Screening of climate change documentary sparks sustainability dialogue

Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Grandy via Flickr
Written by Kat Tenbarge

The Athena Cinema continued its Spring Sustainability Series on Wednesday night with a free showing of “This Changes Everything,” a documentary film based on the book of the same name by Naomi Klein.

“It is a civilizational wake-up call,” Klein said in the film’s narration. “A powerful message spoken in the language of fires, floods, droughts and extinctions telling us that we need an entirely new economic model and a new way of sharing this planet.”

According to its promotional website, “This Changes Everything” was “filmed over 211 shoot days in nine countries and five continents over four years” and is “an epic attempt to re-imagine the vast challenge of climate change.”

The documentary shares the stories of struggle had by individuals personally affected by carbon-based climate change and pollution. The narrative builds into the controversial theme that a capitalist system cannot save the planet, and more importantly, that grassroots movements are key to overthrowing the system as it currently exists.

The film, presented to a theater so packed people were sitting on the floor, was followed by a panel discussion led by faculty members and students involved with environmental studies and activism on campus.

“I think it’s quite striking how a film about climate change wasn’t about climate change. It was about people,” said Nancy Manring, an associate professor of political science. Manring, who teaches courses such as climate change politics and concepts in environmental sustainability, said she never heard anybody actually say the phrase “environmentalism of the poor.”

Environmentalism of the poor refers to a system of degradation that targets low-income neighborhoods and minority groups first, in that the people at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid are the ones hit hardest by climate change.

“It’s really thrilling and important to not let anybody marginalize and stereotype you and us and what we are fighting for,” Manring said. “When there are 8-year-olds developing lung cancer in China, and you see those images, you know this is not going to continue.”

Panelist Austin Babrow, a professor in the Scripps College of Communications specializing in environmental communication, said having a discussion at the end of such a powerful film may have been anticlimactic.

“We all need to be advocates out there trying to convince people but not denialists. Twenty-five percent are never gonna change. We don’t have to win over the lunatic fringe,” Babrow said.

His advice to moviegoers was to talk to and persuade people who are unsure of their stance on climate change.

“If you get into an argument and they start to think you’re challenging the way they look at things, they’re not gonna think like a judge,” Babrow said. “They’re gonna think like a defense attorney.”

Audience participation was encouraged during the 30-minute panel, and a mic was passed around to crowd members who had varying opinions on everything from the movie’s quality to the role of capitalism in sustainability.

“I agree that is was an overall positive message,” Rachel Gaunce, a sophomore studying environmental studies and theater, said. “There is a potentially hopeful outcome, but it didn’t have a lot of substance; it was a lot of trying to get people to fight for a solution without really saying what that solution was.”

About the author

Kat Tenbarge

Kat is the 2016-2017 campus editor, previously the presidential coverage editor and a campus writer. Kat is in her second year at Ohio University, pursuing a degrees in journalism and environmental studies. Kat has dreams of working in magazine, print or online journalism and can usually be found watching Supernatural or freelancing. Follow Kat on Twitter @kat10barge.

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