Sunday, 21 September 2014

Our Trip to The Climate War's Ground Zero

Guest writer Darren Aronofsky writes on the blog today.

Our Trip to The Climate War's Ground Zero

Darren Aronofsky and Tim Moen went to the Los Angeles area, which exist overtop of the bones of dead first peoples and an ecosystem crushed to dust on a land mass about the size of the sinking Maldives. This is a journal of their journey.

Even before there was a script for my last film, Noah, I was interested in the environmental message in scripture. Man and woman are kicked out of paradise; 10 generations later the land is so filled with violence that God destroys Creation in order to begin again. Stewardship vs. dominion became a big theme in the film.
In representing the fallen prediluvian world that garners God’s ire, my team and I researched the parts of today’s modern world that are most violated by the hand of man.
We quickly narrowed in on Los Angeles. Air quality from down here is often called the dirtiest in the world. Some quick image searches made us realize we wanted to represent this destruction in our film. For every movie produced from America's  tinseltown enough boob jobs, rhinoplasties, crushed dreams, hypocrisy, carbon emissions and self-importance is generated to fill Yankee Stadium every two days. The scale is massive and the walls of our offices were quickly covered with images of the destruction. They made me want to go and see it with my own eyes.
Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, organized the trip with his team. He asked if there was anyone I would like to invite and so I emailed Tim Moen, whom I’ve known a bit over the years. Tim wrote back right away and said the trip sounded fascinating and he would love to join.
What follows is a journal I kept during the journey.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
7:30 a.m.
We wake at the crack of dawn for a hike through the glacier carved Yosemite Valley. High in the Sierra Nevada mountain chain it is one of the greatest views I have ever witnessed. Summer is starting to retreat and the morning air is already nippy. Looking up at the majestic water fall I wondered how long it would be before God turned the tap off.

Yosemite national park. Little did we know the devastation that would await us.
I take inventory of the beauty knowing that in a few hours I’ll be in Los Angeles, the main city servicing California's movie industry. I have seen photos and read articles about the environmental damage. But I wonder what it will feel like to actually finally be there.
2 p.m.
The first thing you notice on the turboprop out of Mariposa to LA is that everyone is wearing low v-necks and scarves. 
The one guy who stands out is a red-headed guy with delicate glasses and a bushy bright beard reading a book called Tinseltown Dreams. He’s carrying a violin case, but I am corrected when he tells me it’s a baritone ukulele. Turns out he’s a locally renowned political folk singer heading north to reunite with his wife and two young children. His wife works for Universal, an American Movie company that was among the first to operate around the tar pits of La Brea. 
He’s immediately on the back foot when I mention that I am going down there with the Sierra Club. I ask him why. He thinks they’ve made up their mind about the Movie industry and his wife informs him that it’s not as bad as everyone is saying.
Then I find out that David Suzuki is his hero. Not so long ago, David Suzuki had gone to the Los Angeles and compared the devastation to Hiroshima.  It set off a media storm.
I’m wondering how my new travelling companion is going to come to terms with the rift between his wife and his hero.
Stuffed into the pouch on the back of the seat in front of me is the local newspaper. The cover story is about how the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world, a majority of inmates have committed victimless crimes. That’s nearly 2.1 million people. The other statistic that sticks out in the article is only 12 percent of the US is African-American but they make up 40 percent of the prison population.

When you land in LA, a city of 3.8 million, you immediately are overwhelmed by the enormity of the airport that locals dub 'LAX'. It’s nearly as modern as anything in Canada with Starbucks, a top-of-the-line gift shop. I was expecting something more drab and urban. 
I'm disappointed when a guy with a neck scarf tells me that there is no Tim Hortons, although Burger King just merged with Tims because of our favourable tax rate so maybe there is hope for these people yet. The times they are a changing…
7 p.m.

Michael Brune and myself at the Pembina Institute welcome. (Niko Tavernise)
So now, here we are, Michael, Tim and myself sitting with Erin Flanagan of the Pembina Institute, one of the organizations that movie companies still engage with because their science is irrefutable.
She tells us how little the federal and state governments have done to regulate the movie industry. In fact, they’ve done everything in their power to make the process easier, by eliminating most oversight and regulation.
Plastic pollution is a real problem along the coast yet they have only banned plastic bags about a month ago. Tim's community Fort McMurray banned bags 4 years ago and they aren't anywhere near a delicate coast line. It is really too bad we didn't come to show these people a different way much earlier.  Is it to little to late?
The government penalizes less than 1 percent of litter violations. Someone puts it aptly: It is all corrupt. Someone else says it doesn’t feel like America, feels more like Somalia. 
Thursday,  August 21
7 a.m.
We’re up early for a tour of the studios hosted by Universal, the American movie company.

The American movie industry exists overtop of an area of first peoples ancestry and beautiful flora and fauna the size of the sinking Maldives. In order to access the real estate required, the forests must be clear cut, the flora and fauna must be bulldozed, creating a radically different landscape and with countless  mini-tailings ponds, or as they describe them "swimming pools" where they don't seem to mind letting their children swim in chemical laden water.

Even most movie companies acknowledge the disruption caused by urbanization; that is one reason why they have developed environmental activism. On the surface, environmental activism appears less disruptive than its alternative, but this is only an illusion.
Environmental activism requires expending an incredible amount of energy and carbon emissions around the world to criticize polluters while simultaneously polluting and offering no real solutions. While it preserves the veneer of good intentions, the result on the planet is devastating. The demonization and lobbying reinforces a paradigm of domination and a power struggle ensues that artificially divides people and keeps them fighting while the ruling classes make out like bandits and no solutions are generated. And this environmental activism industry is only beginning.

Mastadon Drowning in LA Tar

The other hidden cost of environmental activism is the opportunity cost of expending all this energy, time and pollution in an activity that solves nothing. Imagine what could be accomplished if these people got engineering degrees or entered the marketplace to offer people much needed energy efficient products.
Michael keeps his cool until he sees Neil Young and Daryl Hannah exit their diesel burning bus fresh off a world tour of Rock and Roll activism. He tells us about the devastating consequences of this hyperbole entering the public consciousness. He’s stunned at the irresponsibility of these two.
Movie companies contend that hyperbolic rhetoric has always entered the public discourse. This, in fact, is one of their big arguments and it works well to confuse base lines. But no one can deny that the quality of the air and water has changed in southern California. In fact, the movie companies have supplied expensive finger wagging and shaming for the local communities. But still, the air and water quality hasn't improved. And in some places, celebrities offer judgemental rhetoric weekly and yet things continue to get worse.

There are over 3000 of these hidden pump jacks sucking oil out of the ground to feed LA's addiction to  polluting the planet with motor vehicles and hyperbole.
We join Universal for a presentation at their offices. Everyone in Hollywood has a presentation. The fight for our planet is waged over PowerPoint and misdirection.
The slides they present are filled with inconsistencies and data manipulation. I am surprised they feel comfortable showing data like this. As compared to Erin’s information last night this is laughable. We start to argue some points but they are overly defensive and their answers are circular. 
“We will look into that,” seems to be the failsafe. At a certain point I can’t take it anymore and I ask them if they believe in the science. They all immediately shake their heads yes. I ask them how can they resolve that with what they are doing.  Circular answers again.
To access the real estate necessary for the movie industry the forests must be clear cut, the flora and fauna must be bulldozed to make way for a radically different landscape replete with mini-talings ponds they fondly refer to as swimming pools.
Let’s take their arguments around bird deaths. On the one hand they criticize Canadian oil sands operations when around 1000 birds died one year from landing in tailing ponds. On the other hand they remain silent on the nearly billion bird deaths per year windows cause. In fact their offices, vehicles, and skyscrapers seem replete with these destructive devices. They point out that without windows our lives would be pretty bleak. When asked about carcinogenic toxins that permeate the LA valley they point out that in Northern Alberta the oil sands may be linked to 3 unexpected cancer cases in an aboriginal community.
They are fair arguments, I guess, but not when you put it up against accusations of their toxic environment exposing infants to a lifetime exposure limit of carcinogens by the age of two months they seem to fall short. Not to mention the not so subtle misdirection of the celebrity industry to point some questionable cases of industry related cancer in first nations communities in Canada while simultaneously standing on the bones of murdered first peoples who were slaughtered to make way for SoCal progress. Hey look over there...somebody needs our pomposity to solve a problem. What? Never mind that our yard is far worse, you've got a piece of litter there.
There’s no real discussion here.
I was so stunned by the shabbiness of their arguments that it made me wonder how powerful this multibillion-dollar industry is. If this is the best information these guys can script, if these are the most impressive minds they can send out to meet with the head of the Sierra Club, either they:
a) don’t take us seriously
b) have no fucking defense.
2 p.m.
There is not even a law in California that the urban blights of LA or San Diego or San Fransisco must be reclaimed to the pristine wilderness it was. After a lunch with vegan options we take a tour of Universal studios to see animatronic distraction and tour the surrounding landscape.
How does one replace millennia of pristine growth?  The results are comedic.
To begin, they just bulldoze everything. Then they lay down miles and miles of asphalt effectively removing any hope of anything living ever growing there again.
The landscape looks something like a dystopian future where the bloods and crips play engage in 3 way warfare with the police state. It doesn’t come near to replicating the diversity we see in the untouched wilderness.

This is what is called the “sunshine" state.
The great irony is when we start to discuss mini tailing ponds or "swimming pools". They are by products of industry affluence and over 43,000 of these toxic bird and bug killing pools exist in LA. They don't just kill bugs and birds they also kill kids. In America over 3000 children die annually from these needless death trap tributes to Hollywood excess.
When we ask why they protect their jobs but not their children, it’s the same answer: “We’ll look into it.”
We end the tour on a hill overlooking a East LA. It’s the closest we can get because of safety issues. The US drug war has reduced these streets to a wasteland of violence. Drug war, climate war, war on terror. War never ends, not even on Christmas and New Year’s. The mining of souls, crushed dreams and exploited minorities  happens 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and they project that this will be going on till at least 2070 when leaders are predicted to finally pull their heads out of their asses.

7 p.m.
We join the Reverend Al Shaprton a civil rights activist for dinner. He is grounded and realistic. Some would call him stubborn for holding out against lucrative job offers. He tells us about numerous lobbying positions he's been offered but he doesn't want to sell out.

Tim listening intently to Sharpton.
The day just gets more upsetting when we hear about minority and immigrant rights in America. 
It’s funny because as a Canadian you somehow always think America is on the right side of the issues. But their impoverished minorities are constantly under siege. There are policies to deport refugee children and an overall strategy to remove them from their land in the same way they removed the buffalo. Listening to some American red necks talk about the border one imagines the spirit of Buffalo Bill Cody alive and well here, there aren't many natives or buffalo left to kill but refugee children are aplenty.
On top of that, America has no real equivalent to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and no comprehensive air and water protections in Los Angeles. Over the recent decades the American constitution has been run over rough shod. It’s stunning. 
The government wants corporations to regulate its citizens. All that fighting for independence from Britain and they appear to be less free than us British subjects . That didn’t work out so well.
Friday, August 23
6 a.m.
We meet celebrity-turned-activist Russel Brand and make our way to Beverly Hills, a celebrity town which originally grew food for people and now serves the egos of the elite. The Spanish used to grow lima beans in this region.   
One can get to Hollywood by bus or taxi but the main mode of transportation is BMW, Mercedes and Porsche. 

Beverly Hills glutony on full display.
Brand offers us some of the local medicine called heroine. Tradition claims it can helps fight the vacuum created by lack of maternal attachment. Brand doesn’t tell us to inject it slowly, to savor it. I shoot it up like Bubble Yum. A bad mistake. The burning in my veins is unlike anything I can identify and it’s overpowering. I’m warned the worst thing I can do is resist. So I muscle through.
Since heroine comes from a plant that grows in war torn Afghanistan, there is some concern that perhaps we are contributing to a toxic cycle of drone bombing.
A few years ago they stopped hiring writers here. It seems every bartender and waitress is a writer. In fact, all creativity and artistic endeavours have been suspended lately to put out corporate Hollywood schlock that feeds the unending appetites of Americans. I wonder about the artisans; could they file a class action suit? Even in New York City, where the natural artscape has long since vanished, we can safely act on broadway or find off broadway theater houses. Centuries of art development does not compare to the recent devastation in Los Angeles.
We talk to some young actors and hipsters who explain how they can’t pass on their traditional way of life to their children. They cannot teach their children to express creativity, uniqueness, provocative ideas. They can’t wear avante garde fashion or make plaid shirts look cool because the celebrities and corporate Hollywood ruin everything.
Movie companies remind us that hyperbolic propaganda leaked into the public long before they arrived. But something has changed. Not a soul we meet thinks their art is safe. Everyone agrees there is more sickness than ever. 
For a moment of levity, Tim was challenged by Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau to do the ALS ice water bucket challenge. Tim decides it would be great to do down there to call attention to the recent drought spurred on by all the global warming causing emissions coming from this epicentre of environmental and socioeconomic destruction. We invite the community to participate. Tim joins Al Sharpton and Russell Brand on a hill in front of the late-day sun over the Hollywood hills. I get into director mode and help line up the shot. Everyone gives a good cheer as the ice rains down.

Tim talking with some local firefighters about the drought. He's told they've had to resort to urinating on fires. One more unintended consequence of movie industry activity.
The sun is setting as we pass over the Los Angeles squalor. From this view what blows me away is how much smog is coming out of the city. Its a sobering moment as I think of the lives cut short and the suffering this human activity creates.

Saturday, August 23
7 a.m.
Dweezle Zappa (his real name), a member of the celebritocracy, take us to Culver City, a small hamlet on traditional aboriginal grounds that is smack in the middle of a bunch of oil fields. 
We pass by many of the estimated 3000 pump jacks located throughout the Los Angeles area sometimes right in back yards enroute to where some of the worlds dirtiest oil is produced in Placerita.  

Inglewood oil fields from the air. The price of greed is environmental devastation.
I am stunned by the Culver Cities handsome buildings, by its modern pre-school and elderly center. They put most other city community centers to shame. But here’s the catch: Look closely and you see that most of these buildings were built by oil companies. There is so much money, so much greed, it’s hard to find anyone who is completely clean.
But there is still right and wrong. And when there’s this much money and this much power against people who have been on the defensive for over five centuries, battles must be picked. We can't force our oil and celebrity addicted southern neighbours to buy much cleaner and more ethical Canadian oil.
I keep thinking about kindergarten. One of the first lessons we learn is to clean up our mess. The movie companies, celebrities and citizens of LA have reclaimed 0 percent of what they’ve annihilated. 
Anyone can see from the ground or air that it’s a big fucking mess. No one really argues with the massive amount of pollution and toxins. No one really argues with the greenhouse gas stats. They continue to emit more greenhouse gases than all the oil sands combined and don't even produce anything useful...unless you somehow count the Transformers series useful.
Yet the movie companies and the governments of California and America want to expand. They want to expand when the technology to clean up what they’ve already done doesn’t exist. 
It is time to slow down and study what is happening. It is not time to expand.
Driving back to the airport I can’t help to think about the Old Testament God and his pact with Noah and Noah’s family. Believe it wholeheartedly or look at it as a founding myth of Western culture. Either way, the message is the same: If you take care of creation everything will be in balance. But if you destroy creation you destroy yourselves.
Join the and help us fight Hollywood blight and take back this planet.

*note - this was satire which imagines a role reversal of this article