Both domestically and internationally, climate change appears to be a real and significant factor. As a service to our audiences, CIC-Saskatoon began 2017 with two events addressing climate change issues.[a] January 12: Chris DeBeer, Global Becomes Local: The Changing Climate of western Canada.
Santa Claus was not merry in his delivery of extreme cold temperatures on the night of Thursday, January 12. In this time of Global Weirding, it seemed somehow appropriate that this was the night during which Chris DeBeer of the Global Institute for Water Security presented on his topic, Global Becomes Local: The Changing Climate of western Canada.
As part of the Changing Cold Regions Network, Dr. DeBeer and his team have examined all sorts of high-tech satellite and low tech measurement data (some from weather stations going back eighty years) to document on recent climatic, cryospheric, and hydrological changes of western Canada. What he has seen in the glacial changes and fine temperature and precipitation patterns point out that we may be in for a great deal of trouble over the next eighty years in this region, from weather anomalies, increased drought and new pests moving in to capitalize on changing conditions. While nothing is completely predictable, the numbers and trend lines look pretty convincing.[b] February 8: Documentary, “the Age of Consequences”
The former Place Riel Theatre was returned to its previous theatrical glory as an enthusiastic an engaged audience braved the early February blizzard to attend Jared P. Scott’s most recent documentary, “The Age of Consequences”.
“The Age of Consequences” relies not on a single narrator, but quite a large number of persons in headshot, having a conversation directly with you, the viewer. Four retired military persons carry a lot of the narrative load through the film: Michael Breen, Former Captain US Army; Sharon Burke, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy; Brigadier General Stephen Cheney (Retired), US Marine Corps; and Leon Fuerth, Former National Security Advisor, White House from 1993 to 2001. The cast of storytellers also includes a quite a number of authors, professors and other military personnel.
While the film divides itself into many chapters – title blocks for chapters appear on the screen for a few seconds at a time – two story arcs are interwoven throughout.
The first, less of an arc than a list, are the examples of how climate change plays a role in a great many of the modern day conflicts. This has an appeal to many of us general viewers who may not have the details on our fingertips. The Asian droughts of the late 2000’s led to massive crop failures in Russia and China; these countries responded by buying up all the wheat they could on the international markets, and Russia stopped their wheat exports to the Middle East; the prices of flour rose to exorbitant levels in Egypt. Leading to the Arab Spring but massive instability in a number of governments. Syria experienced three consecutive years of drought and crop failure, leading to mass migrations, urban crowding and civil war. The above two examples led to mass migrations in dangerous conditions to Europe, and that instability led to the rise of anti-immigrant sentiments. The Sahel region of Africa experienced severe droughts, causing groups such as Boko Haram to seize control of local water sources (such as Lake Chad, which dried to 10% of its previously-known volume. Bangladesh is experiencing a rise in sea level, flooding their deltas and arable lands; India is responding by building a manned and armed “climate fence” along its borders with Bangladesh; in the meantime, the Himalayan glaciers are receding, adding water stress to nations big and small in central Asia.
I’m making it sound like the film says climate change is the one cause for all conflict in the world. But the movie reiterates that conflict is bubbling under the surface in a lot of regions, and that climate change offers one more stressor that may be enough to set things off balance.
Interwoven throughout this film is the story of the US Military, which has been increasingly aware of the effects of climate change since their incursions into Somalia in the 1990’s. It was pointed out that many persons who were part of the military have since retired and taken up roles to bring awareness to the government of the importance of preparing for climate change. (Through this part of the story, you’ll see old archive footage of Madeleine Albright and George Schultz. Watch for Jeff Sessions late in the film.)
The take revealed by the military in this film is that they see counties and cultures having been able to be successful because of consistency and relative predictability of climate and weather; and that, government, government services, infrastructure and rule of law can become overwhelmed and break down if conditions become unpredictable and bad (the response to hurricane Katrina was used as an example). It was suggested that the US navy can come to the rescue if a major disaster hits one location in the world – but would become overwhelmed if two (or more) major disasters take place at once.
The film doesn’t offer a lot of greatly positive solutions. The US military is trying to increase its ability to react to crises (they are raising the piers at their naval base in Norfolk, Virginia, but they’re in a spot of trouble with rising waters there). The military is undertaking alternative energy initiatives, so that they can operate and be less reliant on foreign oil. And they are lobbying the government to become more aware that climate change is real, and that its biggest risk to the US is the instability it will bring if they do not take measures to become more resilient. (Sort of “climate change is real, serious, and now unavoidable, so see it as real and prepare to deflect its worst effects at instability.”)
The visuals are pretty stunning: the narrator footage is interspersed with news and military footage, a few charts and the design characteristic of the promotional materials which accompany the film. While a lot of facts were shown on the screen, I found that they were up for too short a time for me to take them all in. If you are better at listening than reading, you’ll still get a great deal out of this film.
There are reviews of the film out there in the media, and there will always be people for whom this movie is not their cup of tea. Some say that the movie doesn’t go far enough; others were sad that ( SPOILER ALERT) it does not have a happy ending, and things are not resolved. But I found that, for a general interest audience, it played well, and people left with some points they could argue that climate change is real. In Saskatoon, the audience here was grateful that CIC presented this documentary less than two weeks after its New York premiere, and well before its general release.
Dan Sutherland (Dan.Sutherland@agr.gc.ca) is a past president of the Saskatoon branch of the Canadian International Council, and currently serves as the chair of the branch programming committee.