Documenting The Green Revolution

Film Recommendation

A Fierce Green Fire (2012)

An Environmental Awaking

A Fierce Green Fire covers the history and evolution of the environmental movement in the US. It’s an emotional and enlightening documentary. To help the audience better understand the journey, they break down the narrative into 5 Acts. Each of these is told by a different celebrity (Robert Redford, Ashley Judd, Van Jones, Isabel Allende, &  Meryl Streep).

The doc recounts the history of the green revolution with a collection of footage and firsthand accounts. In doing so, the filmmakers interview some of the more change-makers, who describe their struggle to protect the earth.

The film also does an excellent job of tying together a number of interconnecting issues. Major milestones are highlighted in context, so audiences can see that this is all ultimately part of a single narrative. One that culminates with the current fight against climate change.

Human arms hugging a tree.
Click the image to learn the origin of the term “tree hugger.”

Holding On To Nature

The documentary tells the story of the environmental movement through the progression of the following milestones, 1. Conservation, 2. Pollution, 3. Alternatives, 4. Going Global, and 5. Climate Change. In taking this approach, the viewer is made aware that the current fight is not new. Ecological activism has been going on throughout US history. During which, there have been considerable victories and losses. When the wins do happen, it’s almost always the result of activism and citizen engagement.

As the doc points out, industrial growth and environmental degradation in the name of economic “progress” were the new norm at the turn of the 20th Century. However, there were also those who resisted and encouraged the protection and conservation of the country’s natural beauty (Act 1).

Life Aquatic gif

A Call to Action

From there we witness the increasing rise of pollution, and its subsequent impact on people and nature. The chemicals and toxins released into the air, water, and soil hurt the environment, but also galvanized those who would become hurt by it (Act 2).

The modern environmental movement did in fact grow out of the reaction to this harm. People mobilized as a result of the increasing number of poisons being created and dispersed by industry. Poisons that were ultimately ingested and consumed by humans, plants, and animals. Indeed, the very ground was becoming saturated with it.

This anger and awareness of pollution transformed into a search for, and interest in, alternatives (Act 3). Viewer will also witness that these same concerns and reactions were being felt and reacted to all over the world (Act 4). Pollution and toxic practices is in no way limited to the US. Rather, it is a product of the very industrial systems that were supposedly designed to our benefit.

The poisoning of the Love Canal community helped relaunch the modern environmental movement.
Click the image to read more about, “Love Canal and The Poisoning of America.”

Forces Against

Finally, the film wraps up it’s final act with the climate crisis. We are hurtling towards an ever increasing amount of carbon in the atmosphere, heating the planet at our peril (Act 5). We see further evidence of the crisis, as well as the inertial forces of “business as usual.”

The story is a similar one. Mankind’s hubris allows for the conviction that we can be in control of nature. That we can simply use the environment for its resources and load it up with our rubbish. This practice is clearly unsustainable. The world is a closed system. We are undeniably a part of this system. We must therefore change. The film reminds us that it is time to take action.

"There Is No Planet B," the environmental movement persists.

The Environmental Movement Persists

Despite some of the bleak examples portrayed in the doc, it still is a film of hope and encouragement. It reminds viewers that this fight has been going on for a long time. We are not alone. Motivated people from all over the world are also concerned for the future.

Those who care deeply about environmental issues can take solace in this commonality. The past can be a source of strength and inspiration. Our current problems are tragic and frustrating, but the climate emergency has also driven people to band together to fight and act on behalf of the environment. Collective action can and does have an impact. If enough of us care, we can change things.

We have done it before. History has also demonstrated that we can ultimately succeed. The question however, is whether or not we can do it in time. How long will it take us to collectively wake up to the danger and shift towards sustainability? The more we delay, the more suffering it will cause. It’s past time to act. We need climate action now.

Don Cheadle is Captain Planet


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