What Is Happening To Mother Earth Media Essay

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Wordcount: 3514 words
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In this paper, I would like to investigate the negative impacts of environmental damage through the media. Primarily through “An Inconvenient Truth (2006)”, “Cool it (2010)”, and “Darwin’s Nightmare (2004)”, I aim to demonstrate how film makers critique environmental activities and the condition of Mother Earth today. Especially in today’s society where “sustainable development” is emphasized, it is of paramount importance to shed light on why and whether our Earth is really deteriorating. With capitalism being the dominant ideology around, environmental damage can be perpetuated by developed nations at the expense of those less fortunate.

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More importantly, I aim to scrutinise the realities of the films and to what extent they are objective and accurate to viewers. The advantage of this strategy is that it holds on to the “concept of the real” (Williams, 1993).The presence of cinematic tricks and direction has allowed documentaries to be scripted and staged. However, I plan to determine if environmental films are merely being staged or exaggerated to evoke fear and to sustain an ideological agenda and economic model (which is capitalism) or whether they indeed reflect Mother Earth’s deteriorating condition through various cinematic depictions of reality.

Preliminary research question(s), hypothesis(es):

RQ1: Do these environmental films portray objective representations of environmental issues?

Planned Methodology:

I have chosen these 3 films for a few reasons. First of all, these 3 films are shot in different years. This enables a gradual and successive tracking of the environmental condition across a decade and also provides a nuanced analysis of cinematic direction towards Mother Nature. Also, these films cover a multitude of environmental issues, including issues concerning the air, water and land. Not only is this crucial to our analysis of the films, but is also needed to give a balanced approach towards the research questions. For example, Darwin’s Nightmare gives a thorough depiction of water pollution in Tanzania, while An Inconvenient Truth shows more of a reaction towards global environmental devastation and its repercussions on its inhabitants. Cool It on the other hand, depicts a response to inadequate institutions and governments when tackling environmental devastation. Timoner audaciously depicts Lomborg heading the Copenhagen Consensus who claims that this issue has been blown out of proportion by government officials and scientists. This movie stands in contrast to An Inconvenient Truth which depicts Al Gore the politician, educating and evoking fear in the public over environmental atrocities. Yet, it is precisely this stark contrast that allows us to juxtapose and compare analyses.

First up, I would argue that An Inconvenient Truth on first impression seems like a very objective representation of the issues at hand. This is because Al Gore not only uses facts throughout his speeches, but peppers them with wit and farce. For example in the opening of the film, he greets the audience with a joke: “I am Al Gore; I used to be the next President of the United States.” Although he jokes frequently, he puts on a serious expression when relating to facts, figures and images. He also discusses the scientific opinion on climate change, as well as the present and future effects of global warming and stresses that climate change “is really not a political issue, so much as a moral one”. With that, he is praised by Reason journalist, Ronald Bailey (2006) becasuse “Gore gets [the science] more right than wrong”. Although he shares his personal life anecdotes (with early climate expert Roger Revelle, sister’s death from lung cancer, and son’s near brush with death), he can be mainly seen as reflecting, and not attempting to spark emotion. He is hence, seen as largely detached. Comedic farce is also seen when he stood on a contraption to point to the highest point of the graph depicting the release of carbon dioxide omissions. This does not undercut reality, but instead humours the viewers, and also shows a sharp throwback to the harsh realities of the situation. However, it may seem theatrical or staged to cynics like Bjorn Lomborg (2010) who view him as attempting to use fear to change circumstances.

Documentaries are meant to both alert and convince in my opinion. Hence, if we look into what environmentalists say about the film, we will discover that the aforementioned facade of objectivity is exposed when we realise that the film is laden with misguiding claims about environmental science and global warming. I will now attempt to discredit Al Gore and his film by exposing his misrepresentations (Robert, 2006):

Misleading claims about effects of climate change: Gore claims global warming caused the advent of new diseases, but most of the diseases named have minimal relationship to climate. Gore also neglects the strong influence of external factors, like wildfires or pest outbreaks to global warming. Even with malaria which is a climate-based disease, more important factors like management of human infrastructure and health systems are named instead. He also claims global warming is causing a huge number of polar bear drownings but other researchers think otherwise. Glacier-melting in the Glacier national park and in Africa on Mount Kilimanjaro are labelled as the aftermath such environmental neglect, but we see that these have been melting since the 19th Century.

Exaggerations about sea level rise: He claims that ice-sheet meeting in Greenland and West Antarctic will forcefully expatriate millions elsewhere so as to avoid the 6 meters sea level rise. Regretably, we discover that even worst-case scenarios are not that bad. Most research indicates that such melting would only take 1,000 to 5,000 years if it were to happen. Even the United Nations’ IPCC anticipate only sea level rise of less than a meter for the next 100 years.

Reliance on worst-case scenarios: An underlying problem is that Gore presents worst-case scenarios as fact and is hence characteristic of propaganda. He relies on models that he deems “evermore accurate”, but the accuracy of such models are still questionalble.Climate change here is described at an international scale instead of a regional or local level where impacts would swing both sides depending on how we choose to respond. However, his intonation suggests that positive change is near to impossible. For example he says that “The most vulnerable part of the Earth’s ecological system is the atmosphere. It’s vulnerable because it’s so thin.” (Arnold, 2006). Yet, we can see thinner and more destructible parts like the hydrosphere. The usage of emotive and superlative adjectives are meant to spark off emotions to fulfil his personal agenda.

Misleading claims about the responsibility of the United States: Gore states America as the guilty party, but doesn’t give a balance viewpoint. There are deceptive comparisons of the American fuel economy standards in the U.S. and also inaptly lambastes his country for failing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol without making it known the ways in which America was unfairly targeted in the terms. Furthermore, considering that in the beginning of the film as one who prides himself as someone who used to be the “next president of the United States”, he is furthermore seen as untrustable and even allows one to imagine what could potentially happen to America if he succeeded in being elected in.

Misrepresentation of data: Gore presents one temperature data to support that present temperatures are warmer than in the past millenium. The graph however, is derived from other proxies and tree rings. Scientists are skeptical because this is similar to temperatures in 1100-1300 AD . He also claims that 2005 was the hottest year ever, but in reality there is no accuracy from present data to differentiate the period of 1998 to 2005.

What is even more appalling is this quote from Al Gore (Arnold, 2006): “Moreover, since science thrives on uncertainty and politics is paralyzed by it, scientists have a difficult time sounding the alarm bells for politicians, because even when their findings make it clear that we’re in grave danger, their first impulse is to replicate the experiment to see if they get the same result.” (Arnold, 2006). However, we see that this statement is merely stereotypical. Many scientists are actually quite willing to “sound alarm bells” to shed light and awareness (Robert, 2006). It is therefore unfair to suggest that scientists will tend not to call for attention to clear evidence of danger. Hence, this claim is largely a personal opinion and does not reflect objectivity. Because such representations are no longer accurate, we are now “plunged into a permanent state of the self-reflexive crisis of representation” and what was once a “mirror with a memory”can only reflect another mirror (Trinh, 1990).

In Timoner’s Cool It, she depicts Lomborg in a raw manner, including all his anxieties and concerns about the environment. With interviews with Lomborg interspersed throughout the film, Timoner follows Lomborg on his mission to bring the smartest solutions to climate change, environmental pollution, and other major problems in the world. In the opening of the film, Timoner depicts children’s voices and children-drawn pictures about the earth. This raises the success of his cinematic development up a level by allowing current viewers to reflect on their personal environmental usage and treatments. By alluding to children, it encourages reflexive methods towards environmental usage for scientists and raises awareness for common folklore and that if improvements continue to be slow, both mother earth and children of the world will suffer from the excesses of our hedonistic demands. Timoner is seen to be objective and realistic in her film because she depicts the lowdown nature of governments, including the biggest in the world. This can be seen when Lomborg remarks that “The climate-industrial complex does not promote discussion on how to overcome this challenge in a way that will be best for everybody. We should not be surprised or impressed that those who stand to make a profit are among the loudest calling for politicians to act. Spending a fortune on global carbon regulations will benefit a few, but dearly cost everybody else.” This reflects the tonality of the world’s greatest leaders on environmentalism (official website, 2010).

However, while on one hand it may seem objective, upon scrutiny, we discover that there are loopholes in the film. These loopholes appear not solely because of Timoner’s artistic direction, but because of the featured Lomborg too, his networked connections and his fixated mentality on environmentalism. Amateurs who view this film may regard this film as objective because of the reasons above. However, I will now analyse and discern it from a critical point of view. I posit that this film may in fact do more harm than good and is in fact, an attempted “reflexive” mixed with “expository” mode of documentary (Nichols, 1983). However, we see that this does not succeed well with viewers as they may not reflector buy into the arguments posited by Timoner through images. This is because it is unrealistic to cast environmentalists as the primary establishment when they do not play a primary role in multinational corporations and international agencies like World Bank, United Nations and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Viewers are also given the chance to question the filmmaker’s ability to represent any reality fairly and adequately. This loss in faith in the objectivity of the image seems to point “nihilistically, like the impossible memory of the meeting of the fictional Rambo and the real Roosevelt, to the brute and cynical disregard of ultimate truths” (Williams, 1993)

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Furthermore, Lomborg’s central stand in the film is that all the money dedicated by the European Union is a massive waste and that we should invest in green technologies instead. $250 billion is quoted. Whilst this may seem rational and practical, one will soon realise that it is no zero sum game. He also spends much time talking about emerging green technologies, like solar, wind and wave power, fuel cells, and algae biofuels. It may seem as though he is the only one who has thought of these, failing to mention that it is environmentalists who have been on the forefront of pushing these efforts for decades. This expository ethos soon fails and it starts to appear propagandistic. We see not only hidden messages, but also a film that compels people to attitude and action. Also, Bjorn is a credible and persuasive figure, uses contextualisation, cynicism and fast-pacing, traits that are similar to “Black/real propaganda”.

He also picks a fight over more controversial technologies, like the next-generation nuclear power and so-called geo-engineering which purposefully changing the climate. In this Lomborg comes across as a “technofixer”, as someone who believes that humankind can innovate ourselves out of every problem. He also skips over how he is actually going to raise the $250 billion. Whether this is deliberately left out by Timoner or not mentioned by Lomborg, we do not know. However, we presume that this is not mentioned by Lomborg because it would be such a monumental step and feature-worthy point for Timoner. Also, judging from his numerous sweeping statements, it is likely that Lomborg does not address that issue. In all his complaints of how addressing climate change would “cost so much money,” Lomborg also never addresses the fact that spending money on green technologies will actually stimulate the global economy (Howard, 2010).

To add on, also like a creationist film, Cool It is loaded with experts who aren’t specialists in the subject at hand. Because they aren’t climate scientists, interpreting the actual science of global warming that can be a problem. Also, the few critics like the Stanford professor are carefully edited and are shown to be hostile and edgy. All this points to the film being truthful only where it is possible and that much truth is hidden behind the issues that seem like the truth.

One last important point is there have been numerous and extensive accounts of Lomborg’s many factual errors. They appear in the highly respected science journal Nature, by Scientific American, magazines, newspapers, web logs and many others. While challenging the status quo is essential, getting the facts straight is also crucial for his credibility and as such, the film’s credibility. I would hence conclude that Cool It is far from objective, has many grey areas, and definitely worth exploring deeper before documenting and finalising it into a film.

Moving on, Darwin’s Nightmare tells of environmental and social effects of the fishing industry around Lake Victoria in Tanzania. It acutely alerts us to what economic exploitation can mean for inhabitants who fish for a living, hence showing the dichotomy of the rich-poor. Having environmental troubles is hence an extra burden to those already struggling to make a living. This film is objective because Hubert Sauper ranges widely to document this new fishing economy, hence taking us to many places. For example, he takes us to places like boats, around the country, with dying prostitutes, and to lakesides. We also see hunger-stricken kids, glue-sniffers, and stomach-bloated children fighting for food. The cinematic arts are often meant to inspire, instruct, and entertain, but this is a rarity of its own because the images here are are meant to produce a outrage beyond one’s threshold. Darwin’s Nightmare, Sauper’s new documentary, is so punishing (and yet realistically scary) in its bleakness, and hence acts as a white flag for all further endeavors (Cale, 2006). Also, it is Sauper’s moving images that has the power to move audiences to a “new appreciation of previously unknown truth” (Williams, 1993).

In surveying humanity’s collision with the environment, Sauper examines matters often absent from the nature film genre. He gives us mother nature in devastation and a failing society with its dire repercussions. His gut-wrenching methods and audaciously visual images can be viewed by some as a ideological aim towards instilling fear, but yet on the same side of a coin, these images are plain revelations and tell of an inescapable flaw of capitalism.Although his methods seem extreme (just like the depiction of the Nile perch, having chewed through its prey, has now turned to cannibalism), this is sheer rawness of objective reality without lies or hidden facts.

Just like An Inconvenient Truth, the questions it raises are some of the most pressing of our time. Both films uses black comedy intentionally (Cale, 2006), hence highlighting pessimism in the face of the corrosive effects of imperialism. One may speak of markets and invisible hands until theory is literally coursing through one’s veins, but it is an inescapable flaw of capitalism that a nation’s goods are wholly exported while the citizens of that country waste away and die. The rich-poor dichotomy however is also present and it is often forgotten that only those with capital benefit from such arrangements. The poor and the homeless continue to be lag behind in society and is poorly treated. Such images leave viewers with an objective and essential truth that guides one’s world view through each and every waking moment. In the name of “jobs” and “economic development,” the white men has committed more unspeakable atrocities than ever before.

We seem alright however, with Herbert Spencer’s (1851) perverse vision of “survival of the fittest,” where the lowest of the social hierarchy sinks to the bottom. What the West truly thinks of the African is often sugar-coated by benefit concerts and television appeals (ie: Live8 concerts), but at the end of the day, its gradual deterioration is little noticed. This film hence not only alerts us to the harsh realities, but gives us a shocking revelation like never before. So as the camera goes across the Tanzanian landscape, we are filled with ambivalence as we see not only hunger-stricken infants, but also scrawny and ashamed prostitutes and glue-sniffing kids, and bloated infants.


As seen from the above three movies, it is evident that Darwin’s Nightmare remains as the only film out of the three with consistency and objectivity. Even though its visual images can be revulsive, it does not conjure up fake statements unfairly in order to increase sales or fulfil a personal agenda. Truth is not “guaranteed”. Interestingly, Gore claims to be presenting the “scientific consensus” on global warming but this is not always so. His dramatic theatrical stance gives way as the film progresses, hence rendering it not as objective as it might initially seem. Al Gore clearly used a number of tricks to make his case more persuasive to make the data better fit his explanation of what’s going on in the world. Intentional or unintentional, when one is dealing with an issue that could have an economic impact measured in the trillions of dollars, Al Gore should have been more careful when making his case because inhabitants of the world deserve better knowledge.

Cool It is no better. Its unreliability and lack of objectiveness is less personal, but more of a lack of in-depth analysis of the bigger global picture. Lomborg seems too engrossed in challenging the status quo and attempting to question environmental methods and hence failing to double check his facts. He uses whatever is needed to justify his personal agenda. It is hence of no surprise that both Cool It and An Inconvenient Truth have sparked off much controversy while the earlier 2004’s Darwin’s Nightmare is one largely praised by many. The documentary era has arrived where manipulation of data is no longer tolerated to make their points more convincing. Especially in this society where elites (and hence shapers of the world situation) become more intelligent, people are easily more outraged when blatantly deceived. Because Nichols’ four documentary modes are “historically and textually intertwined, we have to use a discerning eye when addressing any queries or issues.


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