Ten Square Miles

An Environmental Activism Resource

Month: January 2016 (page 1 of 4)

Gasland: A Response

Josh Fox takes an exciting new look at the hydraulic fracturing industry in his documentary “GasLand.” In this captivating film, Fox informs his audience of the dangers of hydro fracking through his own personal story and journey to uncover the truth. As he travels through the United States examining the mysterious natural gas industry, the viewer travels with him. The music, narration, and cinematography of “GasLand” give it a personal and homemade style which makes it an all- around persuasive documentary that exposes the dangers, and health and environmental hazards of hydraulic fracturing.

The film opens to a conference or a committee of officials in the hydro fracking industry discussing the benefits of hydro fracking, the “research” that has been done on the effects of fracking. This is what the public sees. This is what the public is shown and this immediately sets the tone for the rest of the documentary. From the initial image of Fox in front of the fracking wells with his banjo to this look into the hearing on the effects of fracking, it is clear this documentary will be a satirical dismantling of a huge, multi-faceted industry. Switch to Josh Fox, his personal story. In the house his parents built in Pennsylvania, Fox and his siblings grew up surrounded by nature and water. Fox establishes a relationship with his audience from the beginning by sharing the story of his childhood and demonstrating the personal connection he has to nature and to the fracking industry. By sharing the offer a fracking company made on his land, he gives himself credibility as someone with ties to the industry, as a person with something to lose. His personal story also establishes a reason for making the film. The narration over the beginning sets a mood, one a pessimism, even when discussing his family and childhood. The optimism of his relationship with his family and nature is tempered by the threat of hydraulic fracturing in the land he holds so dear.

Fox sets out on his adventure to uncover the truth of hydro fracking, getting in contact with people who have been negatively impacted. From contaminated drinking water to health decline, interviews with victims provide solid and appalling evidence to persuade the viewer. One of the most shocking and necessary elements of the film is the issue with the drinking water. Fox makes sure to give this issue adequate screen time and narrowing in on that one issue gives the documentary a focus and an element that lends itself to the cohesiveness of the film. Without it, the documentary would seem haphazard with disconnected parts. The editing of the film makes it easy to follow along and engaging. It keeps you waiting to find out what happens with the drinking water, what chemicals are found, what testimony do people have against hydro fracking? It adds a layer of suspense when discussing an otherwise fairly dull subject.  This emphasizes the industry’s dependency on a finite resource and the subsequent destruction of that resource, something that is detrimental to personal health and safety. Is the extraction of natural gas worth the destruction of the planet that provides it or the people that live on it? These are the questions that Fox poses, giving the audience adequate material to form their own opinion on the subject and making every attempt to provide alternate views in his documentary, although the fracking company’s decline interviews countless times.

The cinematography is a key element to the film. Fox doesn’t use flashy equipment, cameras, and mics. He doesn’t have a massive crew. He’s a man and a camera, sharing a story. The image quality is at times grainy a gritty which lends itself to the raw subject matter and destruction of the natural landscape. Whereas many documentaries force a level of separation between the content and the audience through the use of epic and well-constructed cinematography, “GasLand” keeps the viewers up close and personal as Fox’s personal journey and the documenting of that journey is not hard to attain. He constantly emphasizes the fact that he is an ordinary guy looking for answers. Fox even rejected the high quality profession voice narration in favor of his homemade narration done at four in the morning as the documentary wasn’t meant to be scripted and planned in detail. It was always meant to be a very organic look into the damaging effects of the fracking industry.

Overall, “GasLand” challenges the notions that fracking companies have pushed down our throats and says that we need to open our eyes to the destruction of our planet. The one negative aspect of the film is the utter hopelessness one feels after watching it. The intense and melancholy music in the background can become taxing and his monotone narration through the whole film leaves the viewer with very little hope of enacting change. Fox also makes very little attempt to provide ways individuals can change the industry as not every individual has land on the Marcellus Shale. However, that being said, it is a well-constructed documentary that keeps its target audience as wide as possible and effectively persuades viewers of the severity of the situation.

Delhi Considering Closing Schools For Smog

Delhi has now surpassed Beijing in it’s pollution levels and is considering shutting down schools as a harsh smog continues over its second month. It is predicted to continue for months and is composed of car exhaust, dust, smoke from fires, and industrial output. Reports say the health negative effects are lasting. There is a plan based on allowing cars to alternative driving and they have shut down 2 coal power stations.

Read the article here.


The U.S. and Climate Change

At the recent environmental conference in Paris, President Barack Obama announced his plan to stem greenhouse- gas emissions. According to U.S. negotiators, this plan will need action from all countries- the responsibility of limiting green house gas emissions can not be placed on only developed countries. The U.S. has also demanded a system for the developing countries to report their carbon emissions and their efforts to reduce them.

Click here to read the full article:



Reagan, Bush 41 memos reveal sharp contrast with today’s GOP on climate and the environment


Reagan and Bush administration memos

By Matt Allchin

Memos that were formerly classified documents from the Bush and Reagan administrations were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and released by the National Security Archive.

The documents portray two senior officials in the two Republican administrations advocating for U.S. leadership on combating climate change.

“If climate change within the range of current predictions actually occurs, the consequences for every nation and every aspect of human activity will be profound,” assistant secretary Richard J. Smith wrote in the memo.

These memos provide an interesting insight of an environmentally conscious Republican White House throughout the 1980s and 1990s.This is especially interesting when looking at the GOP officials today who deny the consensus of human caused climate change and refuse to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Read the full article here

Biodegradable plastics may not be as great as you think

Biodegradable plastics don’t disintegrate as quickly in the ocean

By Matt Allchin

A new report from the United Nations presents a couple of environmental problems regarding biodegradable plastics. Biodegradable plastics were designed to help reduce waste but some polymers need to be exposed to prolonged temperatures to disintegrate which is hard to come by in nature.

Ocean degredation rates are even lower because UV light penetration is limited. On top of this it is cold and there is less oxygen so these plastics will just stay there for a long period of time.

The biodegradable plastics also pose a problem for recycling. Mixing biodegradable plastics with standard plastics can compromise the properties of the original plastic. When the plastic does disintegrate, the fragments behave exactly the same way as a standard piece of polyethylene which poses a threat to wildlife.

Ice in the Arctic ends up trapping a lot of fragments because it is too cold for them to disintegrate. The amount of micro plastics in these areas are at least three times more abundant than in other areas in oceans.

Full article here

Warning: Footage contains graphic content.

The animal rights organization Compassion Over Killing released an undercover video shot at the Quality Pork Processors (QPP) plant in Austin.

QPP is one of the most productive pork facilities in the country processing between 19,00 and 22,000 hogs per day. However, the speed may be due to the mistreatment of these hogs with footage of hogs being dragged and kicked to the slaughter area where they’re throats are then slit.

Not only that, but footage of animals with prolapsed organs and fecal matter contamination are seen being processed for food. This could cause potential food safety issues to the people who end up eating these contaminated animals.

Is eating meat at the rate we do now worth the animal abuse and food contamination that is going on in the animal agriculture industry?

Watch the video here:

Post by Matt Allchin


Watch “The Trees Around You”

The Trees Around You Preview

Watch the full film at: https://vimeo.com/110728252


Jacob Wise, a documentarian and student at Ithaca College, recently came in to present and talk about his film, The Trees Around You, in our Cinema in Exhibition class. Below is the transcript of his post-screening discussion with us, with the questions being asked by various students and Brad Rappa, our professor.  


I really love the film first of all; I really enjoyed watching it. I think you had some really great cinematography in there. I was just wondering if you could tell us what the production was like, how you got involved, how long you shot for, things of that nature?

I was taking a class here called environmental sentinels, which is in the environmental studies program. You sort of go out in the woods for four hours a day and learn about medicinal plants, just like survival skills. And they talked about old-growth forests in that class.

I grew up near DisneyWorld so everything is totally concrete, and they said that there were trees that you could fit fifteen people around. I was like, “Damn! I want to go see that. Maybe I should go make a documentary.” And then pretty soon I went there and realized how in over my head I was.

You know, this film on the surface is about trees but there’s actually several films in this series, and it starts getting into relationships with nature and a lot of stuff dealing with colonization and how we treat and work with indigenous people.

So I ended up going out three times, I spent a total of 78 days there I think. I wanted to get it in different seasons to see how it changes; most of the time it’s raining. It rains for like 4/5 of the year so that was definitely a challenge filming. But I went out with a different close friend of mine each time during those three trips just to sort of see—I don’t know, like making movies depending on who’s on your crew it totally changes the vibe of the set and what sort of stuff you look for. But usually you have one person filming while someone else would go around looking for cool bugs and turning over leaves and flipping over sticks and just seeing what was crawling around.


What led you to want to make this film in the first place? I mean I understand that you said you see yourself as an environmental activist, but was there a certain point where you were like, “I really want to make this”?  

I feel like it had to do with when I first got here. Like I said, after growing up in Florida sort of near Disney, when I came to Ithaca it was my first time even realizing that there were forests, like kind of dumped in the backyard for the first time. And kind of walking around in the Natural Lands behind the school, it’s easy to just sort of see the forest but as you start moving around you realize how crazy-complex it really is and how much stuff is going on everywhere. And I thought that film would be a really good way to sort of communicate that feeling.

The way that you can move the camera in and show like the smallest thing or show the largest thing. Whatever I was feeling at the time I really wanted to like get out and share it, which I think the film did to a moderately successful degree. And after you finish any project there’s always things where you’re like, “Oh I wish I did that or I wish I didn’t do that.”


What are some things that you wish you had done differently, looking back? 

Like I mentioned, there’s a few films in the series about Vancouver Island. This one, after watching it about 2,00 times, because of the short length I feel like it oversimplifies an extremely, extremely complex issue that there’s so many different opposing—I mean it’s such a tangle of things going on with people, views, environmental groups, indigenous people, where it’s like everyone wants to be saving the woods but at the same time for different reasons and with different approaches.

And also in this film I didn’t really interview any of the logging companies or the B.C. government. I mean it’s an ongoing project; this is just one film in what I’ll probably be doing for a lot of my life.


How long has it been since you’ve been back out to British Columbia, what’s the next steps you’re taking now, and what are the focuses of the other films that you’re working on in this series?

Well I haven’t gone out to B.C. in about a year and a half now since finishing this. I was working on it for like three years straight and I just felt very sort of oversaturated with it.

The next thing I’d really like to do is in Chile there’s actually like the other huge section of oldest forest in the world, and they treat it very differently and I think the government there does it different. Relationships with it—aside from the colonial companies that kind of come in and start trying to take the forests from under the Chilean government, but I’d like to kind of do a counter-case in a way to sort of show like, “Here’s another area with this extremely important ecosystem, but it’s another approach that we can sort of take to keep it together.”

But I’d like to go back out to Vancouver Island. You know, a lot of these locations in the film actually don’t exist anymore; they’ve already been cut. There’s like a shot when it goes in on a sea urchin and then it like spirals down and the sun’s coming through the forest. That area’s just not there, it’s just browned out. And where the people talking in the beginning saying they wish they could save the land. So it’s something that’s happening very rapidly.

There’s a lot of other good people taking photographs out there. The guy who, in the beginning, is right next to the huge tree is a photographer for National Geographic who just focuses on photographing these areas. But there’s something about doing any documentary work, it’s all like happening so rapidly where it’s like, you’re either around it all the time or your missing everything. So… some time in the future.


Could you tell us about some of the people that you featured in the film, like how you got in contact with them?

The very first person we got in contact with who actually helped the most does not appear in this film though he’s in all the other ones a lot. His name is Torrance. We were actually putting out couch surfer requests like looking for people to stay with and this guy responded to us and he said, “Oh my roommate is like one of the biggest activists on Vancouver Island, you should talk to him.” So we met up with him, he kind of showed us around so we could get a sense of the planning schedule cause I knew I wanted to hit all these spots and he’s like, “If you want to do that you’re gonna be here for three years. Here’s a more manageable thing to be doing.”

And after we went out the first time and we wanted to go the second time it was so much easier. We were able to get in contact with the Tla-O-Qui-Aht nations, which is like a group of nine nations that got together as their numbers were dwindling, and that’s sort of the reservation that you see; the guy who’s talking with like the big wide shot of the ocean in the front lawn. So we met him on our second and third trip, and the more people we started meeting, seeing that our intentions were good and that we were producing work, the more people were willing to actually speak with us.

It was really hard to access at first, especially dealing with the reservations. They don’t really need more white people walking around and filming them, especially because so much is exploitative. But it definitely changed my life, getting to know people and getting to know the island a little more. But it’s difficult because it’s so far away. It’s actually the west-most point on the continent.


So, talking with these people and getting the exposure to these sort of viewpoints, what do you feel the reach of the film has been? You say that this stuff is still advancing at an incredibly fast rate and it’s huge; has this gotten out anywhere, has this been distributed, has this been seen by the people you interviewed? Especially because it’s the Canadian-American media border almost, how has that reach affected the area itself?

That’s a good question. It’s been difficult to sort of disseminate. It’s in a few online international film festivals, which I figured would be best. I haven’t done as much of a push to put it in big documentary festivals, it’s definitely a good way to go but it seemed like there were more effective ways as a pace of activism to actually be working with it, making it go through the internet more virally, which it has to a moderately successful degree.

It’s like we put out art that raises awareness and yet the forces and the money behind this stuff is so strong that watching a movie it’s like, “Oh great I’ve seen the movie now I know a little bit more.” Which is a more cynical way to look at it but at the same like, any more awareness. You know it’s one idea to go out and say, “I want to change the whole world,” but the actual more effective way to do that is to do it individually, and as you have individuals changing then the actual world starts changing itself. So that’s sort of the approach I was taking to it.

At first it was like, a lot of potential with making sure it really affected everything, but that just sort of makes it less effective I think, or at least I was finding. We can also only operate on whatever level we’re operating on, which is usually sort of invisible to see.

It’s definitely sort of nebulous. It’s not like you release the film and then this huge news announcement that everything’s totally changed all of the sudden. It’s never really like that, especially because change happens but it happens so slowly that it’s not really even discernible as change. It’s just like one day you’re there and it’s different. Especially with environmental stuff—I mean with anything, but you never really know if you’re quite saying the right thing or quite saying it the right way, but it’s gonna be the right way for somebody it’s gonna be the wrong way for someone else. Especially with like new media or web stuff it’s really good when you keep updating or just like say it in different ways


To that effect do you feel like it’s been effectual? Do you feel like you’ve achieved a lot? Are you happy with it? Is it something that’s inspired you to go do more? Or has it felt like it’s something you’ve had to push through as a challenge?

It depends on the moment. It’s definitely, definitely inspired me to do more, especially seeing how it’s reacting with people. With work like this it’s almost like they need to continually be pushed, even though the areas aren’t still there anymore there are still messages in the film that I think actually transcend the subject matter itself. Which is difficult I think in pieces of activism; it’s like you’re always sort of working on levels that you don’t really realize you’re working on until way after the fact, but it just sort of naturally comes up in the subject material.


To me it’s very profound that you take a class here, you get to spend four hours in the forest looking at plants and learning about survival, and then it sort of sparks in your mind this idea that, “Hey I’ve learned about these trees and I need to go see them and I’m gonna make a documentary about them.” That’s pretty incredible. I mean can you talk about the financing of it? Can you talk about that whole journey from that original moment to making this piece to spending those three years there?

I mean it definitely changed throughout those three years that I was working on it. The more I got into it the more I realized I didn’t know, and the very first thing was just like basic Google searches, at first just looking for old growth forests, just seeing where they were and the first result was the area where that huge tree was that had just been cut down, that made the news. And so I just started contacting the people that made that article, but the more I sort of got into it, it was just sort of overwhelming like how much was actually going on and how complex it really, really was.

Especially as a documentarian it’s like—I got to a point in this project where I actually stopped for a month or two because you watch a documentary and there’s this sense of omniscience to it, like voice of God, like “This is the truth, let it go into your brain,” which really, really turned me off. I didn’t like that sort of subtle manipulation of it, but at the same time I found that I couldn’t really get away from it. You know even if I don’t do voiceover in the film, even if I just let these people talk and I don’t even say who’s talking, I still have to edit the film, I still have to choose how it comes together, and the subjectivity was totally unavoidable. And so in a way I was overwhelmed by the amount of information about the issue, and I realized that the only way to actually make the film was to—the film is really about, “What are these people from Ithaca, New York who come from all over, what do you see going to a place that’s totally different, and what can you bring back to people about it?” It’s like not really setting out to be everything about old growth forests on Vancouver Island, but just this point of view, which is really all any documentary is when it sort of comes down to it but it can take a broader scope or a finer scope.

Each trip we took we did Indiegogo or Kickstarter and applied to some grants through the school in the environmental department. We ended up raising about $6,500 total for both projects, which funded each trip successfully, but you know, we ate a lot of PB&J’s, we couch surfed. The most expensive part was usually renting a car, cause you would need a car that wasn’t too small to get lost on the logging roads when you were like thirty miles out without service, which did happen once and it was pretty scary. We got back safely.

But I don’t know, it’s always sort of changing and you need to find the right angle for financing, like “What do people want to hear? Who do people want to see?” It’s always easy to have an idea that’s really interesting to you but then to convince other people that it’s interesting to them is super hard.


What are your favorite environmental documentaries that you’ve seen?

Two that come to mind. There’s a movie called Encounters at the End of the Earth by Werner Herzog. It’s about this research base in Antarctica; it’s super cool. And then there’s a movie called Baraka and a movie called Samsara. They’re non-verbal documentaries, so there’s no talking throughout them, but each one’s filmed in forty different countries around the world over a period of four to five years, and it just sort of seeks to show what’s going on in different cultures and different religions and militaries and environments. Both of them just really try to show the interconnectedness of everything.


Watch The Trees Around You at: https://vimeo.com/110728252
Watch some of Jacob’s other films at: https://vimeo.com/user6496000/videos

Animals That Have Already Gone Extinct


Over the last 500 years roughly 1,000 animals have gone extinct and that number is rapidly increasing. Scientists are saying that the rapid increase is due to climate change, loss of habitat, and  the introduction of non-native species. Here are some infographics that give statistics on extinction. For more pictures and the original article click here



Matt Allchin


Gasland is a 2010 documentary created by Josh Fox. The film explores the crisis of hydraulic fracking in the United and States, showing its devastating effects on people’s health and livelihood. The film offers details about the process of fracking in an informative and simple way, and explains the hundreds of deadly chemicals and carcinogens that are making many people sick. Fox also explores how there seems to be some kind of corporate cover-up when it comes to this catastrophe. Gasland is a performative documentary. Josh Fox makes himself known in the documentary as well as narrates him. We frequently see him holding his camera and talking to his subjects, as well as participating in the “science experiments” that his subjects have created with their contaminated water, such as lighting the tap water on fire or burning water to make plastic. Also, at the beginning of the documentary Fox tells us that he was sent a letter where he was offered almost $100,000 to lease his land in order to frack, so he is personally affected by this as well.

The documentary is filmed in a handheld style with a few static shots as well. It is very raw and gritty, which shows the gross subject matter that Josh Fox is dealing with. It also feels very personal, and when watching it, you don’t feel very separated from the problem. Fox goes into people’s houses and talks with them in a casual manner. There are no indications of formal interviews. I think this is a pro with the film. Being up close and personal with these struggling people puts it into perspective, I think. Seeing the subjects in their homes, talking to their friends, family, and neighbors, shows that they are serious about what’s happening to their water and that they are terrified for their health. A few of the subjects had farms as well so the contaminated water not only affects their health but also their animals’ health, they’re income, and their ability to sell their land. Josh Fox shows us that he attempts to get the other side of the story. There is a montage at the beginning of the film showing him on the phone calling various gas companies and people in order to get their side, but no one wants to talk to him. Later in the film he tries to talk to a higher-up in his office but he then says that he’ll talk off the record but he will not appear on the documentary. This only emphasizes the insidious, apparent cover-up and maybe-conspiracy.

The only con I can find in the film is its editing style. While I think it works some of the time, the rest of the time it made the film a tiny bit confusing. For example, Josh Fox will be visiting with one family and then all of a sudden he’ll be on another family’s farm and it takes a minute to realize it. This does not hinder my understanding of the larger message, however, which is the most important thing.



Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret is a documentary by Kip Andersen that explores animal agriculture and its devastating effects on the environment and climate change. We find out that animal agriculture is the number one problem that humans should be attempting to fix when it comes to environmental destruction. Despite its significant impact, conservation groups such as Greenpeace and The Sierra Club do not seem to know anything about it, and if they do know something, they are hiding it for some reason. A lot of this film is participatory because it is focused a lot on Kip Andersen’s interaction and conversations with his subjects. He talks to several people on both sides of the argument such as a doctor who highly recommends a vegan lifestyle and cattle ranchers that don’t think what they do has a carbon footprint. A part of the film is also Kip’s personal journey into this subject. He sees an animal slaughter for the first time and frequently says during the film, “I still don’t know…”

The pros outweigh the cons in my opinion. The film offered facts and statistics as well as personal opinions and stories. We hear from both sides of the story as well. And while some might argue that both sides were not fairly represented, the film does not need both sides. The point of any film or documentary, whether implicitly or explicitly, is to have some kind of argument or opinion and Cowspiracy does that successfully. The film also did something that not a lot of films do which is follow the Aristotelian triangle. The triangle says that to have a cohesive and valuable argument you need, logic, ethics, and emotion. This documentary has all three, and it sells it.

There were a few cons with the film. One that stands out is the question of whether everyone can afford to have a sustainable lifestyle such as going vegan. A vegan diet is expensive and the film does not address that. If you or your family is struggling with finances, sometimes it is a lot easier to just get a burger off the dollar menu at Mcdonalds. That being said, however, if you have the financial capabilities and you have the will and the want to change the world, there should be no excuse for at least trying to eat differently. The film mentions “feeding your addiction” which is something I’ve never thought about before. We tend to not think of human beings being addicted to meat but we are to extent. We love to eat it and we are sold on the idea that it is the best way to get your protein. As aforementioned, it is sometimes the cheapest way to get your protein but hopefully one day we can get to a point where affordable plant-based food become the norm and are affordable to everybody.

I consider myself an impressionable person, but I like to think I’m impressionable on the right things. This film made an impression on me, and if making a sincere effort to eat vegetarian and someday vegan is something I can do for the environment, then I’m going to do it. One of my favorite foods is steak, but I think living a sustainable and green lifestyle is much more worth it in the end.

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