1.18.2011

"looking for eric" and "h2oil": a feel-good comedy and its opposite

Movie Season (the opposite of Baseball Season) is in full swing. We've been seeing a lot of good movies, as well as plowing through our The Larry Sanders Show box, but for now I want to mention only two titles.

For a feel-good, intelligent comedy, I highly recommend Ken Loach's "Looking for Eric". And if your heart knows the joy and pain of a deep love of a sport or a team, you will appreciate this even more. No spoilers here. Just see it. (Although it's an English film, you might want to watch it with English subtitles. It helped us enjoy the movie considerably.)

And for exactly the opposite... "H2Oil" is a documentary about the abomination that is the Canadian tar sands. Writer-director Shannon Walsh brings you to a First Nations community who are slowly being wiped out by the tar sands, and their efforts to fight the governments of Alberta and Canada, and oil industry giants.

We meet the community's doctor, who spoke out about what he saw and was charged with professional misconduct. He is actually a hero with the full support of the community.

We see the connection between the oil industry and the government of Alberta - and now, of course, the government of Canada.

We see the inextricable connection between this dirtiest, most destructive resource-extraction practice on the planet and the ongoing and future crisis of fresh water.

It's an excellent film - short, clear, compelling, heartbreaking. Especially if you are unfamiliar with the tar sands, please see it.

I have only one issue with this movie. One of the people interviewed is Andrew Nikiforuk, who wrote the book Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent. He is clearly an expert on the subject; I respect his part in the film and I look forward to reading his book. The bit I'm highlighting may have been a function of editing - what the filmmakers wanted to say - or may be a difference in our worldviews.

Towards the end of the movie, Nikiforuk ties the horrors of the tar sands to the developed world's appetite for oil. In this view, our unsustainable consumerist culture drives tar-sands production.

I do not dispute that consumer culture and the lust for material things is unsustainable. I acknowledge that, as individuals, we have a role to play in reducing our society's dependency on oil. But our individual lifestyles are not what drives environmental nightmares like the Alberta tar sands. Similarly, our individual lifestyles did not cause the BP gulf disaster.

What drives it is profit.

What drives it is capitalism.

Under a capitalist system, the earth's resources - which rightly belong to all of us and should be shared according to our needs - are controlled for profit by a few, at the expense of the many.

A small segment of society reaps vast riches from the tar sands, while the most vulnerable - in this case the First Nations people who live downstream, and the land and animals they depend on - die horrible deaths. The rest of us will suffer later, as the glacial ice fields are quickly depleted so the shareholders of Suncor and BP and Exxon Mobile can buy a new Porsche.

You and I can shop less, use public transit when it's available, reuse and recycle. And we should. But no matter how green our lifestyle, none of it will make a significant difference as long as the resources of our earth are controlled by private companies for speculation and profit.

Pointing fingers at people forced to drive to work because their town built sprawling roads instead of investing in public transit is another form of victim-blaming. What's driving the tar sands - and what's killing the planet - is capitalism.

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