Ten Square Miles

An Environmental Activism Resource

Author: Seve Canales (page 1 of 2)

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

Satellite Time-Lapse Videos of Climate Change

Google, NASA, and Time Magazine recently teamed up to assemble visual sequences from satellite imagery compiled over the last few decades. These time-lapse videos clearly depict climate change and rapid human expansion around the world.


Melting Glaciers, Sprawling Cities


Urban Explosion


Extreme Resources

Life Underwater – Videos

Made by BioQuest Studios, these two videos document the variety of underwater life, many species of which are under serious threat from pollution and climate change.


Slow Life


The Hidden Life in Pond Water

60 Second Climate Fix Videos

Can the Sun Cool Down the Earth?

Can Arctic Oil Drilling Help Save the Planet?

Do You Have to Be a Vegan to Help Fix Climate Change?

Can the Republicans Save the Planet?

Can China Fix the World’s Climate?

Draft Climate Agreement Reached at Paris Climate Conference

On December 5th, a 43-page draft deal was reached between politicians at the Paris COP21 Conference, symbolizing progress towards producing a final pact to address climate change.

Below are excerpts from the draft detailing the key goals and methods of the pact.

Key Goals

“In order to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, Parties agree to take urgent action and enhance cooperation and support so as:

(a) To hold the increase in the global average temperature [below 1.5 °C] [or] [well below 2 °C] above preindustrial levels by ensuring deep reductions in global greenhouse gas [net] emissions;

(b) To increase their ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change [and to effectively respond to the impacts of the implementation of response measures and to loss and damage];

(c) To pursue a transformation towards sustainable development that fosters climate resilient and low greenhouse gas emission societies and economies, and that does not threaten food production and distribution.”



“[Parties [collectively][cooperatively] aim to reach the global temperature goal referred to in Article 2 through:

(a) [A peaking of global greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible[, recognizing that peaking requires deeper cuts of emissions of developed countries and will be longer for developing countries]]

(b) [Rapid reductions thereafter [in accordance with best available science] to at least a X [-Y] per cent reduction in global [greenhouse gas emissions][CO2[e]] compared to 20XX levels by 2050]];

(c) [Achieving zero global GHG emissions by 2060-2080]

(d) [A long-term low emissions transformation] [toward [climate neutrality][decarbonization] [over the course of this century] [as soon as possible after mid-century];

(e) [Equitable distribution of a global carbon budget based on historical responsibilities and [climate] justice]”


The full document can be read here:

Draft Paris Outcome (English)

Watch “Human,” the New Film by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

 Human, a film in three volumes, is the newest documentary by acclaimed filmmaker and artist Yann Arthus-Bertrand, whose noticeable past works include Home and Planet Ocean. All three volumes of Human are available for free online.


Watch the Trailer


Volume One deals with the themes of love, women, work and poverty.


Volume Two deals with the themes of war, forgiving, homosexuality, family and life after death.


Volume Three deals with the themes of happiness, education, disability, immigration, corruption and the meaning of life.

The Photography of David Maisel

David Maisel has been obsessed with the stains and detritus of mining, logging, and other similarly invasive industrial processes that have plagued the global landscape for decades. In his works, almost always taken from an extremely distanciating aerial perspective, he depicts the reality of humanity’s negative impact on Earth, otherwise unseen from the ground.


Below are excepts from some of his most environmentally charged series.


The Forest


Forest 2

Forest 3

Forest 4

Forest 5

View “The Forest” Photo Series


The Mining Project

Mining Project

Mining Project 2

Mining Project 3

Mining Project 4

Mining Project 5

View “The Mining Project” Photo Series


The Lake Project

Lake Project

Lake Project 2

Lake Project 3

Lake Project 4

Lake Project 5

View “The Lake Project” Photo Series




Oblivion 2

Oblivion 3

Oblivion 4

Oblivion 5

View “Oblivion” Photo Series


What is your opinion of Maisel’s photography? Are there any environmental photographers that you particularly like?


All photographs courtesy of: davidmaisel.com

How Climate Change Will Affect Your Health


Major Cities
Major Cities Infographic


Coastal Areas
Coastal Areas Infographic


Rural Settings
Rural Settings Infographic


Mid-Sized Towns
Mid-Sized Towns Infographic


Threats and Solutions
The Greatest Health Threat or Opportunity?

Video and infographics courtesy of: climateandhealthalliance.org

An Overview of the Stabilization Wedges Concept to Reduce Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Developed by Robert Socolow and Stephen Pacala, professors at Princeton University, the Stabilization Wedges concept is a list of fifteen tangible action plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions over the next fifty years. If put into effect, each action plan would reduce carbon emissions by at least 1 billion tons per year by 2060, with each plan and consequent emission reduction being represented by a “wedge” in the chart below.

Stabilization Wedges Infographic

In order to keep carbon emissions at their current rate, roughly eight billion tons of carbon emissions per year would need to be cut by 2060, or, eight of the wedges in the chart. The chart is by no means comprehensive, with many other potential steps that could be taken to reduce or prevent carbon emissions.


For ease of reading, here are the fifteen wedges again in list form:


  1. End-User Efficiency and Conservation with three wedges:
  • Increase fuel economy of two billion cars from 30 to 60 mpg
  • Drive two billion cars not 10,000 but 5,000 miles a year (at 30 mpg)
  • Cut electricity use in homes, offices, and stores by 25 percent


  1. Power Generation with two wedges:
  • Raise efficiency at 1,600 large coal-fired plants from 40 to 60 percent
  • Replace 1,400 large coal-fired plants with gas-fired plants


  1. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) with three wedges:
  • Install CCS at 800 large coal-fired power plants
  • Install CSS at coal plants that produce hydrogen for 1.5 billion vehicles
  • Install CCS at coal-to-syngas plants


  1. Alternative Energy Sources with five wedges:
  • Add twice today’s nuclear output to displace coal
  • Increase wind power 40-fold to displace coal
  • Increase solar power 700-fold to displace coal
  • Increase wind power 80-fold to make hydrogen for cars
  • Drive two billion cars on ethanol, using one sixth of world cropland


  1. Agriculture and Forestry with two wedges:
  • Stop all deforestation
  • Expand conservation tillage to 100 percent of cropland


What do you think of this concept? What other potential steps do you think could be taken to reduce or prevent carbon emissions?


For more information, visit: Stabilization Wedges Overview

Six Fiction Films to Watch that Deal with the Environment

While non-fiction films are great in their own right, documentaries admittedly have a limited audience compared to fictional, narrative based movies. This wider appeal can allow fiction films to reach a broader audience and perhaps be seen by, and shape the mindset of, those who would not otherwise watch an environmental documentary. All of the following movies deal with environmentalism or climate change in various ways.


  1. Interstellar

Interstellar Poster

A science-fiction film set in the near future, Interstellar features the quest of a crew of astronauts to find a new home for humanity while Earth quickly deteriorates into becoming inhospitable. Environmental issues in the film include blight, drought, and food insecurity.


  1. Erin Brokovich

Erin Brokovich Poster

A biographical film, Erin Brokovich is a dramatization of the titular lawyer’s real fight against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. It follows Brokovich’s class action lawsuit against PG&E after realizing that the company has been contaminating a small town’s groundwater supply with a carcinogen. The film includes environmental issues such as corporatism, groundwater pollution, and the exploitation of a small town for its resources.


  1. The Day After Tomorrow

The Day After Tomorrow Poster

The Day After Tomorrow is a science fiction disaster film with a strong basis in extreme climate change. Based on the idea that melting polar ice disrupts the North Atlantic current and leads to a new ice age, the film follows a paleoclimatologist’s mission to find and rescue his son from a sub-polar New York City. The film deals with environmental issues such as climate change, global warming, and apathy towards ecological concerns.


  1. Avatar

Avatar Poster

A science-fiction film set in the 22nd century; Avatar tells the story of human colonization on the fictional planet of Pandora in order to mine its resources. It deals with many environmental issues, including colonization, mining, deforestation, and the exploitation of indigenous populations.


  1. Soylent Green

Soylent Green Poster

Soylent Green tells the story of a murder investigation of a wealthy businessman, albeit with strong environmental subtexts. Despite being released in 1973, Soylent Green deals with many current ecological concerns, including pollution, overpopulation, depleted resources, and poverty.


  1. Mad Max (Franchise)

Mad Max: Fury Road Poster

With the first installment in the franchise premiering in 1979, the Mad Max films have all dealt with environmental issues for decades. Following the adventures of Max Rockatansky and a cast of extremely colorful characters, the Mad Max series deals with concerns including desertification, depletion of water, and conflict over natural resources.


What other fiction films that deal with the environment would you recommend?

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