Earthly Matters: Capitalism versus the climate

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, December 25th, 2016

Most climate change films fill one with trepidation and despair — yes, the outlook is indeed full of doom and gloom. The planet continues to warm, rising closer to the two degrees Celsius threshold, beyond which scientists say it will become “catastrophic” for the world as we know it. But the film This Changes Everything, based on the international bestseller by the activist Naomi Klein looks at the issue from such a fresh perspective that it ends up inspiring everyone at the end.

The film focusing on climate change and the struggle of communities to address the challenge was shown recently at the Arid Agricultural University in Rawalpindi to raise awareness about human rights in relation to climate change. The event was held to celebrate Human Rights Day on December 10 to commemorate the United Nations General Assembly adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

The event was organised by the Potohar Organisation for Development Advocacy (PODA), a women’s rights organisation working for the promotion and protection of human rights in the rural areas of Pakistan since 2003 and funded by the European Union. A healthy debate was generated as students from the university, gathered to watch the film, discussed what could be done by communities on the front line of climate change to counter the fossil fuel industry, intent on mining the land for oil, gas and coal resources under the ground. It is the burning of these fossil fuels that is producing carbon emissions and causing global warming.

Is confronting the climate crisis the best chance we’ll ever get to build a better world, the film asks the audience this basic question. Filmed in nine countries and five continents over four years, This Changes Everything is an attempt to figure out how to address the challenge of climate change in a different way. Naomi Klein is a Canadian author, social activist, and filmmaker known for her political analyses and criticism of corporate globalisation and of corporate capitalism. Only 46 years old, Klein has advised Pope Francis on climate change and advocated nationalising oil companies. In the film, Klein links the climate crisis to human rights and social justice, thereby framing global warming as a political and ethical challenge, rather than just an environmental one.

A documentary film frames global warming as a political and ethical challenge rather than just an environmental one

This Changes Everything travels across the globe from the US to China to Greece to India and focuses on local communities being impacted by climate change and how they are fighting back. Throughout the 90-minute long film, Klein builds up to her innovative idea: “We can seize the existential crisis of climate change to transform our failed economic system into something radically better.” The beginning of the film is rather slow and the audience at the university became somewhat impatient but then the action picked up in the second half and the audience was enthralled.

They were in fact moved by the activism of the courageous communities who have confronted police and government agencies and risked arrest and injury to ensure that their land and water remains protected and uncontaminated from fossil fuel extraction. There are several stories in the film: for example, Crystal, the young indigenous leader in Tar Sands country in Alberta, Canada, who fights for her community’s right to clean land and water. There is the story of Mike and Alexis, a Montana goat-ranching couple who witness a broken pipeline and the devastation it causes; and Melachrini, a housewife in Northern Greece where economic crisis is being used to justify mining and drilling projects that threaten a pristine mountain and the nearby sea. In India there is Jyothi, who battles fiercely, along with her fellow villagers, fighting a proposed coal-fired power plant that will destroy a nearby wetland where they survive as fishermen.

In the course of their struggles they all help ignite nationwide movements. Their activism shows how communities can be empowered and how they can fight for their human right to live safely in a clean and healthy environment. This Changes Everything left the audience refreshed and inspired, even a bit teary-eyed and there was plenty of applause at the end. The audience in fact asked many relevant and insightful questions about the human rights struggle in Pakistan, as people demand clean air and water from the government. The students asked how they could become more active, how they could make a difference and all agreed that information and education was the key. Those who are aware of their rights will fight for them. The best questions were rewarded with small prizes given out by PODA representatives.

Students liked the film because it showed the “connection of climate change to human rights” and depicted people “standing up for their rights without any fear.” One student said that the film showed “that people are aware about what they will lose if they don’t stand up against these violations. And that they chose love for their land and their environment over money.” Another, pointed out, however, that the film should have been dubbed in the Urdu language, so that more people could understand it. Yet another observed some similarities between the film and what is happening in Pakistan. “Private housing societies are clearing lands in Pakistan to build more housing which may go as far as forcefully evicting the locals especially if they are poor,” he said. One student noted that in order to change the world, “We firstly have to change ourselves and then others.”

The film screening concluded with an informal summary by Anne Marchal, Deputy Head of the European Mission, who pointed out that with the signing of the Paris Agreement, most of the world has agreed to do something to curb carbon emissions and control global warming that is threatening us all. The 28 member states of the European Union have all agreed to implement the Paris Agreement and to support a fund that will help developing countries mitigate climate change. “As a global community, we have to tackle climate change as our responsibility, which will require the cooperation of both people and corporations,” she said. As the film depicted, indigenous people had every right to live in dignity and struggle for their socio-economic rights.

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