extinction, the best that it can ever be for all of its inhabitants during its duration is entirely the result of its peoples’ commitment to construct mutually fulfilling lives of cooperation and compassion, instead of seeking to escape – from the masses of the less fortunate – into exclusive refuges and redoubts of enclosed privilege to continue with lives of egotistical self-centeredness and selfish indifference.

This message is ancient. It was part of the Buddha’s “Triple Jewel” teaching to his disciples and fellow monks and nuns (the Sangha), to ‘take care of one another’:

I will go to the Buddha for refuge.
I will go to the Dharma [the teachings of Buddha; the Buddhist way of life] for refuge.
I will go to the Sangha [harmonious community] for refuge.

The Buddhist sense of ‘taking refuge’ expressed here is not a running away from the rest of the world, but a commitment for living a truer life within it, based on Buddhist precepts.

There have been many book and movie stories centered on the idea of: individual fulfillment found through mutual help for securing group survival if possible, versus seeking individual escape from group peril, and from guilt over abandoning responsibility. Three such stories that came to my mind while pondering the movie Downsizing were the films: Lost Horizon (1937), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and Zardoz (1974).

Lost Horizon is Frank Capra’s film of the James Hilton fantasy novel about Shangri-La: a fabulous and peaceful Buddhist-style refuge from modern society and its torments, situated in a life-extending green valley that is hidden within the otherwise frigid and snowy expanse of the high Himalayas. But, can Shangri-La truly be an escape?

The Day the Earth Stood Still is Robert Wise’s movie of Edmund H. North’s screenplay of Harry Bates’s story of an alien ambassador, Klaatu, and his all-powerful robot, Gort (with a heat-ray beam-weapon dematerializer), who arrive in a Flying Saucer to deliver a message to humanity from an alien Federation of Planets: live peacefully on Earth and join our Federation as an independent planet, but do not militarize space with your rockets and nuclear bombs, because we would take that as a mortal threat and then our space-patrolling robot police, like Gort, would “reduce your Earth to a burned-out cinder.” Humanity’s escape to the good life, which is offered in this movie fantasy, would be achieved by forsaking war-making in all its forms to instead gain the advanced knowledge and technology of Klaatu’s interplanetary civilization, and that technology would vastly enhance the quality-of-life of the popular humanistic socialism that humanity would have to adopt as its new social paradigm.

Zardoz is John Boorman’s film about a far future post-apocalyptic immiscibly stratified static society that is suddenly ruptured by violence against its tiny elite, which results in a complete blending of humanity and a rebirth of human evolution. The Eternals are non-aging humans who live in a paradisal community, the Vortex, bubbled from the external misery by invisible force fields, and containing advanced endlessly-fueled hidden technology that automatically maintains the Eternals’ unending and idyllic existences. All the fruits of humanity’s previous achievements are now maintained in the Vortex, but the Eternals are all bored with their immortal lives of effortless omniscience and leisure. The vast expanse of the Outlands beyond the Vortex is a wasteland inhabited by the Brutals, people reduced to being isolated dumb animals without any civilization or social cohesion, scrounging through the wreckage of the previous world for each individual’s survival. Among the Brutals is a horse-riding semi-organized militia of enforcers, the Exterminators, who receive guns from Zardoz, a god in the form of a huge flying stone head that orders the Exterminators to enslave defenseless Brutals into chain-gangs to perform rudimentary agricultural labor, or other such work as mining, as might be required to supply the Vortex with what its denizens desire. The Exterminators punish any infraction and every failure by a Brutal – however trivial – with instant death by gunfire. The Exterminators, all men, also exult in their power and preference by their god, Zardoz, by freely raping and pillaging among the Brutals. Zardoz tells them: “The gun is good.” It is the hobby and amusement of Arthur Frayn, one of the Eternals, to carry on the charade of being Zardoz (piloting the stone head, and supplying the Exterminators with commands and cascades of firearms). It happens that through an instance of Arthur Frayn’s carelessness one of the Exterminators, Zed, manages to get into the Vortex and once there evolves despite an oppressive captivity, from Brutal ignorance to Eternal knowledge, and this leads to the complete and violent death of Vortex society, and transfiguration of humanity. The movie Zardoz is a dark – black – analog to the much gentler if still subtly sharp Downsizing.

The essential lesson of responding to the approach of a destructive inevitability beyond your society’s power is to engage in compassionate cooperation to make your society as good as it can be for as long as you and it can be made to last, and to find your life’s fulfillment in doing so.

This idea is captured visually so simply in the last moments of Downsizing that it remains invisible to the majority of the viewing public. And so our fractious collectivity cruises onward, untrammeled, towards its willfully unexpected collision with fate.

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Societal Death or Transfiguration?, Cinema Visions of Humanity Facing Extinction
30 April 2018
https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/04/30/societal-death-or-transfiguration-cinema-visions-of-humanity-facing-extinction/

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Of related interest:

The Righteous And The Heathens of Climate And Capitalism
12 March 2012
http://www.swans.com/library/art18/mgarci43.html

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