Monday, June 13, 2011

Agent Smith on Humans as a Virus

In the spirit of my colleagues posting on environmental films, and following on the Evil Animals post from last week and Professor McAllister's May 24 post on consumption, I thought I would highlight one of the most profound environmental insights in cinema (sci-fi cinema at least!).  The movie "The Matrix" came out in 1999. At that time, the thought of my being involved in legal academics had never even crossed my mind, and had it done so I wouldn't even have known what that meant. Yet one clip in the movie had a deep impact on how I viewed our place in the world - and provided a theoretical framework for pushing me further along the path of environmental concern. The clip involves an interrogation of Morpheus by Agent Smith....


...The day after watching "The Matrix" I went to the Galleria Mall in Birmingham, Alabama. I stood at the top of the escalators above the food court and watched the people swarm. Hundreds of people scurried across each others' paths. Shopping bags filled with plastic and metal goodies were draped across arms, backs, and strollers. Hundreds more people sat in the food court stuffing their faces with hamburgers, chicken, pizza, cotton candy, cookies, ice cream and every other American delight you can imagine (a time release camera from 1995-2000 would have demonstrated these people getting larger as well, as the number of obese people worldwide increased by 100 million during that five year period). I couldn't help but feel the pall of depression come over me as I thought "Agent Smith was right!" And worse still I am sure I had just washed down an endorphin rush to the frontal lobe from eating an over-sized burger with an endorphin rush from purchasing some copious quantity of plastic play-things.

If everyone on earth consumed as much per capita as Americans do, we would need at least 5 earths to sustain us. I say "at least" because the number of earths we would need is increasing as our consumption increases. Stating the obvious, something needs to change. 

The great thing about humans though, as the robots found out at the end of the Matrix Trilogy, is that we can think and do not always perform according to expected and established protocol. We have the ability to adapt and change and learn from past mistakes and previous destructive behaviors.  Though we certainly can operate like a virus, and currently are operating like one at the rate at which we are consuming the earth, we have a chance and ability to change course.

The World Wildlife Fund's Jason Clay, in his talk "How big brands can help save biodiversity," provides some interesting insights into how we can actually harness components of our consumptive culture to protect the environment. His thoughts can be seen here:


- Blake Hudson

June 13, 2011 in Biodiversity, Economics, Film, Sustainability, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Electricity's Zombie App?

Picking up on Prof. McAllister's post Tuesday about top environmental law films, one recent movie should not be missed.  Strikingly shot, beautifully conceived, Into Eternity traces the story of the construction of Onkalo, Finland's version of the United States' Yucca Mountain: a deep-beneath-the-earth, labyrinthine permanent repository for high-level nuclear waste.


The film is as much art as it is documentary, but at its core its mission is to ask the hardest questions there are about spent nuclear fuel:  How is it that we continue to rely so heavily on nuclear power when no one has yet to find a politically palatable solution for the waste?  How can humans conceive of, much less maintain, a structure that will last 100,000 years when nothing we have ever built has lasted even a fraction of that time?  What are our obligations to future generations, whether from a theological or humanistic perspective, in terms of the planet that we all share?  If power storage is likely to become electricity's "killer app," Into Eternity seems to be asking, is nuclear waste its "zombie app"?  Is nuclear waste likely to come back years from now, undead-like, once gone but now resurrected, to haunt humankind and the planet on which we live?

The film is at its best when it asks these questions in its uniquely creative ways.  Filmmaker Michael Madsen puts his own, indelible imprint on the long-debated issue of nuclear waste.  Whether pointing out that "merely" 5,000 years later we hardly understand what the Egyptians were doing with their pyramids; asking if Edvard Munch's The Scream would be an effective, universal warning sign for Onkalo millennia or even centuries from now; showing the contrast between Onkalo's dark, underground tunnels and the gorgeous winter white forests they lie beneath, the film drives home both the difficulty of the task and the contrast between nature and the high-tech civilization we have erected.

Still, Into Eternity is rather one-sided.  It zeroes in only on the problems of nuclear waste without highlighting the many benefits we garner from nuclear power.  It emphasizes the temporal length of the waste's risk without discussing the likelihood.  It, quite intentionally, elicits emotion, particularly fear, without exploring the social, economic, and political dimensions of the dilemma.  True, the Scandinavian experts who are interviewed throughout the film are excellent, but they are used more as ornamentation to spotlight Onkalo's mind-boggling complexity than they are to explore it.

In the end, the choice of how to portray Onkalo is the artist's prerogative.  Art, at its core, is all about perspective. 

The vision of nuclear waste offered here may be a somewhat jaundiced one, but it is no less sobering -- or worthwhile -- for the wear.

-Lincoln Davies

June 2, 2011 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Energy, Film, International, Science, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Call for Entries - 4th International Water Film Festival

If you're traveling this summer, you might want to film something about water and submit your masterpiece to the 4th International Water Film Festival.  Entries are due July 31st.  For more info, visit  Drink Water for Life blog - water film festival.

April 17, 2009 in Agriculture, Biodiversity, Current Affairs, Film, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Sustainability, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)