Ten Square Miles

An Environmental Activism Resource

Month: December 2015 (page 1 of 6)

Waste Land Film Response

Waste Land is a British-Brazilian documentary by Lucy Walker about Vik Muniz and his work as an artist. It was released in 2010 at the Sundance Film Festival and went on to win many awards. Vik travels around the world making art and this film concentrated on how he created a series using garbage. He collaborated with trash pickers at the largest landfill in the world, Jardim Gramacho, and tried to show the world their struggles while helping these people. This film is similar to Manufactured Landscapes because it shows his work and his process, but it feels different because it is filled with people and their interactions, giving it a more human feeling. It has to be said however, that it still promotes Vik Muniz because he explicitly says he wants to do his next series with garbage, and it makes the viewer wonder if he genuinely wants to help these people or is just doing it for the film and publicity.

The film is structured around Vik and the friendships he makes with the trash pickers. On his initial journey to Jardim Gramacho, he takes photos of various random people there. He also captures them on camera. Later, a few of these people return to help Vik create his art as his models and assistants. I believe he picked the people with a good personality and story to play into viewer’s emotions and draw empathy. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but something I think happened because he ignores many of the other trash pickers. Compared to Burtynsky’s film, this film was filled with emotion and humor because of the people in it. It was definitely

more enjoyable and I also think it had a more pronounced impact. In terms of which documentary style is better to either promote or display, Waste Land is a better example.

While Vik has to be credited for helping these people escape the landfills for a while and getting them money, he also promotes himself and the film makes him seem like a savior. I believe the real hero of the film is Tiaõ due to his work before the film and also after. He is working to save people from working in the landfill their whole life and also trying to help raise awareness about garbage. Trying to prevent garbage reaching the landfill will help lead to it shutting down, which it eventually did. He also wanted to help educate the workers so that after it closed, they would be able to go into the world prepared. Though Vik was very important and raising awareness and profits for them, Tiaõ did all the hard work. I’m not saying that Vik’s art isn’t hard for him to do, but it isn’t the same as the work Tiaõ has to do.

I thought this film was good to watch because on the surface it seemed very good overall but once you started to look into it you could see some flaws and raise some questions. This leads to good discussions and more awareness about the problems in the film. It didn’t tell the viewer there was a problem and then put solutions at the end, rather it told the story of the fight that people go through every day. It also was a social commentary about consumerism because if we didn’t buy all the things we don’t need and throw away, there wouldn’t be giant landfills. It was eye opening and makes you think how our society evolved into what it is today.

Manufactured Landscapes Film Response

The documentary film Manufactured Landscapes by Jennifer Baichwal highlights the expansion of human technology and the industry with the effects it has on the natural world. The film was released in 2006 by Zeitgeist Films. It does so by following the photographer Edward Burtynsky and documenting his work. There are many shots of Burtynsky taking the actual photographs, complimented by the actual still photographs captured on Super-16mm film. His photos are of landscapes that have been drastically changed due to human waste and advancements, such as garbage dumps, old ship yards, and factories. The film is very observational because the subject is the landscapes but also Burtynsky. While people are asked to be moved and such throughout the film, it is Burtynsky who asks, and Baichwal merely captures the result on camera. It also has tones of an expository documentary, but it has limited voice- over, trying to show the audience rather than tell. It also leaves a very vague intention and feeling of what to do next.

The film is structured around the journey of Burtynsky through China to various locations, where he is shown taking photographs. The film often transitions by showing a photo and zooming out to illustrate the scale of the prints. It also enables the viewer to see how Burtynsky saw his subject and how the photo turned out. His photos are usually quite detailed and do show how the world has become very industrialized. The biggest strength of the film is the long opening shot of the factory workers. The slow, tracking shot amazes the viewer with the

length of the factory. Except for this shot though, there weren’t any other shots that stood out. It was an average documentary in terms of how it was filmed. Due to less than interesting film techniques, it seemed to drag on much longer than the runtime of 1:30 would usually seem. Other weaknesses include the fact that it is barely informative; I could’ve learned more from reading a few articles and looking at photos or videos than watching this film. It seemed more of an advertisement for Burtynsky than anything else. When discussing Damnation, people thought that it was very sponsored and had shots that were there for advertising. The difference is that I think Damnation presented a problem and conveyed information, as well as how we can correct the mistakes. Manufactured Landscapes just showed a photographer taking photos about a problem many people already know about. It also didn’t even give advice on how to stop polluting the earth.

I personally believe that this film was the weakest one we have viewed so far, even more so than An Inconvenient Truth. I was against that film because it was essentially all data, however, Manufactured Landscapes did nothing for me. As I said before it seemed like a 1:30 advertisement for Burtynsky because it only showed these landscapes, and not the solution or steps we can take for improvement. It is opened ended, which can lead to discussion and more involvement by just showing the problem, but I thought it was a pointless film that didn’t even inform me of the ever growing manufactured landscapes.

A Fierce Green Fire

A Fierce Green Fire, directed by Mark Kitchell, and produced by Zoetrope Aubry Productions in 2012, is a documentary that takes a look at the history of the environmental movement in the U.S. and around the world. The film is split us into five acts, each narrated by a different person including Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, and Ashley Judd. Each act is an explorations of different facets of the environmental movement. They are conservation, pollution, alternative energies, issues in other countries, and climate change.

This film is an educational film. While watching it, I was reminded of the documentaries that I would watch in high school and there would be a worksheet to follow. This format seems to be what people imagine when they hear the word documentary. There are narrators, talking heads, and archival footage. The only original footage from the filmmaker, it seemed, was the talking heads sequences. All the other visuals that the viewer gets are archival footage. The entire film was different from anything that we have watched in the class so far. As of now we have seen documentaries exploring a single issue concerning the state of our environment whether it is fracking, dams, or global warming. This film gives the viewer an all encompassing perspective on the environmental movement in a different context than we are used to seeing. We usually look at from the side of what the issues are, and this is what’s in store for us in the future if we do not act. This film takes place on the other side. We see what has already been done with these critical issues and the movements that have taken place in our history. It is easy for some people to think that the environmental movement is new and maybe even a phase or a fad. This film exposes us to the truth which is that people have been recognizing these problems for decades, have been angry about it, and have done something about it. For example, the film focuses for a time on Love Canal, a neighborhood in upstate New York that was found to be sitting on 22,000 tons of buried toxic waste from the Hooker Chemical Company. This was causing numerous birth defects, miscarriages, and illnesses within the neighborhood. Lois Gibbs, a member of the Homeowner’s Association there decided that this was unacceptable and began a movement for federally funded relocation. She rallied the community and it made national news. She succeeded in getting the funding and this is only one example in the film of grassroots movements and demonstrations. One weakness I found with the film was that it seemed to be too much information packed into one film that was not effectively strung together. If Kitchell is going to split the film into five acts, he might as well turn the film into a miniseries in order to explore each act more in depth and get more perspectives and individual stories.

I really enjoyed this film and it was nice to watch a different type of film than we have been watching. Seeing the small things that people have started and watching them grow into something moving and powerful was incredible to watch. It also did a good job of reminding me that we are not of the woods yet when it comes to saving the planet. All the people in the documentary had their small victories and even some big victories, but there are still things to be done in 2015 and hopefully keeping the momentum that’s been here for decades going then small victories will eventually lead up to some more big victories.

San Francisco Bans the Sale of Plastic Bottles

While some plastic is recycled, most of it is thrown away after use to be put in landfills. San Francisco hopes to have no waste going into landfills by 2020 and has started this campaign by banning the sale of plastic bottles. It is the first city in America to do so and in addition they have already banned plastic bags and foam containers. They are promoting reusable glass containers and will fine up to $1,000 for violations.

Read about it here.


Five Cheap Ways to be Environmentally Friendly

Environmentalism is known to be classist and exclusive. Many people cannot afford to partake in the well-known acts of being environmentally friendly such as shopping locally or going vegan.  Many people do not even have the environmental knowledge to begin to be conscious. However, here’s a list of ways to be environmentally conscious and save money while doing so!

Drink tap

Not only is bottled water bad for the environment because plastic takes at least 450 years to decompose, but it also is unhealthy for you! The bottled water is regulated by the FDA unlike tap water meaning that its origin and other important factors are not questioned. Because bottled water sometimes travel through trucks, the heat of the truck can help some parts of the plastic the water is contained in to infiltrate the water thus indirectly poisoning yourself. Also, the carbon footprint of plastic water is substantial. Not only does bottled water have to be packaged, but also shipped (who knows the distance?) to different stores. By not buying bottled water you not only decrease your carbon footprint, but also save money!

Thrift Shop

Thrifting is not only cheaper, but also takes money away from corporations which is always a good thing. Clothes at thrift stores tend to be cheaper than clothes at corporate stores because of the fact that they are secondhand. By thrifting, you are lessening the amount of clothes having to be made by larger corporations which takes money away from those corporations and puts the money in the pocket of locally owned businesses (thrift shops tend to be locally owned). Not only will you be buying staples that no other person probably has, but you will also be saving the environment and taking money away from corporations while doing so!

Turn Off the Lights!

This one is a bit more obvious. Turn the lights off whenever you leave a room. By turning the lights off not only do you save money on your electricity bill, but also allows your house to use less energy (specifically fossil fuels) to sustain.

Turn Off Other Electronics in the House

Like turning off the lights, turning off other electronics when not in use could lower your electricity bill and use less fossil fuels to sustain whatever electronics you may own.

Eat Less Meat

Not only will you be saving money by buying less meat and using alternatives such as beans, but you indirectly will be saving water and animals. Because raising livestock uses a lot of water, by cutting down the amount of meat consumed, you will not be a part of that water-taking process.

Recycling & How You Can Help

Recycling is a small thing to do for the environment that has a big impact. Check out the infographic below for some informative facts and ways for everyone to get involved.




On social media platforms, there is a new hashtag going viral called #KillTheKCup. This new hashtag is in reference to K-Cups that go in Keurig machines that make hot beverages such as tea, coffee and hot chocolate.

Billions of the tiny plastic single-use cups are being thrown into the trash because they’re not recyclable. The company has acknowledged that this is a problem but doesn’t plan on making them recyclable until at least 2020.

Even the inventor of the K-Cup is now saying that he wishes he hadn’t invented them. According to an article at TakePart.com, creator John Sylvan admitted to not owning a Keurig because they are “too expensive to use.” He touches on the environmental issues and at one point says that he doesn’t think the K-Cups will ever be able to be fully recyclable due to the type of plastic used in them.

All of this attention to the Keurig has prompted the #KilltheKCup hastag in hopes that the company develops an environmentally friendly product at a faster rate.


See the full article here.

A Fierce Green Fire Response

Mark Kitchell produced and directed the 2012 documentary, A Fierce Green Fire that explores different environmental movements and groups around the world. Produced by Bull Frog Films, the film takes a look at different movements regarding the environment within the past 50 years all over the world. It is split up into five different acts, each of which progress in a somewhat chronological order. Kitchell takes the first act to look act the organization of the Sierra club and its early battle in the 60’s with dams and the Grand Canyon. Act 2 focuses on pollution and the 70’s era of Love Canal where a town in New York is overcome with over 20,000 toxic chemicals as its residents try and find resolution with the government. Act 3 is about the environmental organization Greenpeace and their fight to save the whales while Act 4 follows with deforestation in the 80’s and activist Chico Mendez. Act 5 finishes the film by looking at climate change and natural disasters. Overall, the film created a brief history of environmentalism and its’ activists.

This film in particular had a very positive outlook at environmental activism. The upbeat music and ambitious montages were meant to serve the film as inspiring. A particular strength of this documentary was the fact that it was split up into five different acts. The film was nicely strung together with each act and without the separation, would have just looked poorly organized. The diversity of each act worked in the film’s favor because the audience had the chance to see different types of activism in different eras. Ultimately A Fierce Green Fire is meant to observe the activist history in environmentalism and throughout the acts, it achieved that. The first three acts proved to be particularly strong with movements like Love Canal, which viewed one of the bigger environmental issues of the 70’s and groups like Greenpeace which shed light on issues like whaling and sealing that are not commonly known to the public. The last two acts weren’t as strong as they created more distant issues that didn’t prove quite as strong as the other acts but important nonetheless.

Kitchell and his crew stay behind the camera and leave it to the subjects to tell their stories. This is very much unlike the documentary DamNation we watched as a class earlier in the year that used a series of voiceovers from the documentarians themselves as they went on an adventure to advocate the destruction of Dams. Likewise, in class we read Rachel Carson’s text Silent Spring and in Act 2 the film relates back to Carson’s text numerous times. Kitchell seems to have a stronger act when he has more of a solid, focused foundation.

Personally, this was my favorite film we have watched thus far. I thought many of the issues were strong and focused on the importance of activism. I liked how part of the underlying message of the film was that activism has been going on for decades and the need to advocate isn’t going to go away any time soon. I find that this film was so incredibly different than many of the other films we have watched. This film wasn’t one that made me feel badly about issues I may not have any control over and it also didn’t involve a resolution. But it did show the effects of activism and how people are reacting to environmentalism around the globe and I find that this approach was far more successful in capturing my interest and ambition than the others. I thought it was a very realistic, upbeat approach to activism and its history.

The Meat Industry & Climate

When we hear the words climate change, our minds tend to gravitate toward cars, planes, and factories. While it may be a stretch for some people to imagine the meat on their plate is contributing to earth’s environmental decline, recent studies show that this is indeed true. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FOA), 14.5% of all greenhouse gas pollution is due to livestock production. The top three animal meats with the highest carbon footprint are grazing beef, sheep and meadow beef while some of the meats with much smaller footprints are seafood, chicken and eggs.

The earth as it is has already seen drastic climate change since the 1800s Industrial Revolution, which added 0.8 degrees Celsius of warming. According to the World Bank, we’ve already added at least 1.5 degrees Celsius since then.

In perspective, livestock agriculture is thought to produce more emissions than trains, planes and cars combined. Although it leaves such a chilling carbon footprint, animal agriculture is often overlooked by many national governments as being harmful. In fact, the production of meat is supposed to double in just over 30 years. In the United States, almost 70% of crops are used to feed livestock and agriculture is known for claiming an astounding percentage of global water depletion.

In order to produce meat, fossil fuels are burned releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. To produce 1 calorie of meat, it takes 8.5 times as much fossil fuel energy according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The farm animals crammed into factories waiting to be slaughtered produce methane during digestion and even after. Even more toxic is Nitrous Oxide which is released when manure from the animals are broken down.

By eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, a British study found that we could reduce our food related carbon footprint by 60%. This also saves about 1.5 tons of chemicals from entering the atmosphere annually.

Globally, the effects of the commercial meat industry are paralyzing and contribute more to greenhouse gas emissions than most people are informed. Another way to reduce this issue is to buy meat (and even other foods) locally. The food doesn’t have to travel as far and doesn’t need the same amount of energy or chemicals in preparation for its storage when it makes the journey. Although there isn’t a simple solution to this growing problem, there are steps we can take in preventing more damage to be done in the future.




Patagonia: One of the Best Companies for the Environment

In Forbes’ article, “11 Companies Considered Best for the Environment,” listed as number five is Patagonia, the large brand of high-end outdoor equipment and clothing. Patagonia is just nine years shy of being half of a century old, as Yvon Chouinard founded the company in 1973. Forbes cites the company as claiming “that three quarters of its materials are ‘environmentally preferred,’ meaning they are recycled, organic or otherwise environmentally sound.” Patagonia’s website also features a whole resource exhibiting the company’s contribution to environmentalism. In particular, Patagonia highlights six main features of their role in the environmental and “environmental activist” cause:

  1. Transparent details of their supply chain, which is aimed to reduce “the adverse social and environmental impacts” of their products.
  2. Manufacturing of Worn Wear products that will last longer, thus decreasing the need to repurchase and therefore produce using more materials.
  3. Their corporate responsibility to ensure that Patagonia products are made under “safe, fair, legal and humane working conditions.”
  4. Financial contributions given to support environmental organizations through environmental grants.
  5. The recognition and action taken upon environmental and social responsibilities, in order to be the company they claim to be.
  6. Promoting their customers to engage in the Environmental Design Project by submitting a design.
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