4 Must-See Climate Films in 2017
2. To the Ends of the Earth (David Lavallee, Canada, 2016)
Emma Thompson guides the audience through a journey that chronicles the rise of extreme energy, detailing the economic costs of more intensive energy production and the people and wildlife caught in the crossfire.
To set the stage, the film begins with a reminder of the many ways energy is embedded in our daily lives—far beyond the food we eat and vehicles we drive. Thus begins the film's crash course in energy and economics 101, with background on how conventional crude oil petroleum was once relatively cheap in economic terms—until the first few years of the 21st century. That's when the industry turned to "extreme" sources, like tar sands, tight oil, shale gas and shale oil, which are all far more expensive to find, extract and process than old wells.
In other words, "this is not your grandfather's oil industry." Extreme energy extraction, as the film describes, represents a giant step down in terms of energy return versus energy invested (EROI). That's because once upon a time, investing one barrel of oil in oil development could yield an average of 100 barrels of oil (100:1 EROI).
But that was back in the 1930s, when oil seemed to bubble out of the ground faster than people could find it. Fast forward to today, when "affordable," easy-to-tap sources are running out. With the intense processes required to extract shale gas, for example, the EROI drops to 10:1—and much lower after three years.
More than simply being an economic argument, however, the film forces its audience to also consider environmental and human costs. For example, are we adequately accounting for fracking's being a major source of methane emissions, a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide? What about its impact on humans and wildlife? For example, around Canada's high Arctic region—the epicenter of unconventional oil and gas exploration—massive ships are conducting seismic testing, which happens around the clock and can be heard half the Atlantic away. An Inuit village mayor shares his concerns that this noise is devastating animal populations that the Inuit hunt to survive.
There's also the Canadian farmer who stands to lose his land to shale gas development, the river conservationist in Utah fighting to protect the Colorado River and the Simon Fraser University professor engaging in civil disobedience to protect public land from exploration. Together, these individuals help the film make its case that many people are already being affected by the energy industry's impact on climate—and they're taking action.
What now? Watch the trailer and read The Perfect Storm: Energy, Finance and the End of Growth, which drills into the EROI theory.