Eating Our Way to Extinction


Vegans will inherit the earth.

(2020) Documentary (Seine) Kate Winslet (narration), Sir Richard Branson, Tony Robbins, Otto Brockway, Joanne Kong, Joseph Poore, Peter Wadhams, Jeremy Rifkin, Bruce Friedrich, Tara Garnett, Roger Roberts, Oliver de Schurrer, Gerard Winterbern, Dr. Sylvia Eagle, Don Staniford, Liv Holmefjord, Udo Erasmus, Gemma Newman, Taryn Bishop. Directed by Ludo and Otto Brockway

 

Climate change is, without a doubt, one of the signature agenda items of our generation. It might surprise you, though, to learn that one of the leading contributors to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere come from what you might consider a harmless source: animal husbandry. The raising of animals for food creates an enormous amount of hydrocarbons but in order to keep all those animals fed, much of the crops that we grow go directly to them and not to hungry humans. It does seem somewhat bizarre.

This slick, well-meaning documentary charts how our lust for hamburgers and chicken nuggets are leading to an absolutely ruinous future. Oscar-winner Kate Winslet narrates, soberly ticking off points and captioning footage that is, to say the least, disturbing. The makers of the film claim that this movie will change the way you look at food, and it might very well do that.

Now, there are an awful lot of scientific talking heads, and that’s all well and good, but it can get a little bit dry, although the nifty animations help. What I found to be a major failing of the film, though, was that it seems to be presenting veganism as the only solution to the problem. That doesn’t take into account that humans have been raising animals for food for thousands of years and it is only recently that it’s become a problem. And while I admire the passion behind the project, I don’t appreciate being hammered over the head with a point of view that reminds me of an overzealous Christian missionary trying to convert me to Evangelical Christianity.

But it IS a problem, and we need to insist that our meat comes from healthier sources and not factory farms. Whenever possible, buy locally sourced meat and yes, that may be more expensive, but we should also be eating more vegetables anyway. I don’t think that the solution is for the entire planet to go vegan – that would bring on a whole slew of other problems. There is a tendency to think that because a problem is extreme that an extreme solution is required. What we need is to act in moderation. Eat less meat. Eat healthier meals. If we can stop consuming the massive amounts of beef, pork and chicken that we do, we can actually slow down climate change. But we also need to regulate Big Agriculture and their use of toxins like pesticides, growth hormones, dyes and preservatives. This movie, while on the strident side, gives us a good starting point in how to change our ways to make a difference for future generations.

The movie is playing tonight only as part of Fathom Events. Check your local listings to find the nearest theater playing it. Otherwise it will be appearing on most major streaming platforms later this fall.

REASONS TO SEE: Intelligently presented.
REASONS TO AVOID: Tends to hammer the viewer over the head with its points.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The Brockway brothers also directed the official promo for Virgin Galactic.
CRITICAL MASS:As of 9/16/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fed Up
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
No Responders Left Behind

2040


The act of planting a tree can lead to a better future.

(2019) Documentary (Together) Damon Gameau, Eva Lazzaro, Zoë Gameau, Tony Seba, Eric Toensmeier, Paul Hawken, Kate Raworth, Malala Yousafzai, Brian von Heizon, Fraser Pogue, Leanne Pogue, John E. Petersen, Genevieve Bell, Sharon Pearson, Neel Tamhane, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Colin Seis, Amanda Cahill. Directed by Damon Gameau

 

In the midst of a global pandemic, with rioting going on in our cities, I think that some of us can be forgiven for looking towards the future with a bleak eye. It doesn’t have to turn out that way, though.

The future weighs heavily on the mind of Australian filmmaker Damon Garneau (That Sugar Film). That’s because he has a four-year-old daughter, and with the dire warnings about climate change, he wonders what kind of dystopian society his little girl Velvet will have to live in and what could be done to stave off the worst effects of climate change now – with technology that is already available to use.

He started off with talking to young kids about what they wanted the world to be like, asking them about what kind of technology they wanted to see. Some said basic things, like clean water, and the end of deforestation. Of course, there were some silly things, like chocolate rain and plant-powered rocket boots. Nobody ever said kids were practical; just imaginative.

Garneau called this project “an exercise in fact-based dreaming” and that’s how it is presented here, with plenty of graphics and whimsical effects to illustrate what the world might be like in the year 2040 (when Velvet, played as an adult by actress Eva Lazzaro, will be 25 years old). Some of the technology described in the film is already in use.

In Bangladesh, for example, engineer Neel Tamhane is setting up villages with solar panels and hooking them up into mini-networks, within which they can sell any energy created that they don’t use, or buy more if they end up needing more than they produce. The money that would go to energy providers then stays within the community, and in the case of natural disaster (flooding is frequent there), it is much easier to get the network back up and running. It also keeps money spent on energy within the community rather than going out to a provider, increasing prosperity within the villages. It also opens up life for those villages, allowing children to study after dark, and gives the villagers the opportunities to watch sporting events, news and other programs in the evening, as well as lighting the village so that further commerce can take place. These kinds of micro-networks would reduce our dependence on petroleum, reduce energy costs and also could act as additional income for those who don’t use as much energy as others.

The oceans are also in dire straits, and aquaculturist Brian von Heizon suggests that we grow new forests of kelp off of various coastal regions, then moving out into deeper waters. Kelp stores carbon and helps scrub it out of our atmosphere and our oceans; can be used as food and as biofuel, and also helps regulate the temperature of the ocean by allowing cooler water from the deeper parts of the ocean to bring the temperatures down near the surface, which would be conducive to various types of shellfish and fish, as well as providing a habitat for fish. These tethered kelp colonies are already on the drawing board for use in areas where the ocean needs to be renewed.

Farmers Paul Hawken, Fraser and Leanna Pogue recommend soil renewal by growing crops that help replenish the nutrients of the soil, and growing less corn and soy, both which tire out the soil by stripping it of its nutrients. Crops like sorghum and sunflowers (along with others) can help replenish the soil; having animals like cows and pigs graze on land that has been “rested” from growing anything more than grass also helps restore the soil. All of them say we need to put an end to Big Agra, through which factory farming has delivered nothing but obesity and disease, and has proven catastrophic to the soil. In case you wonder if we can afford to lose the food coming from Big Agra, they supply an amazing small percentage of what humans eat (about 20% – the rest of what they grow is to feed food animals) – and small family farms tend to be much more efficient and grow healthier produce, which we should be eating rather than chowing down on fast food burgers.

We need to rethink private ownership of cars, using driverless smart cars on demand as well as energy-efficient mass transit to get us where we need to go. Building high-speed electric trains are more fuel-efficient than flying jumbo jets and not having to park as many cars – nearly a third of the total land mass of Los Angeles is used for parking cars and roadways – can improve air quality, particularly if we turn disused parking lots into green spaces.

One thing that should be a priority worldwide; educating women. In many parts of the globe, women do not get the same education chances that men do; women are often put in arranged marriages at a very young age, or are forced to work to help support the family rather than go to school. Adding millions of minds to the ranks of the educated can only do our world good.

The movie goes on and on with examples of what we can do right now to mitigate climate change and maybe even remove the threat entirely. We have reached a tipping point and things are going to get worse, true, but if we have the will, which for the most part our leaders do not since business and government are all about chasing short-term profits to begin with – we can make a  more livable world than the one we have now.

Gameau makes an engaging narrator, although his Aussie accent can be a little thick at times. The movie uses a lot of interviews with children, but especially towards the end it felt like they were reading from scripts, while the film is giving the impression that these are what children are thinking right now. Originally I had been impressed at how articulate the children are, until it becomes obvious that they are reading and not speaking. That’s a no-no in my book.

If the movie is guilty of anything, it might be naivete. Big Oil, Big Agra and Big Finance aren’t going to give up the status quo very easily, and moving to cleaner and cheaper energy is going to be no easy taslk, not to mention that getting masses of people to give up much of their meat nas well as private ownership of their cars is going to take some fancy taking. However, these are the kinds of decisions we need to make if we are truly committed to making a better world for our kids. If you are in need of hope for the future, this is the documentary to see.

REASONS TO SEE: Practical, real-world solutions to problems that seem insurmountable. Hope-inducing. Gameau is an engaging narrator.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some of the kid interviews seem scripted.
FAMILY VALUES: Recommended for the entire family.<Although Gameau flew from place to place on commercial jets, the film ended up being carbon-neutral due to tree plantings and utilizing low-carbon technology in filming.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Although Gameau flew all over the world to make this documentary, the production ended up being carbon-neutral due to all the trees that were planted by the production team as well as their use of carbon-friendly technology in making the film.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Virtual Cinema Screenings
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/6//20: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic:  77100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ice on Fire
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Tommaso