Ten Square Miles

An Environmental Activism Resource

Author: haleyjbrennan

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.

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If A Tree Falls

If A Tree Falls is a documentary written by Marshall Curry and Matthew Hamachek, and directed by Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman. It was released on June 22nd, 2011 in the USA and won an Academy Award Nominee for Best Documentary Feature as well as a Documentary Editing Award from Sundance Film Festival. This film was produced by British Broadcasting Corporation. This film tells the story of Daniel McGowan and his involvement with the ELF, or Earth Liberation Front. In December 2005, Daniel McGowan was arrested, then placed on house arrest as he awaited his trial. This film shows the rise and fall of the ELF through archival footage and interviews with various ELF members, family members, government officials and property owners. The ELF was an environmental activism group that set fire and destroyed many different properties such as a lumber company and facilities at the University of Washington. While no one was killed or injured during these actions, millions of dollars of property were destroyed. The members of the ELF were extremely good at what they did, and the group was not caught and served until years after their crimes. A theme of the film is how do people define terrorism, and how far is too far when it comes to activism and saving the environment. The film ends with McGowan agreed to be cooperative with the FBI, lessening his sentence from a lifetime in jail to 7 years. I believe this film is a participatory documentary because of its use of archival footage and its more relaxed interviews.
The thesis of this film is the question of terrorism and how does one define it. The film was very intriguing as it was told like a crime story versus a traditional documentary. I think this worked for the film because of the large scale crimes it was discussing, and the fact that the filming took place will McGowan was awaiting his sentence. One of the films biggest strengths is its use of archival footage. This gave the film a very real feeling. Also, interviews with members of the ELF recounting events were interesting, and it was probably hard to track down members who would talk to a camera about their crimes. Another strength of the film was getting perspectives from both sides. This film could have been biased if it had just gotten interviews from property owners, or government officials, or ELF members, but it included all three which gave the film an unbiased feel. A weakness of the film was including the black, drawn reenactments. I think it was just too much, and took away from the authentic feel of the film.
I thought this film was extremely interesting as it was as much about morals, and definitions of terrorism and environmentalism as it was about the specific ELF crimes. The debate on how far is too far when dealing with something you are passionate is an interesting one. The ELF members truly believed that they were saving the environment, and in some ways, they were. However, they caused a large amount of damage and destruction to innocent people, which is not okay, and at times made mistakes as to where they were setting fires. While peaceful protests and letters take longer to elicit change, I still believe this is the correct way to go. I think the ELF got out of control and caused more harm than good.

Last Call at the Oasis

Last Call at the Oasis is a documentary film made in 2011 that was directed and written by Jessicu Yu and features Erin Brockovich, Robert Glennon and Jay Famiglietti, among others. Additional cast members include Tim Barnett, Gina Gallego, Jack Black and Peter H. Gleick. This film was produced by Participant Media, which is a production company that focuses on being politically active. Other films from this company include Food Inc. and An Inconvenient Truth. This film is organized by place, and at each new place, such as Los Angelos, Las Vegas or Australia, there is new people with new stories. The film also travels with Erin Brockovich, an environmental activist, for some scenes and documents her effort to create environmental change, specifically her efforts to stop companies from polluting water with chemicals that is harming residents in small town areas. Additionally, this film features a somewhat humorous campaign for selling bottled renewed (sewage) water, as well as a bit from people bathing in holy water in “The Promised Land”. This film is an expository film, because it exemplifies a classic documentary. While being entertaining, it has an educational feel, and employs the use of talking head interviews, footage, and narration.
I think the thesis of this film is the earth’s water is running out, and it is up to everyone to find new ways to recycle and conserve it if we want to sustain this population on Earth. Many people believe that the Earth can never run out of water, but that is extremely false. Most people do not even realize we are in a water shortage crisis. Breaking the film up into different locations because besides keeping the film organized, it helped the viewers personalize the story. Often people can think of climate change and water shortages as something that is happening far away, but by naming the towns where people were suffering the consequences of the global water shortage and water pollution, it made viewers realize these horrible things were happening in their own backyards. This film had many strengths which included good use of music, bringing in Erin Brockovich to give the film direction and a wide range of people, thus opinions, featured. Erin Brockovich gave viewers someone to rally behind, and she was factual while still remaining hopeful about the environment. The weaknesses of this film were some of the images and bits could be considered tacky. During some parts, it seemed confusing who the intended audience of this film was. The scenes with very emotional, difficult stories told by farmers, grandmothers and environmentalists- those seemed like scenes in a documentary intended for educated adults. However, the scene with the animated water droplets seemed intended for children. The film would have been better if its creators had picked an intended audience and stuck to that more strictly.
Despite its weaknesses, I really enjoyed this film. I felt it was extremely engaging while still being informative. I feel Last Call at the Oasis absolutely belongs in an environmental class. The film was educational, eye opening and made the current water crisis hard to ignore. My favorite part of the film was the scenes shot in Midland, Texas featuring the grandmother who after writing many letters to her senators about her granddaughter’s skin rashes she believed the water was causing and getting no response, took matters into her own hands and emailed Erin Brockovich. This woman is a great example of people taking charge and fighting back to protect themselves and their children from harmful chemicals in the water and the environment. If people keep fighting back, whether it be in a small town or big city, there will be change.

Watkins Glen Protest

On Wednesday, December 9th, activists gathered in Watkins Glen, NY to protest Crestwood’s proposed methane gas storage facility. The protesters made a human blockade and held signs reading “Protecting Our Only Home” and “There is No Plan(et) B” at the entrance to the facility. This is the first human blockade in the past week, and the protesters timed it to occur while the climate negotiations in Paris were going on. The proposed methane gas storage facility could poison the drinking water for 100,000 people, however, the project was still approved by the United States Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in October of 2014. The purpose of this facility would be to store natural gas and then sell it to urban areas while natural gas is in high demand. Even though this was a peaceful protest, 19 activists were arrested.

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Carbon Dioxide Emissions Flatlining

As the Paris talks on global warming continue, scientists have released good news regarding global warming. Scientists from Nature Climate Change have estimated that global carbon dioxide emissions have not increased and possibly even have decreased. This discovery proves that switching from a fossil fuel dependent world to one reliant on renewable- energy is already helping to stop climate change. The reason behind this decrease of emissions is because China began to stop using coal, and the use of renewable energy has greatly expanded. With China’s massive population of 1.4 billion, it makes up more than 25% of the world’s green house gas emissions. However, China is currently the world’s largest wind producer and is about to pass Germany as the world’s greatest solar producer.

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Africa Demanding Compensation

Africa has been hit hard by global warming, though they have not committed many environmental crimes compared to the more developed areas of the world. Campaigners in Africa are now demanding compensation from the developed world to help them deal with the consequences of global warming. This compensation would help with storm damage, crop failure, desertification and forest degradation. This money would also help cover the cost of massive people migrating away from places that are now becoming unlivable due to global warming. The developed world is largely to blame for this, as pollutions from the West dry up Africa and sink its nearby islands. The UN has not yet come to a solution for this, but it has been agreed that the words “compensation” and “liability” will not be included in any agreement because this could cost developed countries billions of dollars.

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Paris Climate Change

Nations came together on November 30th in Le Bourget, Paris for the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. The purpose of this conference was to create a legally binding agreement among nations of the world to help stop climate change. This is to be signed by the end of the year, and put into place by 2020. The goal of this meeting is to stop the Earth’s temperature from rising 2 degrees by 2100. Researchers from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change agreed that stopping temperature rise is necessary to avoiding massive climate disasters. While this meeting won’t change the world, it is a step towards stopping global warming.

Taylor Graham Visit

Taylor Graham’s Visit

By Haley Brennan

I thought Taylor Graham’s visit was fairly interesting. I always wondered how students made documentaries overseas- where the funding came from, how they met the people to begin with- so 156435_4087661118139_622653943_nit was interesting to see his process and learn about the grants he received and how he got in contact with the people in his film. Hearing his process made it seem a lot more manageable. I enjoyed the film and thought it was brave of him to continue filming even when he wasn’t supposed to. This offered viewers a rare insight into what is going on over there. I think it is a huge feat that he managed to singlehandedly make this documentary- not having a crew or any sort of help would be really difficult. I think this pushed him creatively to think outside the box (like when he talked about recording voiceover under a blanket to muffle other sounds). I feel he must have a large sense of pride after making a documentary completely on his own, as that is not something many people do. Overall, I though it was very interesting- both the film and the Q&A session afterward.

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Faith Meckley Visit

Faith Meckley Visit

By Haley Brennan

I have met Faith Meckley before, but didn’t find out about her activism until she visited class. I am in awe of her courage- the fact that she is not afraid to go to jail for what she believes in is inspiring. As college students, we often feel there is nothing we can do. However, Faith has proved that you can create awareness as an activist just by standing up and protesting. Ithaca College is a very active campus, and there has been a lot of activity lately surrounding POC at Ithaca College. On one hand, it feels frustrating that it is 2015 and we are still dealing with racial issues, which is similar to how frustrating it feels to have people deny that global warming exists. However, these student activists are working hard to make change happen. They are proving that you don’t have to be old, white, male and in government to have your voice heard. I hope the activism on campus continues even after the race issues are (hopefully) resolved. There are still many more issues, specifically the decline of the environment. I think if students keep putting their energy into activism, change could be made before it is too late for the Earth.


A Fierce Green Fire

A Fierce Green Fire Review

By Haley Brennan

A Fierce Green Fire is a documentary film produced, directed and co- written by Mark Kitchell. Additional crew members include Marc N. Weiss, Ken Schnieder, Veronica Selver, Gary Weimberg, Jon Beckhardt and Vincente Franco. This film’s distributor is First Run Features. The film is broken up into five acts, each with a different narrator. The first act, narrated by Robert Redford, centers around David Brower and the Sierra Club’s fight to stop dams in the Grand Canyon. The second act, narrated by Ashley Judd, tells the story of Lois Gibbs, a homeowner in Love Canal, and her struggle, along with her fellow residents, to gain government protection against 20,000 tons of toxic chemicals. The third act, narrated by Van Jones, highlights Paul Watson and Greenpeace’s attempts to save whales and baby harp seals. The fourth act, narrated by Isabel Allende, discusses Chico Mendes and Brazilian rubbertrapper’s struggle to save the Amazon rainforest. Finally, the fifth act, narrated by Meryl Streep, talks about Bill McKibben and his 25 year long fight to get the world to address climate change. This film is an expository film, because it is classic documentary style. It employs the use of interviews, footage and narration by celebrity guests, and has a very educational feel.
I believe the thesis of this film is the fight to stop climate change has been around for a long time, and it is up to us to continue this fight- we haven’t lost yet. Climate change is not a myth, and people who believe it is need to wake up. I believe breaking up the film into five acts was extremely smart of the filmmaker to do. This film is showing environmental struggles throughout the decades, and there is a massive amount of information in the film, Breaking the film up into acts lets the viewer focus on one message or fight at a time. This film is extremely relevant historically, because apart from the interviews, all of the footage is found footage. The footage makes the film authentic and accurate. This film also brought up knowledge we had gained from reading Rachel Carson’s A Silent Spring. It was interesting to see how her and her campaign to stop the spread of pesticides fit into the history of environmental fights. This film had many strengths, such as the found footage, the music and the old commercials that tied into the film’s theme. The found footage, commercials and music all pushed the idea that this is real, there is no denying it. This is our history just as much as the civil rights movement or gay rights activism. The only weaknesses I could find with the film are that it doesn’t show the other sides to the issues. However, climate change is real, and people who believe global warming is a myth don’t necessarily belong in an activist film.
I really enjoyed this film, I felt it completely belonged in an environmental activism class. I think the structure made it easy to follow, while still presenting people with difficult and challenging information. It was interesting to see how all the environmental fights we have heard about fit into our history. The act I enjoyed the most was Act 2, which was about Lois Gibb’s and her fight at Love Canal. I enjoyed this because in addition to her fighting for the environment, I believe this was unknowingly a feminist movement. These women, “housewives” as politicians called them, were doing their own research and standing up for what they knew to be true. They took the planet’s safety and their children’s safety into their own hands, instead of waiting for someone else to do it. They didn’t stop until they had the White House’s promise that they would be protected from the harmful chemicals at Love Canal. If there are more people willing to fight as hard as Lois, the planet can stop its downward spiral.

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