“This Changes Everything”: Film Reimagines Vast Challenge of Climate Change

As we mark the third anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, one of the most destructive storms in the nation’s history, are we prepared for another extreme weather event, which researchers say are becoming more frequent with the effects of climate change? 2015 is on track to be the hottest year in recorded history, and nine of the 10 hottest months since record keeping began in 1880 have occurred since 2005. We speak to the duo behind the new film, This Changes Everything, which re-imagines the vast challenge of climate change. The documentary is directed by filmmaker Avi Lewis and inspired by journalist Naomi Klein’s international best-selling book by the same name. Over the course of four years, the pair traveled to nine countries on five continents to profile communities on the front lines of the climate justice movement – from Montana’s Powder River Basin to the Alberta tar sands, from the coast of South India to Beijing and beyond.

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JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The East Coast of the United States may have dodged a bullet this time, as forecasters say Hurricane Joaquin may not make landfall due to a northerly turn. The Category 4 storm is, however, hammering the Bahamas, and heavy rains have already caused massive flooding in Charleston, South Carolina.

But as we mark the third anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, one of the most destructive storms in the nation’s history, are we prepared for another extreme weather event, which researchers say are becoming more frequent with the effects of climate change? 2015 is on track to be the hottest year in recorded history. Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently released a report showing that July was the single warmest month in history, and nine of the 10 hottest months since record keeping began in 1880 have occurred since 2005.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we spend the remainder of the hour looking at a remarkable new film that re-imagines the vast challenge of climate change. The film is called This Changes Everything. It’s directed by Avi Lewis and inspired by Naomi Klein’s international best-selling book by the same title. Over the course of four years, the filmmakers traveled to nine countries on five continents to profile communities on the front lines of the climate justice movement – from Montana’s Powder River Basin to the Alberta tar sands, from the coast of South India to Beijing and beyond. This is the film’s trailer.

MARC MORANO: The majority of the human race does not see global warming as a serious threat. Celebrate! Climate legislation is dead.

UNIDENTIFIED: We in the Global North, with less than 20 percent of the population, are responsible for over 70 percent of global emissions.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are drilling all over the place.

UNIDENTIFIED: On the other side of the world, those people who are the most affected by climate change, most affected by environmental injustice, have the least responsibility for creating this crisis in the first place.

FISHERMAN: [translated] This is our livelihood. This is the water we drink.

ALICE BOWSLARKIN: The amount of fossil fuel that we’re combusting year on year is growing. We’re going in completely the wrong direction.

NAOMI KLEIN: I’ve spent six years wandering through the wreckage caused by the carbon in the air and the economic system that put it there.

KEVIN ANDERSON: That old paradigm will be forced to change, either by the environment around us or by us.

PROTESTERS: We are all … part of this movement!

PROTESTER: [translated] This is our wetland.

UNIDENTIFIED: When you see communities who are thrown into the front line, you see the incredible transformation. They become stronger. They stand up.

NAOMI KLEIN: So here’s the big question: What if global warming isn’t only a crisis? What if it’s the best chance we are ever going to get to build a better world? Change or be changed.

SUNITA NARAIN: There are limits. Let’s celebrate the limits, because we could reinvent a different future.

AMY GOODMAN: The trailer for the epic new documentary, This Changes Everything. The film opens tonight at the IFC Center here in New York City. Last month, it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in Canada.

For more, we’re joined by Avi Lewis, the film’s director and producer. He was previously a host for Al Jazeera’s show Fault Lines. And we’re also joined by the film’s narrator, Naomi Klein, and writer. She’s a journalist and best-selling author of the book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Her past books include No Logo and The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein, it’s great to have you with us today together on the U.S. premiere of the film. So, talk about this film. You have been on this journey, Naomi, writing the book, and now to have the cameras following you, and in places you hadn’t even gone, but that you have extensively written about and analyzed. Talk about what you’re doing with the film?

NAOMI KLEIN: So the idea for the film was to do things a little bit differently. Usually what happens is, you write a book, and then a film is made maybe after. That’s what happened with The Shock Doctrine: The [book] was completed, and then it was optioned, and Michael Winterbottom made a film about it. In this – and there’s something kind of inherently flawed about that process, because you’re retracing your steps. You’re going back to places. And, in a way, you’re sort of – you know, you’re mimicking this process of discovery, because, you know, as anyone who’s read the book knows, you’ve already come to those conclusions. So what we wanted to do with this project was Avi and I wanted to work on it together really from the beginning. So we started while – working together on it, actually, while Avi was still working at Al Jazeera. We went to cover the BP disaster together. We went to Bolivia together to cover the Peoples Conference on Climate Change. And then Avi left Al Jazeera to work on this full-time. And so, people who have read the book or skimmed the book, are familiar with it, will see things that are very recognizable. You know, there’s a chapter in the book about my trip to the Heartland conference on – you know, the climate change denier kind of ground zero. And Avi and his crew were filming on that trip, so there are scenes that will be familiar. But it’s very different to be in the room to see the people who are quoted, to see a whole new dimension. Same with reporting that is in the book on geoengineering. But I think the thing that a film can do so much better than a book, frankly, is really bring us into the heart of the social movements that are the final section of the book. And, you know, it’s one thing to read about it – “Oh, these movements are rising up” – but it’s something very different to be immersed in the energy of social movements that are fighting and winning these epic struggles against fossil fuel companies. And, you know, I’m so grateful to Avi and the whole crew for having stuck with this project for now five years to bring that to people.

AVI LEWIS: There’s another thing in the film – there’s another thing that film can do that books just can’t: The look on Naomi’s face in the cutaway in the climate deniers’ conference is pretty unforgettable. That alone was worth the experience.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, the other thing a film can do, obviously, is capture, in a way that a book really can’t, the actual beauty of the planet that is being violated by this rampant industrialization, and the haunting pictures that you have are unbelievable. I wanted to ask you about the challenge of being able to put the content of the book into a film.

AVI LEWIS: Well, you know, luckily, I wasn’t trying to take 500 pages of Naomi Klein and force it into a film, because those 500 pages weren’t written when we started shooting. But the kernel of the idea was there. And I think, you know, we talked a lot at the beginning of the process of making nature a character in the film. And I think it’s true that when you see communities who are defending their land and their air and their water, defining rights for communities, and actually challenging the economic logic behind the exploitation of nature, and enacting community-scale alternatives at the same time – the “no” against extraction and the “yes,” as well – you know, you see the people, but you also need to know what they’re protecting. And one of the reasons that we shot around the world and made the decision to go epic, as Amy said, is because the scope of Naomi’s argument is vast. The scope of this challenge is global. And the scope of the resistance rising up is global, too. And you need to get that feeling that really these things are happening around the world, and they’re happening in beautiful places that people love. And film has a unique way of touching the heart and the mind at the same time, so we tried to like, you know, bring people to the places.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to get a quick question in on AP’s change in their stylebook, if you’ve heard about this. It was just issued, a staff memo from AP Stylebook editor Sally Jacobsen, David Minthorn and Paula Froke. “We have reviewed our entry on global warming as part of our efforts to continually update the Stylebook to reflect language usage and accuracy. We are adding a brief description of those who don’t accept climate science or dispute the world is warming from man-made forces: Our guidance is to use climate change doubters or those who reject mainstream climate science and to avoid the use of skeptics or deniers.” Your response, Naomi Klein? Clearly, Heartland and others weighing in here.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s good that they are not using “skeptic,” because “skeptic” actually has a positive connotation. We should all be skeptical. We should all be skeptical about science, you know, any scientific claim. And we should be rigorous about it. And, you know, indeed, it’s a phrase that’s celebrated in the scientific community. So, you know, I agree with them about no longer using “skeptic.”

But these are climate change deniers. They are denying the overwhelming scientific evidence. They are denying the real human impacts. And, you know, that look on my face at the Heartland conference, I mean, I think – and I tried to capture this in the book – what I found most disturbing about immersing myself in that context was the real lightheartedness, you know, and you see that in the film. They’re sort of laughing in the face of the problem. And what I took away from that experience and the extraordinary contradictory scientific claims being made, with no attempt to resolve them – this is not a rigorous scientific conference. You know, one person is blaming sunspots. One person is saying it’s not happening. One person is saying it is happening, but we shouldn’t worry about it. The overwhelming feeling, though, is that we are going to be fine. Right? And so, I think the most disturbing denial is the reality of the massive human costs that we are already seeing. We are coming close to the end of what looks to be the hottest year on record. We saw thousands of people die in heat waves in India. You know, this is not about people dying in the future, though it is about that, too. It’s about a massive death toll in the present. We’re seeing climate change act as an accelerant for conflicts. This is true for Syria. It’s fueling the refugee crisis. So, I think people should be held accountable for that, and I disagree with not calling it “climate change denial.”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: One of the other powerful aspects of the film is when you actually chronicle the people who are benefiting from the rampant industrialization, especially in the Alberta tar sands –

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: – where you interview the people who are making $100,000, $300,000, $400,000 a year, and you realize that there is a constituency – I mean, classical Marxists would call it labor aristocracy – that is actually benefiting from this enormous – and they provide a political support for the continued, unbridled expansion.

AVI LEWIS: You know, Juan –

NAOMI KLEIN: It’s complicated.

AVI LEWIS: It is complicated. And people in Alberta, who live next to that biggest industrial project on Earth, have been very anxious about the pace of development and the costs of that project for a long time. And, you know, the oil and gas industry is a very conformist culture. And if you speak about renewable energy, you really get slapped down. It’s like a – there’s a bit of a locker room thing happening there. But the number of workers who told us off camera that they would rather be building wind turbines and putting up – installing solar panels was remarkable. They wouldn’t say it on camera, except for this one amazing guy in the film who’s a boilermaker named Lliam Hildebrand, who started an organization called Iron and Earth, where he’s organizing tar sands workers in support of renewable energy. And he’s building support fast. And there’s a huge constituency up there, especially now that the oil industry is laying off thousands and thousands of people, of workers in that industry who would rather go home and tell their kids what they did that day and feel proud of it.

NAOMI KLEIN: And there was actually a poll that just came out a couple of days ago in Canada, polling Albertans, where the tar sands are, showing that Albertans support a carbon tax. They overwhelmingly support more investments in renewable energy. There’s an exhaustion in Alberta just about the boom-and-bust cycle, the roller coaster of that boom that we chronicle. I mean, we were there during the peak of the boom. The money was just flowing in. We were interviewing these kids going, “This is nuts. I’m making way too much money.” That’s what they were saying.

AVI LEWIS: It’s true.

NAOMI KLEIN: They were kind of laughing, but you know. These are like 24-year-old kids, you know? Sorry, I mean young men. But we also interviewed a lot of workers who just talked about the kind of sadness of the place, right? Almost nobody who you meet in Fort McMurray is from Fort McMurray or has any intention of staying in Fort McMurray. People talk about their time there as, you know, “I’m on the four-month plan,” “I’m on the six-month plan,” “I’m on, you know, maybe the five-year plan,” which is all – and the plan is always the same: Go in, work as hard as you possibly can, get as much money as you can, and get the hell out. Right? So in the film –

AMY GOODMAN: And see if you have a family to come back to.

NAOMI KLEIN: Exactly. I mean, this is hardly heaven. It’s that there aren’t better choices out there for a lot of people.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, then come back to another clip from This Changes Everything. Stay with us.