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Why do Eco-Documentaries Matter? The Transatlantic Non-Debate on Climate Change

In this climax of crises, the middle class is not the only one to have considerably suffered; the environment has been the other loser. Social policies and the welfare state have been slashed across Europe and the U.S. in the name of austerity measures and debt crisis. The environment has been increasingly slaughtered in the name of recovery. But how sustainable can our recovery be if the environment continues to deteriorate? This has been the message of a new line of eco-documentaries such as The Cove, Gasland, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, or even the ultra famous an Inconvenient Truth. I know that I selected the most popular movies, however their message is extremely strong. The argument is quite simple, our mode of life and ways of production are unsustainable from an ecological standpoint. The 2011 Fukushima disaster and 2010 BP oil spill clearly illustrate the reality of the claim. PBS recently aired an outstanding documentary on the Japanese nuclear fiasco. This nuclear crisis was close to becoming a global tragedy. Questions of environmental security, climate change and energy production are directly related to security matters of nuclear proliferation and terrorism. It would be a mistake to frame it differently.

The outstanding documentary, Gasland, which by the way bored my students to death, asked a central question: is the production of shale gas worth it? And what are the consequences of its production? Its answer is clear: no, it is not worth it considering the environmental consequences caused by the process of hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking. Fracking is the process which allows detaching the gas from the rocks by injecting a mix of water and over 500 “unidentified” chemicals.

Fracking picture Edith Honan Reuters June 18. 2010These chemicals have been scientifically proven to be dangerous to human life and pollute water and river networks making them undrinkable and deadly. Such claims have been rejected by elected officials in Europe and the U.S. Interestingly, the debate on the risk of shale gas production in the U.S. is nonexistent thanks to the institutionalized lies of lobby groups and the Republican Party. The Republican Party has emerged as an “anti-environmental party” for the benefit of illusory energy autonomy and the interests of a few private companies. Massive amounts of money have been spent on TV commercials claiming that shale gas will save America from its oil dependence on foreign countries and make the nation “greener”. On the other side of the pond, the debate on shale gas does exist. One of the reasons is that the European regulations are much stronger on energy companies, which has not been the case in the U.S. For example during the Bush administration, the government decided to create a loophole in the Clean Water Act for the energy companies involved in the production of shale gas. However, some EU Member States like Poland have been following the American path by launching massive drilling despite the ecological risk. Poland has been trying to free itself from Russian gas dependency. Britain was also drilling, until recent studies have proven that the fracking process was causing earthquakes in England. Since then, Britain has stopped the drilling.

Economist, http://www.economist.com/node/18867861Earthquakes have also been monitored in the U.S. close to areas where fracking is prolific. France has been opposed to it for environmental reasons. President Sarkozy declared the ban on fracking will be maintained until scientific proofs that it won’t “massacre: the landscape. Strikes in Bulgaria have recently taken place, as citizens are increasingly worried about the environmental consequences on the quality of water. Bulgaria has been leading the European anti-fracking movement.

Last, the outstanding documentary, If a Tree Falls, nominated for the 2012 Oscar for Best Documentary (which it of course did not win), looks at the broken political system in the U.S. where government officials do not listen to citizens’ voices. The use of force – property destruction without human casualties – in the case of the Earth Liberation Front was framed by the U.S. government as terrorist actions. Interestingly, the U.S. government does not have a problem calling radical environmental groups terrorists, but has never used the same narrative towards private companies like BP, Exxon Mobil and others. Violence is not a solution and should not be a means to an end, however the level of property destruction caused by the 2010 BP oil spill is considerably higher than the one caused by the Earth Liberation Front. The documentary clearly shows how peaceful citizen actions are frequently bypassed by government officials and private interest groups. The power of private companies and their tight connection with government exacerbates this issue. The institutionalization of private interests is not as deep in Europe, nevertheless, major European energy companies, such as Gaz de France and others, are nationalized, making it harder for citizens to have an impact on shaping greener policies. This must change.

Shale gas is the latest illustration of Western dependence on “conventional” sources of energy. In the case of Europe, the dependence on Russian gas and oil from North Africa and the Middle East has been a problem this last decade. The U.S. has been also extremely vulnerable and is not scared to use its military in order to ensure its energy imports. The volatility of oil and gas prices has been a major concern on both sides of the pond, especially with the latest political transitions in the Middle East and North Africa. Nuclear energy does not seem a viable long-term solution as proven by the Japanese disaster. Since the catastrophe of Fukushima, Japan has cut all nuclear power plants and instead reopened the old coal and gas power plants. It is time that the Euro-Atlantic community had a real discussion, involving government agencies, think tanks, NGOs, civil societies, and citizens.

 

The fiascoes of the UN Copenhagen and Durban talks illustrate the inability of governments to make the right decisions on climate change for a simple reason: short term benefits. Until the old mindset that green economies are not sustainable remains, the world will not move forward. Environmental policies seem to be a case where policies are forced by the bottom to the top, not the other way around. The members of the Euro-Atlantic community will meet this May in Chicago for a NATO and G8/G20 meeting. Why not including a Green Transatlantic Meeting led by heads of state? The common theme of all these eco-documentaries is that we can change our way of life in making it greener. If we fail to do so, the cost will be greater than the billion of dollars accumulated by a few.

 
  • Hans

    Coal maybe less dangerous than nuclear energy. But it is costly to the environment. Japan’s an island. It should start harnessing the energy of winds and tides instead. Get these meetings and incentives for environmentally friendly energy going!

Author

Maxime H.A. Larivé
Maxime H.A. Larivé

Maxime Larivé holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and European Politics from the University of Miami (USA). He is currently working at the EU Center of Excellence at the University of Miami as a Research Associate. His research focus on the questions of the European Union, foreign policy analysis, security studies, and European security and defense policy. Maxime has published several articles in the Journal of European Security, Perceptions, and European Union Miami Analysis as well as World Politics Review.

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