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Movies to Watch This Earth Day: EcoWatch Staff Picks

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At EcoWatch, our team knows that changing personal habits and taking actions that contribute to a better planet is an ongoing journey. Earth Day, happening on April 22, is a great reminder for all of us to learn more about the environmental costs of our behaviors like food waste or fast fashion.

To offer readers some inspiration this Earth Day, our team rounded up their top picks for films to watch. So, sit back and take in one of these documentary films this Earth Day. Maybe it will spark a small change you can make in your own life.



Irma Omerhodzic, Associate Editor

Film: The True Cost

Summary: Filmmaker Andrew Morgan's documentary The True Cost takes an eye-opening journey that explores the horrific impacts fast fashion has on human beings and the planet. Consumer demand for cheap and "fast" clothing comes with a different kind of cost. Light is shed on labor-rights abuses in developing countries, far-reaching environmental pollution and the tragic connection between the fashion industry's demand for genetically modified cotton and high suicide rates among Indian farmers.

Staff Note: As organic and local labels on food become more and more important to people, I hope the same awareness can become more prevalent for perhaps a pair of blue jeans. I recommend this film with the hope that this documentary leaves you thinking about the brands you buy and the environmental costs of fast fashion. You can watch The True Cost on Netflix.

Olivia Rosane, Freelance Reporter

Film: The Gleaners and I

Summary: Pioneering French director Agnès Varda passed away last month at the age of 90. Her 2000 documentary The Gleaners and I follows France's modern gleaners, from unemployed caravan-dwellers who gather potatoes discarded after the harvest to urban dumpster divers, and artists who make work from discarded trash. Without making any overt statements, the film exposes the contemporary culture of food and material waste that its subjects all find large and small ways of resisting.

Staff Note: Watching this haunting, playful movie is the perfect way to honor Varda's legacy, while celebrating the spirit of Earth Day. Varda is honest about the environmental and human consequences of the waste she documents, but her camera work also shares her subjects' delight in the things they find. The film slyly models a better way to live, one that seeks and finds value in all things. "They're still very much alive," artist Hervé tells Varda of the found objects he uses in his work. "All you have to do is give them a second chance." You can purchase or rent the film on YouTube or GooglePlay, or stream it on Amazon.

Chris McDermott, News Editor

Film: Grizzly Man

Summary: For 13 years, wildlife activist Timothy Treadwell lived among grizzly bears in the Alaska wilderness. The exuberant and self-professed "kind warrior" shot more than 100 hours of video to celebrate and advocate for the animals he believed were endangered by poachers. Werner Herzog's documentary follows Treadwell's seemingly extraordinary sense of kinship with the bears, which ends tragically with a fatal attack by one he had grown over the years to consider his "good friend."

Staff Note: This beautiful and disturbing film, available on Amazon, YouTube and iTunes, highlights one of the main challenges of wildlife conservation — must we consider animals "friends" in order to value their lives, or can we coexist at a healthy distance, with fear and respect? Despite Treadwell's conviction that he had bonded with the "misunderstood" bears, Herzog said, "I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature." I often remember this film while on nature hikes in the habitats of black bears and alligators.


Tara Bracco, Managing Editor

Film: Blue Gold: World Water Wars

Summary: Directed by Sam Bozzo, this award-winning documentary released in 2008 is based on the book Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World's Water. The film includes interviews with the book's authors, Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke, as well as water experts, activists, and citizens in communities affected by water privatization. Blue Gold explains why we are running out of water, why we must ensure that water is a human right and not a commodity, and what we can do about water scarcity.

Staff Note: We all need water to live. This film is informative in many ways, including its emphasis on who owns and controls our water, and what that means for our future. "Profit is made out of the running of, and the delivery of, water to people and to communities. Those that have the ability to pay will have access to the water. Those who do not have the ability to pay will go without," says Clarke in the film. "Therefore it's a life and death situation." Watch the film on Amazon to learn more about this important issue.

Jordan Simmons, Social Media Manager

Film: What the Health

Summary: What the Health, the sequel to Cowspiracy, exposes the corruption in our current public health crisis. 350 million people worldwide have diabetes, and in the U.S. one out of four deaths are from cancer. Yet, as writer and producer Kip Anderson points out, many chronic illnesses can be prevented and in some cases reversed, but these solutions seem to be kept secret. In a behind the scenes look, Anderson approaches some of the most trusted non-profits such as the American Diabetes Association and the American Cancer Society and uncovers the answers as to who is behind the status quo of a system that keeps people sick.

Staff Note: The most shocking exposé is when Anderson interviews the American Diabetes Association and asks why recipes containing red and processed meat are listed on their website. Anderson points out studies that prove only one serving per day will increase risk for diabetes by 51 percent. The adventure this mind-opening film undergoes can help us all to more positive health outcomes. Find the film on Netflix.

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Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Niq Steele / Getty Images

By Sherry H-Y. Chou, Aarti Sarwal and Neha S. Dangayach

The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

When a neurologist examined him, Tom was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes abnormal sensation and weakness due to delays in sending signals through the nerves. Usually reversible, in severe cases it can cause prolonged paralysis involving breathing muscles, require ventilator support and sometimes leave permanent neurological deficits. Early recognition by expert neurologists is key to proper treatment.

We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.


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