Ten Square Miles

An Environmental Activism Resource

Month: October 2015

Opinion: 2016 Candidates Environmental Stances Wildly Vary

While the 2016 presidential election is still quite a ways off, the candidates have already made their opinions on environmental issues clear. This promises to be an exciting election, with powerhouse Hillary Clinton running against radical democratic socialist Bernie Sanders and a wide array of Republican candidates. The environmental stances of both Republican and Democratic candidates are varied and complex and it is important to know where the candidates stand on important environmental issues before the primaries.

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One of the most consistent candidates on all things environmental is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Bernie has advocated for environmental issues since the beginning of his career and has taken a strong stance against carbon emissions and tax breaks for fossil fuel companies. Although he is met with constant opposition from both parties, Sanders continually pushes for climate and environmental protection acts. For example, in 2013, Sanders introduced the Climate Protection Act, a bill that would tax carbon and methane emissions, rebating the majority of it to citizens and investing in clean energy. Sanders has also been a major opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline, something on which Clinton has been hesitant to take a stance. It seems Bernie has been the strongest environmental advocate of the current presidential candidates and has a long history of consistent advocacy. Sanders even asserted in the first democratic debate that climate change is the biggest threat to our nation and he is intent on change.lead_large

Clinton holds many of the same beliefs as Sanders. However, her environmental record is a little shakier than her biggest opponent. While she firmly believes in regulating carbon emissions and fossil fuel companies, she and her husband have also been ardent supporters of the Free Trade Agreement, an agreement that could undermine environmental laws in some nations and give major polluting companies too much power. Clinton supported this agreement as Secretary of State and now says she hasn’t made up her mind, as a presidential candidate. Between the Free Trade Agreement and the Keystone Pipeline XL, something on which she has only just recently taken a stance, her record of environmental advocacy seems geared towards getting votes rather than part of her fundamental beliefs.

While there are currently too many Republican candidates to count, businessman Donald Trump has emerged as a favorite among the republicans. Trump has avoided making his beliefs on the environment a part of his campaign platform, but he has not hesitated to be vocal about his beliefs for several years, even taking to twitter to share his idea that global warming is an elaborate and expensive hoax. His evidence is that the world is cold. He believes because some areas are experiencing record low temperatures and because, at one point, he happened to be in Los Angeles when it was a little chilly, climate change is a myth. Trump time and time again proves that he fails to understand the basic science and proven evidence behind climate change. It is safe to say that this candidate will not be a strong environmental advocate and will undoubtedly do everything in his power to defund renewable energy plans in favor of fossil fuels.donald-trump-climate-change

From the Republican party, Jeb Bush seems to be a popular candidate. Bush, unlike Trump, acknowledges the fact that climate change is real. However, Bush does not think the science on climate change is sound and does not believe we have an accurate idea of what percentage of pollution is man­made and what percentage is natural. His ideas may be slightly more progressive than Trumps, believing that countries with increased carbon emissions should cut back, but he does not believe the U.S. is part of the issue, despite evidence that the United States contributes to 30% of worldwide pollution. Bush believes the U.S. has cut back on pollution because of natural gas extraction from hydraulic fracturing, of it which Bush is a strong proponent.Jeb_Bush_by_Gage_Skidmore_3

Stances on climate change are widely varied amongst the republican and democratic candidates for this upcoming election, but it is important to remember that no matter who you vote for and or what you believe, it is important to vote nonetheless. Good luck to all the candidates and I hope we begin to see some real environmental change.

Post written by Emily DeLucia.

Dramatic Turn in Legal Case Against Chevron

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Crude is a 2009 American documentary film directed and produced by Joe Berlinger. It follows a two-year portion of an ongoing class action lawsuit against the Chevron Corporation in Ecuador. The plaintiffs of the class action lawsuit are 30,000 Ecuadorians living in the Amazonian rainforest who claim their ancestral homeland has been polluted by the oil industry. In addition to the legal struggle, Crude shows interviews from representatives of the plaintiffs and defendants of the class action lawsuit, and explores the influence of media support such as Vanity Fair, celebrity activism, including support from musical artist Sting and his wife Trudie Styler, the power of multinational corporations, the shifting power in Ecuadorian politics, and rapidly disappearing indigenous cultures explored in the movie.

This multi-decade case just took a dramatic turn.  Documents publicized Monday reveal that the star witness in the case admitted, to lying under oath in an effort to help Chevron avoid paying a $9.5 billion judgment for deliberate pollution of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Read more about this new revelation and watch the film trailer below.

Taming The Teesta

Taming The Teesta is a marvelous film made by Ithaca College student Taylor Graham. About the film, he writes, “Since time immemorial, the Lepcha people have called the Himalayan region that makes up the modern state of Sikkim their home and have held sacred the rivers, mountains, and forests that make up the biologically diverse region. Over the past two decades, India’s rapid development has generated a powerful thirst for electricity, and the country has increasingly looked to the cold, powerful rivers thundering from the Himalayas to supply that desired power. Hydroelectric projects have been proposed and implemented throughout the Himalayan region. Nowhere, however, are the dams as numerous or their effects as acutely felt as in India’s northwestern state of Sikkim, where a ‘cascade’ of run-of-the-river hydroelectric projects is springing into existence. There, on the Teesta River, multiple dam projects threaten the rich biodiversity of the region, the livelihoods of those who live along the Teesta’s course, and the very existence of the Lepcha people’s most cherished river.”

Stay tuned for a Q & A video of Taylor speaking about his film. We were lucky enough to have Taylor visit our class and take questions after screening this film.

 

An Inconvenient Truth – Environmental Film Response

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An Inconvenient Truth is a film about the PowerPoint Al Gore has been giving for over a decade on the topic of climate change. While a film about a PowerPoint sounds incredibly unexciting, it is anything but. An Inconvenient Truth tells a story as gripping as a suspenseful thriller, with the dangers of a real life nightmare. Davis Guggenheim, alongside Participant Media, also use Gore’s human points to drive home the arguments and keep the audience engaged.

The overarching message of the film is that global warming is real and must be dealt with soon if we have any hope of reversing it. We must keep social context in mind while critiquing this film. Many of the points he makes may seem common knowledge now, but in 2006 popular opinion was much different. The media had created confusion and portrayed climate change as the delusion of hippies tree huggers. Gore refutes this idea with the fact out of more than 900 peer reviewed articles, zero denied the validity of global warming. It is made abundantly clear through graphs and facts that global warming is not just a natural cycle, another myth perpetrated by the media.inconvenienttruth1

The conflict of the film is the inaction in fighting climate change despite the obvious evidence. Al Gore says, “I don’t really consider this a political issue, I consider it to be a moral issue. Future generations may well have occasion to ask themselves, “What were our parents thinking? Why didn’t they wake up when they had a chance?” We have to hear that question from them, now.” This nonpartisan approach to the topic aides in establishing Gore’s credibility. It shows he has no vested interest in either political party by fighting for the cause.

An Inconvenient Truth is different in many ways to the film Home, despite sharing the same topic. The most striking difference is in the storytelling approach. Home relies on striking visuals and a smooth voice over to convey its message. By viewing the beauty and wonder of the world alongside the destruction, the authors are trying to shock you into action. An Inconvenient Truth on the other hand, involves a more analytical look at the subject. By mere reasoning and appealing to your moral side, it is attempting to persuade you into action.

Technically speaking, the visuals of An Inconvenient Truth aren’t impressive nor unimpressive. The film was shot well, which allows the visuals to get out of the way so that the viewer can focus on the story and content. What was very impressive was the PowerPoint presentation. It is full of moving graphics which serve as an attention grabber and makes his argument more persuasive. It is almost hard to call it a PowerPoint presentation because the visuals of it are so extravagant.

While a skeptic of global warming may see the film as biased, I don’t believe Davis Guggenheim was biased at all in his approach to the story. The film certainly is on the side of climate change being a real problem, but that is only because Al Gore believes in it and his argument for it is the crux of the film. The filmmaking itself was very impartial.

800px-Al_Gore,_Vice_President_of_the_United_States,_official_portrait_1994The only major critique I have for the film is the lack of solutions it presented. At the end of the film, I felt inspired to do something, but I wasn’t given a direct call to action. In the credits it was suggested that we do things like recycle and elect better politicians, but these don’t seem like concrete solutions. I must recognize that the purpose of this film was not to find solutions, but rather raise the issue of climate change. Like it is stated above, in 2006 the validity of global warming was even more contested and confusing than it is today. This film certainly succeeded if the goal was to raise awareness for the cause. One of the minor critiques I have for the film is some of the science was wrong or inaccurate. My first example is when Gore claimed “Within the decade, there will be no more snow on Kilimanjaro.” Today, in 2015, Mt. Kilimanjaro still holds snow. The second error is that he claimed you could see the change with your naked eye on the Antarctic ice cores after the U.S. Clean Air was passed. Scientists have stated that you cannot see it with the naked eye. This is a minor critique which does not take away from the overall message.

One of the most common critiques of this film by both my peers and other reviewers is that Al Gore’s personal story was unnecessary to the film. Some claim the film served as a commercial to a 2008 presidential run, which we now know it didn’t. I disagree with the critique that the personal vignettes were unnecessary. The personal vignettes help establishing Al Gore’s credibility. It shows how dedicated he is to the cause, how he has done the research and should be listened to. These excerpts turned an inspiring PowerPoint presentation into an ever more inspiring film that holds our attention until the end. Lastly, these vignettes strengthen his argument. In one example, he relates how his family didn’t stop growing tobacco until his sister’s death from lung cancer in the 1980s. He explains how this tragedy taught him how humans tend to not want to change what they’re doing until sometime goes terribly wrong. “It’s human nature to take time to connect the dots, but eventually there’s a day of reckoning.”

In conclusion, while this film had a few flaws in the science and could be seen as an alarmist film, I enjoyed it. I agree completely with the message and the urgency of global warming. It is a gigantic threat and needs to be addressed immediately, not in twenty or thirty years as some politicians are saying. Ten years later, I believe we have not lived up to Al Gore’s hopes in generating the political will to make the change in politics. I’m not entirely sure how we are going to find the political will, but taking this course is a great first step in answering this question for myself.

Watch the trailer below:

Dam Nation – Environmental Film Response

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Dam Nation argues that once a source of national pride, dams are  harmful to the ecosystem our future is bound to. Like many viewers, Ben Knight (the co-director and narrator) was “embarrassed” at how little he knew about dams before making the film. Knight’s awakening is shared with the audience in an attempt to educate the viewers about the benefits of dam removal.

The film does not go into too much “depth” in  any of the subject matter. But the overarching message remains the same. It’s argued that while dams may be labeled as “green power” they often come at an unacceptable cost. This cost is the variety, population, and prosperity of native fish. Not to mention, the destruction of natural wonders and the decimation of tribal land. Knight presents his argument through stunning cinematography, convincing facts, and animated graphics. The film stays within the confines of the United States, but with 75,000 dams over three feet tall, there is no shortage of material.

While this film delivers a convincing argument towards dam removal, and may very well be on the right side of history, it falls short in addressing opposing viewpoints. Instead of engaging the opposition and arguing the facts, the filmmakers ignored them and portrayed them as a bunch of old white conservatives. It may have been possible to more cleverly integrate the opposition into the film in a way which supported their own argument.

Secondly, the filmmakers ignored many of the core benefits of dams. Dams can be a great alternative to coal and gas power, despite the potential harm to the fish and submersion of land. Most dams also served a good purpose when they were first built in the early 1900s. The filmmakers did mention that they weren’t advocating for the removal of all dams, but more time should have been spent on where to draw the line.
While many environmental documentaries lower the audience into a dark abyss at the conclusion, this film ends with a myriad of explosions and an optimistic outlook to the future of dam removal. What’s also unusual about this documentary is how it was financed. Patagonia, an outdoor sportswear company, spent $500,000 to produce the film and even more on the marketing campaign. Patagonia says that they are not expecting to make any of this money back.. Patagonia is one of many companies attempting to be environmentally conscious and responsible. This is admirable and can positively shape the perception of the company.

Regardless of some of the critiques, Dam Nation does do a great job of raising attention to the issue and advocating for change. Dams can be harmful to the environment and a discussion should take place regarding the removal of many of them. While the film advocates for change, serious solutions aren’t really given. A phone number is provided at the end of the film, which ultimately sends a link to a petition, but that’s pretty much it. But given that the purpose of this film was the raise the issue, solutions weren’t the major goal.

Dam Nation is on Netflix, so go give it a watch! The trailer can be viewed below:

5 Winter Preparation Tips

Photo by Alec Salisbury Photography

Photo by Alec Salisbury Photography

The heat of summer has subsided and the apple orchards are open for business. Fall has finally arrived in New York.  Winter will be here before we know it, so it’s a good idea to start gearing up. It’s not easy being green, but here is a list of five things you should do before the frost hits.

1.Change your ceiling fans’ direction.

Virtually all ceiling fans have a toggle switch on them to change their direction. In the summer, they should spin counter clockwise, pushing air down. The switch reverses the direction so that in winter they pull the cooler air up, thereby pushing the warm air near the ceiling back down towards the floor. This will save you money on heating since you won’t have to turn up the heat quite as easy.

2. Use a seed spreader to throw ice melt on your sidewalk and driveway.

You will be out in the cold for less time. The seed spreader will disperse the ice melt more evenly, which in turn will mean you will use less ice melt. Ultimately this will save you money since you will not have to buy so much ice melt throughout the winter.

3.  Winterize your vehicle.Snow_Chain_Honda

Start by checking your air filter and fluid levels. Checking the tires for tread wear and proper inflation, and checking the condition of your windshield wipers. Ensuring your vehicle is ready for weather changes will reduce damage, which prevents waste from broken parts, and will keep you safe on the road. It is also advised to store a collapsible shovel, cat litter, and some sort of traction device in the event you get stuck.

4. Consider using non-toxic de-icing substance.

Such as clean clay cat litter, sand, or fireplace/stove ashes to prevent hazardous waste from chemicals. Chemical de-icers can be hazardous to your pets, your trees and shrubs, and the environment. Antifreeze that leak from car engines and chemical snow melters on driveways, roads, and runways can pollute surface waters and groundwater through the soil.

5.  Buy Rechargeable Batteries

Winter storms often cause power outages. Prevent waste by keeping rechargeable batteries rather than disposable ones stored throughout your house with your flashlights. If you do use disposable batteries, prevent hazardous waste by buying batteries with low mercury content.

 

 

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