Ten Square Miles

An Environmental Activism Resource

Author: Jessica Saideman

Cowspiracy Response

This is an interesting look at the effect of animal agriculture on the environment and its massive impact on how we live. Cowspiracy followed Kip Andersun as he investigates the lack of discussion around animal agriculture as a detrimental cause of climate change. He tries to interview many people from major environmental groups such as Greenpeace, but many downplay the topic or in the case of Greenpeace, refuse to talk to him at all. He learns that the amount of costs and land it takes to run the current industrial livestock model will not sustain itself and there will not be enough room for cattle farming in the future. The amount of food that goes towards feeding livestock also contributes to the starvation of so many people across the globe. Throughout the film, as he learns that even grass fed beef and so called “sustainable” farming practices are not really sustainable, he embarks on a decision to become vegan.

It was really intriguing to see so many of the main environmental organizations not considering animal agriculture as a big contributor to climate change. The documentary seemed to show that irresponsible corporations and their donations could control even these groups. There were a few problems I had with this film however. The director of the film becomes very involved in the narrative in the film, and while that has worked for films like Gasland, in this film it comes across as a tad self-involved. There are multiple shots of just him contemplating in front of a beautiful natural background. I want to see more about the issue and less about how this director feels. I also don’t feel very connected to him as an individual because him even sharing his personal story felt artificial. The film also ignores the classism surrounding vegan discourse, and especially the ability to become vegan. One of the people interviewed in the film even said that cutting out meat comes at no cost, but that is not true. For people from low-income backgrounds who do not have access to fresh food, it is very difficult to maintain a vegan lifestyle, especially if they’re just trying to find just a bit of food to feed their children.

The style of the documentary was interesting. It was mostly intense depth of field interviews with typical wide shots in documentary style. The editing sometimes felt a bit bumpy in order to create a feeling that the people being interviewed were guilty in their secrecy towards the issue. There would be a cut in the interview that would cut quickly to black at an awkward moment in the interview when the interviewee would become flummoxed. This was an interesting tool but it could also come off as bit unprofessional at certain times, as if the editor accidentally left space in between shots.

Overall this was really a great introspective look at the animal agriculture industry and how much it is destroying the planet. I wish it took more consideration into the cost of veganism for the average person, especially people below the poverty line. I also feel like if it focused more on the issues and less on the filmmaker, I would appreciate it more. However, this brings up a really important issue that should be addressed within the environmental community.

White Hawk Eco Village Guest Speaker Response

The speaker on Wednesday from White Hawk was a really interesting one. He told us how he got invested in an eco-village type community. It made sense that this sort of community would be great for children, to run around and play in a sustainable environment. Unfortunately, it looks like much of the sustainable parts of the village are up to the individual, which while is nice to choose if you create your energy, would probably be less expensive for the individual houses if there were more communal systems for their solar panels and their farms. I like the idea of an intentional community, and of sharing common resources such as tools and a common field for growing plants. However, I feel that neighborhoods with people you don’t know before they move can lead to greater diversity and new perspectives.

Pharmaceuticals in Drinking Water

Pharmaceuticals, chemical ingredients from prescription drugs and over the counter drugs, are cannot really be treated in the wastewater treatment process. The WHO has found trace concentrations in drinking water, normally below 0.1 parts per billion. They vary from place to place and some water is more contaminated than other sources. As of right now, it is uncertain of this effect on humans, however, as seen in Last Call in the Oasis, hormone disruptors have shown to cause problems in fish and frogs. Some male fish and amphibians have been feminized where they produce eggs due to these chemicals. This has led to some worries about hormone disruption as well as antibiotic resistance in humans.

Find more about this problem here

Bees Are Important

Over the past decade, the population of bees has reduced drastically. There are reported losses of 30-50% of colonies, more than the usual 5-15%. A  part of this is due to certain pesticides which can wipe out entire colonies. Chemical residues permeate bee pollen and poison the colony.

Bees are huge pollinators, accounting for one third of the food we eat. If bees were to go extinct we would be in an even large global food crisis than we already are. The European Food Safety Authority has been limiting the amount of pesticides used that harm bees. The US needs to follow in these footsteps if we are to help retain the amount of bees needed to pollinate our crops and ecosystem.

Read here and here to learn more about the bee crisis

Read here to learn more about the importance of bees



Environmental Tips for the Holidays

Holiday is break is so close you can taste the snow that should be happening if it weren’t global warming. So here’s some tips that can help lesson your footprint on the environment this winter.

  1. Take the bus or the train. If you have the money, use the bus or the train to get home. If you can take your car off that one road trip, it will save you a lot of carbon emissions.
  2. Try making some gifts this year. Making gifts out of stuff you already have saves money and also is helpful in reducing the amount of stuff you don’t need.
  3. Bundle up. Especially since it’s not that cold this year, turn down the heat and bundle up in sweaters and blankets to save energy.
  4. Re-use paper as wrapping paper. Why buy paper you’re going to tear up and throw away anyway? Use newspaper or old magazines in a cute, creative way that also reuses paper you already used.

It’s December and I’m Wearing a T-Shirt

Climate change deniers are going to have try really hard to deny the existence of global warming this year when today,  on December 14th, it is 18°C/64°F in Upstate New York. This time last year there was at least a foot of snow on the ground and it was in the 30s in Fahrenheit/negatives in Celsius. It should not be feeling like California in the winter in Ithaca, New York. Now I hate to be complaining about warm weather, as summer is my favorite season, but if this isn’t a sign of the impending doom of climate change, I don’t know what is.

Is Monkeywrenching an ethical form of protest?

Monkeywrenching is the illegal sabotage of machinery and other industrial equipment for the purpose of interfering with environmentally damaging companies. Targets are careful, determined on their value. Examples of these would be cutting fishing nets, or interfering with fuel tanks in earthmoving equipment. Spiking is also another method, by putting metal spikes into tree which can destroy logging equipment.

It has been used by many protesters over the years, named after The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey, about a gang of “eco-warriors”

The questions I wanted to pose is do you think sabotage is an ethical form of protest? Especially within regards to spiking, which can actually harm loggers.

Here are some links for more information about this practice:



WASTE LAND – A Response

Waste Land was a look at the project a Brazilian photographer, Vik Muniz took on a few years ago. He made portraits of workers who search through the world’s largest landfill for recyclable materials. He would take a picture of them imitating some other famous work, or just in their own environment, and the workers themselves would use the recyclable materials to make a rendition of the portrait. This is a film that is primarily a social documentary, but becomes very environmental given that these workers are immersed in environmental degradation and pollution. It takes an anthropological approach to documentary, studying a particular culture, the culture of recyclable material collectors. It takes an in depth look at their lives and how much this project changed them.

Throughout the film, the filmmaker uses very informal interviews to delve into the people of the film. There are only a few times the interviews are set up in the typical angle and fashion of documentary. The camera acts intimately, capturing very emotional moments for the workers and for Vik. The filmmaker is only shown or heard once, when she is discussing with Vik the impact this project has on the workers, and whether that is actually for better or for worse. The style of cinematography evokes this raw emotion and in depth look as the viewer can truly feel like they are in the room with the people in the documentary.

It looks very at how environmental degradation interacts with poverty and classism. While the work at the landfill gives these workers a job outside of drug dealing and prostitution, it still pays about the same, and the environmental toll ruins these people’s health. An example is Valter, a veteran recyclables collector who died of cancer shortly after the film from toxins and carcinogens from the landfill. Keeping that landfill near that town also allows for a lot of pollution to harm these people, but they cannot work or live anywhere else because of their economic background.

In terms of its effectiveness in activism, I don’t think it was necessarily made for the purpose of environmental activism, though Vik’s project using garbage definitely was. Using trash to create portraits is a very obvious take of irony at the overproduction of waste. Just looking at this massive landfill of garbage from all over Brazil gives you perspective on how much waste we produce and the effect that has on people and the way they live. It is also very much a social documentary, taking an intimate, sympathetic look at the effects of poverty on people’s lives.

Overall, this film was very much a heart warming, emotionally compromising documentaries. Its approach at looking at everyday people and their contribution to the environment in a complex manner is something truly valuable that many films don’t always achieve. It’s a film that sucks you in and spits you back out, wishing the best for all these people you’ve never met before, and a hope for when their jobs don’t have to involve the taking apart of our consumerist trash.

DamNation – A Response

Damnation is a film documenting the detrimental effects of dams on the environment, salmon runs, and the people living around dams. The narrator and co-director of this film, Ben Knight, was approached to make this by Patagonia, a large outdoor clothing retailer, which has been attempting to fund environmental causes. The documentary starts with pretty typical shots of a lush green environment and tilts up to a broken concrete dam, imagery entire visually reperesentative of this entire documentary. Damnation interviews many different sources. It interviews biologists, engineers, grassroots activists, but also people who are pro-dam, mostly from archival footage and footage taken at public events. It does interview a man who worked at a dam that was being removed and how that affected him.

This was a very well made documentary that does a really good job of informing and persuading the audience. Though the narrator is distant from the start, it becomes more personal, especially with some of his humor. The format of this documentary combines a lot of different elements, including a lot of graphics and anmimation to provide some playfulness but also persuasive reenactment. It has the typical talking heads that interact with B-Roll in a really effective way through editing. It also uses truly stunning cinematography to captivate the viewer in a way that doesn’t separate from the issue or from the emotions connected to it, unlike the film Home, which might have made the audience feel disconnected from the issues.

This film really exposes the detrimental effects of some dams in the US. While there are many dams in the US, most of them do not provide hydropower. Dams also inhibit paths of many species in this big rivers. Dams also keep sediment from naturally flowing into the river, building up and creating pollution in the river behind the dam. It also showed how particular dams prevent Native Americans from traditional fishing and living off of the land. It also looked at a particular case in the Lower Snake River Dams in the Pacific Northwest, where the dams do not provide much in the way of power or irrigation, and mostly serve as navigation with huge locks to carry ships through. However, there is a functioning freight railway line that runs the same route as the dammed river. A civil engineer ran a study on the dams, calling them redundant and his authorities ignored them. The documentary really helps construct this example of redundant dams of how they are doing more harm then good.

There are some problems with the film. One is that it very much concentrates on salmon and how dams are devastating to them, and focuses less on other species being harmed as well as human populations in terms of displacement. This focus on salmon can be a little repetitive at times in the film. It also uses a sentimental score which whole works at times, other times feels rather kitschy and out of place with the rest of the film.

Overall, this documentary was effective in going into detail the problems with many dams in this country. In terms of motivating people to do something, it has a petition that people can sign at the end of the film by texting to a number, which will send them the link. I don’t believe that petitions are always really effective, and I don’t think this documentary will change the mind of people who are for dams. However, it is definitely effective of informing the public of a lesser-known issue and of the grassroots organizations working to remove dams. Because of this, it might motivate people to join the organizations in their areas. It also showcases the filmmakers doing large-scale protest art on a large dam, which might encourage some more radical activism. Some of the pro-dam activism reminded me of the Hartland Institute described in Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, with everything going into ignoring the facts.This was a very well orchestrated and beautifully shot documentary and I hope it does inspire change.


Does Climate Change Contribute to Terrorism?

12351255_10208445617968192_1565675268_n.jpgBill Nye gave an interview recently on HuffPostLive explaining how climate change is connected to ISIL (Daesh)’s terrorism. In Syria, there is currently a high water shortage and drought, which Bill Nye says and other researchers confirm has been caused by global climate change.  This has been damaging people in farming communities and pushing youth to move to the cities.

Bill Nye said “There’s not enough work for everybody, so the disaffected youths, as we say — the young people who don’t believe in the system, believe the system has failed, don’t believe in the economy — are more easily engaged and more easily recruited by terrorist organizations”.

This poses an interesting question between climate change and the increasing tensions and violent acts around the world today. In the movie DIRT! The Movie, experts on soil postured that wars would be started over shortage of food, due to climate change. As people grow more and more desperate as their way of life becomes depleted due to climate change, who will they turn to?

Watch the interview:

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