This year’s (2011) Academy Award for best documentary went to Inside Job, which told how corporate greed from the financial sector stole from the middle class. At the recent Rocky Mountain Sustainable Living Film festival had brings that bring viewers to tears and move them into action.
About 20-30 people spent their entire day at the Rocky Mountain Sustainable Living 4th Annual Environmental Film Festival on March 5th. The festival was not adorned with fancy red carpets, lavish food, or starlets. It was held in the Colorado State University’s Behavioral Science Theater, and an annual gem of an event with an entrance fee of only $8.00 to view six engaging and educational films. Viewers sat from 11:00 AM to about 8:30 PM watching thought provoking and moving films on the struggles of humans and wildlife. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house by the end of the evening.
Why would anyone subject themselves to such sad tales of the demise of planet Earth and humankind? These films brought an education, an enlightenment, and hope that the human race can change and make difference.
The first in a series of six documentaries was Eating Alaska, which was quite lighthearted in comparison to the other five films. The film focused on wild foods hunted and gathered in Alaska by both Native Americans and whites. The film focused on whether processed foods will have a negative impact on the lives of Alaskans and whether wild food gathering is a sustainable practice with an ever growing human population. It didn’t move this examiner, but allowed a broader perspective on Alaskan food, which isn’t all salmon and whale blubber.
However, the following film, Tar Creek, provoked a boiling rage on the overall lack of consideration for human life when it comes to extracting resources. Tar Creek is the name of a creek that runs through Northern Oklahoma and has been negatively impacted by the residuals of heavy metal mining (lead, zinc, cadmium, etc.) which took place in the early 20th century and ended in the 1960s.
The land belongs to the Quapaw tribe, who were displaced from the native lands in Arkansas during the Trail of Tears. In the early 20th century, some of their land was “stolen” from them, according the Quapaw, in order to extract heavy metals, primarily used in warfare and industry. This area, at the time, was considered to have one of the largest lead deposits in the world.
Back then mining jobs were plentiful and so were the tailings, which completely surround the impoverished town of Picher, Oklahoma. The mountains of tailings are in many back yards and look like welcoming sand dunes for children to play. However these dunes are deadly and contain tons of heavy metals toxic to humans and wildlife. The children in Pilcher were exposed to the toxic dust and 43% of the children had large amounts of lead contained in their blood. The fish are dead in their streams and it is considered the worst Super Fund site in the country.
The U.S. government could have bought out all the citizens’ land and relocated them, since the soil, water, and air were unsafe for human habitation. However, the Environmental Protection Agency spent $80K per yard to remove soil and then replace it with clay. Any person could see this was a ridiculous endeavor considering the mountains of tailings, some 1,000 feet high, were still encompassing the town and polluting the air, water, and soil. However, it would take hundreds of millions of dollars and 40 years to remove the mountains of tailings to transport to someone else’s backyard. This was not going to happen.
In 2007, the townspeople were finally bought out, but many homeowners felt they were not getting a fair price for their homes. One elderly woman, who lived in a shack, only received $20K for her home, which was not enough to get into any other place. She died shortly after the buyout.
The Super Fund was funded by corporate tax dollars from the oil and chemical industry. However the taxes expired in 2003 and the money has run out. Political leaders refuse to renew the program, yet Americans, wildlife, the soil, water, and air continue to decline in many regions of the country exploited for minerals. This includes the cuts to the EPA regulatory staff and lack of regulatory laws to regulate industry that extracts our resources, leaves an environmental disaster, makes a profit, pays little to no taxes, and moves on to the next town.
This is exactly the situation in the next film, an Academy Award nominated documentary called Gasland. This film has a direct impact on Colorado, as our state is considered the “Saudi Arabia” of natural gas by the oil and gas industry. However, there is a drawback. Many of us in Colorado don’t own the mineral rights of the land where we reside and pollution is a grave possibility.
The film exposed the corporate control on government regulation and that people were powerless to fight the companies. Hundreds of landowners had polluted water wells, pollutants made them sick, and poisons have killed off livestock from the toxic water and air.
The producer, Josh Fox, of the film lives in Pennsylvania along a tributary to the Delaware River. He was approached by the oil and gas industry to drill on his property. The industry promised to pay him $100K to have access to his land for drilling. His land was inherited from his parents and he wanted to learn more about oil and gas drilling and its impacts. So he set out across the country to find out just how natural gas hydraulic fracturing (fracking) impacts communities and the environment.
The impacts were devastating, yet it seems that the people, mostly low and middle income, appear to have absolutely no rights, while their water and air are polluted by many unknown carcinogens. This is a film that impacts everyone in every country. Learn more about fracking in this examiner’s previous articles.
The next film in the lineup was Garbage Dreams, which has won numerous awards. The setting is Cairo, Egypt and it focused on the Zaballeen people, who are being negatively impacted by foreign corporations. For over a century, the “garbage people” (Zaballeen) have been collecting the garbage of the Cairo’s residents and recycle 80% of the waste. Children, as young as seven years old, are born into this trade and work their entire lives collecting garbage just to make enough money to put food on the table, shoes on their feet, and a roof over their heads.
The story focuses on three teenage boys who set off to make their living collecting garbage. However, tragedy has struck the Zaballeen people as multi-national corporations are taking over their business in Cairo and forcing the most impoverished people in become scavengers.
The film leaves the viewers wondering whether they can keep a foothold in this trade in the face of such huge obstacles. According the Zaballeen the foreign companies only recycle approximately 20% of the waste. This begs to question: Were the Zaballeen oppressed enough to be key players in the recent revolution in Egypt, and particularly in Cairo?
Facing the Storm
For those who prefer furry critters over the hairless humans, the next film was Facing the Storm. However, it did not the cuteness of a Disney film, but the truth about the history and plight of the American bison. Animals are shown shot and slaughtered, so viewer beware.
The American bison was nearly eradicated during the late 1800’s to displace the Plains Indians, as this animal was the center of their culture and livelihood. However today the American bison are found on bison ranches, preserves, and parks, even here in Colorado, are still being shot and killed when they migrate or escape from private ranches, national parks and preserves.
Hunting bison legally and illegally continues. This occurred in Colorado when dozens of escaped and privately owned bison were shot by hunters in South Park near Hartsel in 2008.
In the film, ranchers in Montana feel the bison are a threat to their cattle in grazing competition on public lands and believe bison spread bovine diseases like brucellosis. In the winter, when the bison come down from Yellowstone National Park, they are legally harassed by men on snowmobiles and ATVs. Other bison are not as lucky and are shot by ranchers and hunters, even though they are freely roaming on national public lands outside of the park.
While the film questions the domestication of the bison, other conservationists, like many of the Plains tribes, are revitalizing the wild herds to roam on reservation land and possibly open a large national short grass prairie preserve for wild bison to roam without the threat of man and his guns in Western Kansas.
Vanishing of the Bees
One of the most disturbing yet artistic films of the festival was Vanishing of the Bees. Unlike some of the other films impacting certain communities this issue is a serious global problem that impacts everyone. Bees and other pollinating insects pollinate one third of our global food supply (fruits and vegetables). Yet insects like the honey bee are becoming an endangered species. Are humans to blame? Is this a warning sign that human activity is having devastating effects on ecosystems?
The epidemic is called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), where large numbers of bees leave their hives in the millions and die off. Who is to blame? In the end, the number one suspect is the Bayer Corporation and its gaucho pesticide embedded into seeds and placed onto the plants. The pesticide residuals thrive throughout the entire the life of the plant.
The French agriculture department banned the pesticide from their country after studies showed that bees became disoriented after being exposed to plants with the sustained gaucho pesticides. The bees brought back tainted pollen which infected the larva of the bees. Within six months after exposure, entire colonies in the billions. collapse.
While the French government did not perform a lengthy study on the pesticide, they listened to the bee keepers and halted the importation of this pesticide. Since then, the bees in France are making a recovery.
However, back in the USA, according to the film, the EPA follows only the studies performed by the corporations’ labs that sell the product. The film called this the “fox guarding the hen house.” The EPA doesn’t have the funds to conduct independent studies on chemicals, so they put their trust in the multi-national corporations. If you recall, the same types of corporations have and continue to pollute air, water, and soil in American’s backyards in Oklahoma (Tar Creek) and many people throughout the country with natural gas wells in their yards (Gasland). The EPA can only do what the laws mandate (changed by the corporations according to several of the films) and what the limited federal funds can allow.
At the end of the evening, there is feeling of dread and an overwhelming sense that there is no way that average citizens in this country can stand up to these special interests who make profit over the environment. However, hope is not all lost and education is only the first step. The films leave the job of taking action in the hands of the people.