climate change film

Film review: I am the Earth

Chile has been globally recognised for its climate action, and is currently ranked third in the world on the Climate Change Performance Index (after Denmark and Sweden). And so the country has commissioned a medium-length documentary about what it’s up to. The film has been doing the rounds of festivals and conferences, and today lands on Amazon, if that’s something you have access to.

Drawing on some Oscar-winning national talent, I am the Earth: Stories from The Southern Edge of the World takes us from icy mountain glaciers to deserts, cities, swamps, and out to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. It has a grand and cinematic sweep, and presents a series of examples of climate action over the course of its 45 minutes. We visit peat bogs, marine researchers investigating seaweed forests and the deep ocean. We meet a community that was galvanised into action by the cutting down of its urban trees, and organised to re-green their neighbourhood.

Water is a particular problem for Chile, which has large areas of arid landscape. The film takes us to a community where ‘fog catchers’ harvest moisture from morning mist, providing irrigation that has regenerated the mountain and restored biodiversity – a kind of ‘cloud oasis’. Local schoolchildren then explain how greywater systems make the best possible use of water, and how they use it carefully.

Elsewhere, an engineer shows us how the winds across the Patagonian grasslands are a huge opportunity for wind power. A pilot plant is under construction that will use this cheap renewable energy to run machines that capture CO2 from the air, and turn it into fuel.

There are high tech and low tech approaches on show, grounded in the particular landscapes of Chile – which are diverse. It’s a long country that includes polar territories in the south, both hot and cold deserts, and areas of rainforest. Scientists can measure climate impacts across multiple climactic zones all in one country, both on land and in the sea, thanks to that vast stretch of coastline. As the title puts it, this is the ‘edge’ of the world, and I liked the uniquely Chilean perspective to the film. This is what climate change means in Chile, and how its response to the challenge of global climate change is shaped by its identity.

The individual stories are inspiring in themselves, but it’s this cultural distinctive that sticks in my mind. I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone describe anything similar for Britain, and if they did there’s a strong chance it would be jingoistic nonsense. Climate debate in Britain is politicised and divisive, but the realities of physical change can’t be avoided. Climate change will become part of our national story whether we like it or not. So what is a British way of responding to climate change? What can we bring from our history, our island identity, our sense of ourselves and our place in the world, that will help us rise the the challenge?

As it’s the edge of the world, Chile is also a good place to step off: the cloudless and clear skies of the Atacama desert have made it an important centre of astronomical research and expertise. The film begins and ends with this broader perspective. This is a film about Chile and what we can learn from there, but it’s bigger than that. As one of the astronomers says in the film, we see evidence of former rivers on Mars, and how barren it is now without water. We need to protect what we have, and an eye on space helps to put “our species into context in the great cosmic theatre we live in.”

More about the film here.


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