I have watched quite a few documentary movies in the last few month, mostly dealing with energy (namely oil) and food. Even though I knew most of the facts beforehand having them presented in such a compressed form (and, admittedly, spiked up with emotional music and images) does get the message across.
We Feed the World – okay, don’t watch this if you ever want to eat chicken again with a clear conscience, or pork, or fish or even tomatoes, for that matter. It is an Austrian movie, so it hits close to home as well and you can’t even fall back on the usual „okay, this is America, we Europians do things differently“ excuse. This is how the food you buy in the supermarket (be it Lidl, Aldi or REWE) is produced. If you want something that’s different, you have to be prepared to pay more money, shop in many different places and really think for yourself. This movie did change my shopping behaviour drastically. I still go to the supermarket occasionally, but I really reduced the amount of produced food I buy there and I do not neccessarily go for the cheapest product any longer.
The Future of Food – points more or less in the same direction, but is an American documentary with a strong focus on some issues which are specific to the US agricultural politics. It takes a very strong stand against genetically modified food and the patenting of seeds and especially the Monsanto Corporation and brings back to mind that every thinking human being must agree that the policy of that corporation is wrong and downright evil, but there seems to be no legal way to stop it.
The End of Suburbia – maybe the best (or at least the most stunning) of the movies I watched. Again, the issues are pretty America centered, the problem being at least less evident in Europe. The major point of this movie is, that the suburbian lifestyle cements the dependecy on cars (and therefore cheap oil) as the major means of transportation. But it really opens your mind on how much our current economical fortune depends on cheap oil. Oil (and other fossile fuel like coal and natural gas) is not only the fuel for transportation and electric energy, it is also cheap food (since most fertilizers are won from oil and natural gas, something I really did not know beforehand), plastic (imagine a world without it for a sec), pharmaceuticals … actually, it is the source (either directly or via the energy it provides) for almost any comsumer good we buy. When oil gets more valuable, virtually everything will get more expensive as it is now. And oil will get more and more valuable. You can argue whether there is enough oil left to last for 20, 40 or even 80 years at the current rate of exhaustion, but you cannot deny that the amount of oil in the crust of the earth is limited. And that means we have to rethink what we are doing, if not today, then in the next few decades for sure. The peak in oil production (which we might have reached already or will reach during the next ten years or so) will mark the end of the world as we know it (once again).
A Crude Awakening – another movie focusing on the peak oil theory, it does not make the connection to everyday life quite as elegantly as Suburbia, but still gives a lot of insight in the oil business
Who Killed the Electric Car – compared to the other movies which are of more or less global relevance, this one focuses on a rather small scale issue. In the 1990s, GM produced an electrical car for California, since a law, the Zero Emissions Act, forced them to. Even though the car got quite popular (and with a speed of up to 60 mph and a range of 150 miles or so was quite sufficient for the average commuter), all the cars were pulled back in (you could not buy them, only lease them) and destroyed after a few years. I am not a fan of electric cars (since I see many car related problems which have nothing or little to do with fuel and emissions), but the movie still stunned me, because it more or less proves that all the talk about the consumer dictating the market and deciding on what is produced an what isn’t is just another white lie of the ones in charge.
You can find the last four movies on Stage6, the first is a little more difficult to come by (there is a DVD available, though). Check them out if you want, they are well worth it.
So, after you watch all these movies, you come to the conclusion that the world pretty much sucks. Well, not all the world, actually it burns down to a group of super rich people who rule the world in a way that makes it suck. Those people are protected by their money which buys them the support of the biggest military force of this planet, namely that of the United States of America. That makes it kind of difficult to do something against those tyrants who rule our planet. We cannot get rid of them with democratic measures, since they are not politicians and cannot be deelected. And even if you could actually manage to kill one or two of them in a terroristic attack (which even though it would not change that much, sure would feel good in a personal rightous sort of way), this course of action would be morally questionable at least and tends to be illegal in most countries.
So, what can you do? You can stop to play along. Not completely, of course, but as far as possible. Don’t buy stuff you don’t really need. Think twice if it really has to be the newest Playstation/plasma TV/mobile phone/notebook/… think again if you really need your car … think about spending your next vacation closer to home (I bet there are landscapes and cultural attractions close by that you don’t even know about) … try to buy food that still looks like a plant or an animal (or as natural philosopher Michael Pollan puts it: „Don’t eat anything your grandma would not have recognized as food“) and buy it as locally as possible, consider wearing clothes for more than one or two seasons.
Don’t get me wrong: Sony, Masterfoods, H&M or GM will not go bankrupt because you don’t buy their products any longer. It would take many millions of people like you to make that happen. But by acting more responsibly towards your environment (including the people living in it, of course, „nature“ is not just trees and butterflies, it includes us in all our geniality and clumsiness), you prove something to the world. You prove that it is possible to live in a way that is more just and less consumptious and still preserve a high quality of living. Be a pioneer now instead of being a fugitive in the future.
PS: okay, I wrote this rant a few days ago, _before_ I started to read Andreas Eschbach’s newest book „Ausgebrannt“. I just had to clarify this, because when I read a chapter this morning, I got the feeling of „Wait, didn’t I write exactly that a few days ago?“ Scary. Either he has watched the exact same movies (notably the „Crude Awakening“ or „Suburbia“) or this whole „end of the world as we know it“-deal is much more evident than I thought. Well, probably the second. Hubbert, the scientist who first came up with the peak oil theory (and got a lot of flak for it), died in 1989, so it is not necessarily news. And the signs are everywhere, once you start to look. Not just oil prices rising, all western governments started to build up in „security“ in the recent years. They say it is to protect us against terrorism. I say it is to protect themselves against an increasingly restless population. Even food prices have started to rise significantly during the past few month (in Germany at least). I don’t want to induce panic, but: It has started already. No need to run (yet), but start looking for the green emergency exit signs.
2. PS: if you want to learn more about peak-oil, start out with the great German Wikipedia article on the subject.