By Daisy Simmons
"It's not easy to watch."
That was a recurring introductory remark at screenings during the recent 2020 Wild & Scenic Film Festival. Held each year in the bucolic foothills of the Sierra, the five-day festival screens more than 140 environmental films, from artful meditations on the beauty of nature, to distressing stories of people on the frontlines of climate change.
Seven Films to Add to Your Climate Watchlist<p>There were too many standouts at the 18th annual environmental film festival to list here, including several "Yuby Award" winners (named in honor of the Yuba River, which the festival was launched to help protect). Following are a few highlights that exemplify the human impact of climate change, in alphabetical order:</p>
After the Fire (18 min. documentary, see trailer below)<iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/255336063" width="100%" height="480" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0fd19d6b9ff2252b855909b406b4234c"></iframe><p>For some, Sonoma Valley is the glamorous wine-studded landscape we see in movies. But for real-world residents, it's just home – or, it used to be, before the recent fires destroyed their own homes. This film follows several locals as they try to rebuild not just a home but a life. For example, there's the young immigrant mom struggling to find work, because the restaurants where she'd normally work have no customers. There's the senior sculptor who's lost his life's work, along with all his family heirlooms. The only thing he has left from his mother is a potted hibiscus plant, which he nurtures tenderly. Skyrocketing rents plague both their efforts. The sculptor must move in with his daughter, and the young mother says she's had to choose between rent and food. Neither is alone: "We're all scared, whether or not we have our papers," says the mom. This is a story of loss, but also of resilience – as evidenced perhaps best by the hibiscus not just once, when it miraculously survives the fire, but again later when, with care, it begins to bloom again.</p>
Blowout: Inside America’s Energy Gamble (79 min. documentary, see trailer below)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="350d9c79032c3e3032e8ac460abb9e82"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/VsqEw2NTf5g?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>"We're the sacrifice zone," says a resident of Port Arthur, Texas, where soaring cancer rates have been linked to nearby oil, gas, and petrochemical development. From there, through the Panama Canal and across Asia, the film connects global oil and gas activity to human life around the world. From a family displaced by sea-level rise in Dhaka, Bangladesh, to one considering moving from hurricane-soaked Panama City, Florida, Blowout packs in data of rising emissions and temperatures without sacrificing the human side of the equation.</p><p>Available to watch online at Amazon Prime, Fire TV, Roku, Vizio, and Apple TV.</p>
The Condor and the Eagle (82 min. documentary, see trailer below)<iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/359405536" width="100%" height="480" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="26cbdafacf8c3d5f17874b62c39ba2dd"></iframe><p>Punctuated by vivid animation and music, this film opens with an old prophecy, one that's been recorded by indigenous communities across the Western hemisphere: "When the eagle of the North and the condor of the South fly together, the spirit of the land will reawaken." Now, as the 21st century unfolds, we see four indigenous environmental leaders helping bring this prophecy to life, working to reduce the impacts of oil and gas production across great distances, from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to the Amazonian jungles of Ecuador. They come together at global climate summits and marches, returning with new insight to work in their own communities. Their work ranges from crusading against "environmental genocide" in the Amazon, to fighting toxic emissions in a Texas town where too many kids are growing up with asthma and leukemia. It's an onerous journey, but by sharing traditional wisdom and conviction, these leaders offer hope to communities well outside their own domain.</p>
Last Call for the Bayou: Five Stories from Louisiana’s Disappearing Coastline (53 min. documentary, see trailer below)<iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/323350759" width="100%" height="480" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1b58fc4a363ae53a8ee51f7a29f79b15"></iframe><p>Shot on location in the Louisiana delta, this film boasts a diverse crew of real-life characters, from the self-proclaimed "Duck Queen" fighting for wetland preservation and the mud-tasting scientist (yes, he actually nibbles mud as part of his testing), to the third generation shrimper who's running out of work, and the aerial photographer documenting environmental change. Each in their own way is grappling with Louisiana's diminishing wetlands — every hour an area the size of a football field is lost. Can they find a way to restore the coastline without sacrificing the local economy? Together, their stories show how sea-level rise is already threatening livelihoods. As the photographer ponders, hovering a thousand feet above the shrinking barrier islands in a jetpack, "One major hurricane and we'll all be looking for a new place to live."</p>
Lowland Kids (22 min. documentary, see trailer below)<iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/282694564" width="100%" height="480" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="45ec52f42c8f810244a89cdd4ca91294"></iframe><p>Coastal Louisiana's Isle de Jean Charles is sinking, creating the first climate refugees in the U.S. mainland. To go behind the headlines, the filmmakers introduce Howard and Juliette, aka "the last teenagers" on the island, and their uncle, who's raised them here since they were small children. They've each grown up enjoying freedom and peace here, from late-night alligator watching and water fights to quiet sunset conversations. And they're not looking forward to moving: The teenagers worry about what it will be like to have close neighbors. Chris, the uncle, has lived his whole life on the island, and mourns that "part of me will always be here, because this is where life began for me." Asked how he feels about being called one of the nation's first climate refugees, he says it's strange, and yet, with rising seas and the forced move upon him, admits he hasn't been able to find a better word.</p>
Mossville: When Great Trees Fall (75 min. documentary, see trailer below)<iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/145085489" width="100%" height="480" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ad483840dc14a7b1d98ea86945e7c841"></iframe><p>Winner of the festival's Spirit of Activism award, this film explores the deeply troubling impacts of industrial petrochemical development in Mossville, Louisiana — a community founded in 1790 by ex-slave Jack Moss. For generations, people of color lived here in peace, geographically insulated from the rest of the Jim Crow South. Today, however, the southwestern Louisiana community has been "erased," replaced by massive petrochemical plants, including the nearly complete new multi-billion-dollar project projected to produce more greenhouse gases than anywhere else in the state. The toll has already been dire, with mechanic and father Stacey Ryan reporting he's lost most of his family to cancer and other health impacts he blames on the plants' toxic emissions. But the losses aren't over. The company behind the new plant has forced most residents to move out, and Ryan is unwilling to budge. The audience sees his home become a surreal holdout in an increasingly decimated landscape: The neighbors are all gone, as are their houses. His fenced-in yard is suddenly dwarfed by sprung-from-nowhere industrial roads and buildings. We watch as his power and water are shut off, his mailbox eerily poking into relentless truck traffic. And we watch as his health and vitality slowly decline, all because he refuses to give up the home his grandparents built for a plant whose greenhouse gas emissions stand to threaten far more than the homes that once surrounded it.</p>
The Story of Plastic (94 min. documentary, see trailer below)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5553e3cdc79672760b44a9baf19f2d96"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/krhZmrDVv_k?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>When people think about plastic as a problem, they often think just about its end state: as waste carelessly strewn into the ocean, killing off seabirds and other creatures tragically having mistaken the inedible trash for food. But The Story of Plastic makes a strong case for rethinking that narrative. With global reporting, archival footage, and simple storyboard animation, this Yuby-winning film presents plastic as a primary contributor to climate change throughout its lifecycle, as a carefully orchestrated byproduct industry of oil and gas production. To lay out the global impact of plastic production, the film carries viewers across the U.S. South, to Belgium, Indonesia, India and China, exposing in each place the human and climate impacts of rapidly escalating plastic production and use.</p><p>Films about real-world people struggling with the effects of climate change may not be easy to watch. But as one filmmaker said in response to the comment that her film was sad, "I personally find these stories incredibly inspiring — there are a ton of people around the world working together to address these issues — and that gives me a lot of hope."</p><p><em>Note: Not all of the above films are available yet online. Keep an eye out for a local edition of the <a href="https://www.wildandscenicfilmfestival.org/on-tour/" target="_blank">Wild and Scenic On Tour</a> program, coming soon to roughly 250 events across the U.S.</em></p>
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By Daniel Ross
Ten years ago, two climate scientists, Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi, published a groundbreaking article in Scientific American outlining a road map for becoming 100 percent reliant on energy generated by water, wind and sun by 2030. This was something that needed to be done "if the world has any hope of slowing climate change," the researchers warned at the time.
Where Are We Now?<p>Last year's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank">Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report</a> spelled out the dire environmental and humanitarian consequences should the Earth warm more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (1,5°C) over pre-industrial levels. <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/sites/2/2019/02/SR15_Chapter2_Low_Res.pdf" target="_blank">To prevent this from happening</a>, carbon emissions must be slashed to net zero by around 2050. The IPCC report lays out a series of scenarios in which the world is kept from warming over the 1.5°C threshold. In many of the scenarios where there is little to no overshoot, renewables must make up 70 to 85 percent of electricity by 2050.</p><p>According to the IEA, however, renewables generated only 24 percent of the electricity consumed in 2017, and by 2023, they're forecasted to meet only 30 percent of electrical demand.</p><p>What's more, according to the IEA, electricity accounts for only a fifth of global energy consumption. The share of renewables in the transportation and heating sectors, therefore, will have to similarly expand in the next few years and decades if the worst impacts from climate change are to be avoided — a challenge complicated by anticipated global population growth. The IEA's <a href="https://www.iea.org/renewables2018/" target="_blank">calculations</a> show that even if the share of renewables in global energy demand grows as expected by one-fifth over the next five years, it still will come out at barely more than 12 percent by 2023.</p><p>"I think this transition [to renewables] will happen," said Chris Smith, a research fellow in physical climate change at the University of Leeds, England. "The question is, will it happen fast enough? Personally, I think not. I don't think we're headed for 4 degrees [Celsius] of warming, but I'd be very surprised if we managed to limit it to one and a half."</p><p>When it comes to slashing carbon emissions to zero by mid-century, there are essentially two very broadly drawn camps. On one side are those who believe that renewables can be scaled up in time to meet the world's energy demands across the three main sectors (electricity, heating and transportation).</p><p>On the other are those who believe that renewables alone won't cut it if the world is to achieve zero net emissions by the middle of this century. They argue that, as we're weaned from fossil fuels, we'll still have to rely on things like nuclear power and <a href="https://www.salon.com/2018/10/20/carbon-capture-what-we-do-not-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-climate-change_partner/" target="_blank">carbon capture and storage</a> (CCS) to help buttress the power grid.</p><p>Looking at both sides is Mark Delucchi, co-author of the seminal <em>Scientific American</em> article 10 years ago, who is now a research scientist at the University of California at Berkeley. "If you're doing a cost-benefit analysis, which is a tool that I use to evaluate these things, you want to start with as broad a collection of options as possible," he said. "You don't decide <em>a priori</em> that every conceivable option will end up in the final highest net benefit solution."</p><p>Delucchi's <a href="https://steps.ucdavis.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/DELUCCHI-Cost-benefit-analysis-of-clean-energy-systems.pdf" target="_blank">recent cost analysis</a> of clean energy systems didn't include options like nuclear and CCS, as it was designed to look at the cost and technical feasibility of only those options that provide the highest environmental benefits and lowest risks; i.e., those with zero emissions and no catastrophic safety concerns, like wind and solar.</p><p>"This does not mean that they are the most socially beneficial, as we haven't done that broad analysis," he said. "I am proposing to do that broad analysis now."</p><p>So, where does the current scientific literature stand? Thernstrom co-authored a <a href="https://www.innovationreform.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/EIRP-Deep-Decarb-Lit-Review-Jenkins-Thernstrom-March-2017.pdf" target="_blank">review</a> of 30 studies and other review articles published since 2014, which found that "there is strong agreement in the recent literature" that reaching zero or near-zero carbon emissions is best achieved by harnessing a "diverse portfolio of low-carbon resources" such as nuclear, biomass, hydropower or CCS. In another literature review, none of the 24 studies purporting to model 100 percent renewable energy systems passed <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364032117304495" target="_blank">this feasibility test</a>.</p><p>"We should be looking for renewables to add value to a decarbonized grid," said Thernstrom. "That should be the goal." One way that value could be harnessed is through improvements in energy storage — an issue that came into stark relief during the polar vortex that held the East Coast of the U.S. in its grip earlier this year. If, during that weather event, grid regions spanning New England to parts of the South had been 100 percent reliant on renewables, energy storage would have needed to increase from 11 gigawatts (as it is today) to 277.9 gigawatts for the lights to remain on, according to a <a href="https://www.woodmac.com/reports/power-markets-performance-review-nuclear-fossil-fuels-and-renewables-during-the-2019-polar-vortex-99948" target="_blank">report</a> by Wood Mackenzie, an energy consultancy based in Edinburgh, Scotland.</p><p>Globally, at the moment, <a href="https://www.hydropower.org/publications/the-world%E2%80%99s-water-battery-pumped-hydropower-storage-and-the-clean-energy-transition" target="_blank">94 percent of energy storage capacity</a> is in <a href="https://www.energy.gov/eere/water/pumped-storage-hydropower" target="_blank">pumped-storage hydropower</a>. Though more reliable than some other renewable sources, <a href="https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2018/04/25/1487016/0/en/New-Report-Identifies-Market-Regulatory-Challenges-to-Pumped-Storage-Hydropower-s-Growth.html" target="_blank">pumped hydropower faces significant market, regulatory and environmental challenges</a>. Nevertheless, Jacobson is encouraged by what he sees as advances that have already occurred, or are occurring, in other energy storage technologies. "This is a solvable problem," he said, highlighting how prognosticators are often unable to factor in unanticipated changes in energy markets.</p>
Energy Storage<p><a href="https://www.iea.org/renewables2018/" target="_blank">According to the IEA</a>, renewables in transportation — mainly in the form of electric cars, two- and three-wheelers, and buses — have the lowest contribution of all three major sectors, with their share expected to grow from 3.4 percent in 2017 to a forecasted 3.8 percent in 2023. But there's cause for optimism when it comes to long-distance transportation, like air travel and ships, thanks to the <a href="https://www.caixinglobal.com/2019-05-15/china-boosts-hydrogen-fuel-cell-investment-in-green-energy-push-101415765.html" target="_blank">recent investment</a> in <a href="https://www.energy.gov/eere/articles/5-fast-facts-about-hydrogen-and-fuel-cells" target="_blank">hydrogen fuel cells</a>, for example.</p><p>Forecasts look better for renewable heat consumption, which is expected to increase 20 percent over the next four years, reaching 12 percent of the heating sector demand by 2023, <a href="https://www.iea.org/renewables2018/" target="_blank">according to the IEA</a>. That estimate, said Jacobson, need not be so conservative. "You don't need batteries for heating," he explained. Indeed, energy-efficient <a href="https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/heat-and-cool/heat-pump-systems" target="_blank">heat pump systems</a>, for example, move heat rather than generate it, helping to keep houses warm in winter and cool in the summer.</p><p>Small-scale programs offer an intriguing glimpse into the possible future. The <a href="https://www.dlsc.ca/" target="_blank">Drake Landing</a> community in Canada heats its homes by storing solar energy underground during the summer months and tapping into this energy reserve in winter months. During the 2015-2016 heating season, the system was 100 percent self-reliant.</p><p>"We can transform buildings, we can transform most industry," said Jacobson. "There's a long way in actual transition. But we have so much that we can transition right now, that's not what's slowing us down." Rather, what's slowing us down are regulatory, cultural and political obstacles.</p><p>One remedy, for example, to the problems posed by seasonal variability would involve the expansion over a vast geographic area of new interstate transmission lines, connecting grid regions with high seasonal variability to those with less interrupted sun and wind. However, "the hard part about interstate transmission is that there is no federal body that oversees that," explained Joshua Rhodes, a research analyst at the <a href="https://tinyurl.com/nvjaq9" target="_blank">Webber Energy Group</a> and <a href="https://energy.utexas.edu/" target="_blank">the University of Texas at Austin Energy Institute</a>. "You have a multi-body problem, and it's hard to get everybody at the table to agree to the same thing."</p><p>Until politicians and regulators get to that table, many experts are looking at more local solutions. Interestingly, oil-rich Texas is a case study for renewable energy success. About 15 years ago, <a href="https://www.oncor.com/en/Pages/CREZ.aspx" target="_blank">Texas introduced</a> a renewable energy integration program that has led to wind and solar making up 20 percent of the state's electricity supply, comparable to California. Other regions are playing catch-up. According to the <a href="https://www.sierraclub.org/ready-for-100/commitments" target="_blank">Sierra Club</a>, at least 131 cities and nine states, districts or territories across the U.S. have committed to 100 percent renewable energy goals within a certain timeframe. Six cities have already reached those goals.</p><p>But as the <a href="https://www.iea.org/newsroom/news/2019/may/global-energy-investment-stabilised-above-usd-18-trillion-in-2018-but-security-.html" target="_blank">latest IEA report proves</a>, pickup overall is too slow. Climate change forecasts widely demand the adoption of renewables on a much larger and more urgent scale, which is why many experts call for broadly encompassing ideas that recognize the scale of the problem.</p>
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its highly anticipated report Sunday on what needs to be done to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The answer: social and technological change on a scale for which "there is no documented historic precedent," The Washington Post reported.
The Trump administration acknowledged the existence of climate change in an environmental impact statement released last month, The Washington Post reported Friday, but then used that acknowledgement to draw a surprising conclusion.
A study published in Nature Wednesday examined seven key plant characteristics over 30 years of warming at 117 locations in the Arctic or alpine tundra and found that plants were growing taller at all locations studied.
Fifty two million years ago, crocodiles swam in the Arctic. Twenty thousand years ago, an ice sheet covered Manhattan. Earth's ecosystems have changed dramatically as the climate has shifted, and now scientists are trying to determine how they might respond to the current era of human-caused climate change.
In two recent studies, scientists have looked into the future and into the past to see what might happen to the global climate if we fail to curb greenhouse gas emissions in time. The results are frightening.
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The Carr Fire, which blazed into the northern California town of Redding Thursday, has grown even larger and deadlier over the weekend, offering a fiery vision of California's future.
As a summer of record high temperatures continues, a sobering new study suggests that more summers like this could have serious mental health consequences.
The study, published in Nature Climate Change Monday, found that, for every one degree Celsius increase in average monthly temperature, suicide rates go up by 0.7 percent in U.S. counties and 2.1 percent in Mexican municipalities, adding suicide to the list of deadly consequences of climate change.