Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Movie Review: “Deep Green”

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I was offered, and pleased to accept, a DVD of this movie. Other commitments meant that I did not get to it until this week. You can read all about the movie on its own website, which will fill you in on who made it and why. It is aimed at audiences who still need to be persuaded that climate change is real, anthropogenic and imminently catastrophic – but, presumanbly, were unpersuaded by Al Gore and all the rest. And are open to doing something.  It is also firmly on the “realo” side of the Green movement. I use this term for my own reference but it comes from the german Green Party, where debates always seemed to break down along a line between those who favoured compromise with business (“realos”) and those who clung to principles that were not open to adjustment (“fundies”)

The message of the movie is that man made global warming can be stopped, mostly by a combination of technologies – many of which are available – and individual action. There is remarkably little in it about transport – except for the expected singling out of air travel as the worst offender. Given that this movie visits nine countries around the world, this does of course leave the makers open to the same criticism that has been aimed at Al Gore’s carbon footprint.

I did learn a lot about China that was news to me. Since China and India are always used as examples of countries that will not give up anything in terms of development in order to help the world cut its emissions, the movie changed my perception completely. China is serious about tackling its ghg emissions in a way that the US and Canada are not.

There was quite a lot of gosh gee whiz about the technologies, and not very much in the way of critical assessment of how much energy get emitted in creating all this new kit. Embodied energy is obviously important but the nearest I heard to an acknowledgement of that was the remark that an electric car’s dirtiest day was the day you drive it off the lot.  In other words, there is a conviction that electricity generation can only get cleaner. I was a bit puzzled about the Chinese coal fired power station that was supposed to be cleaner, and I saw nothing of the recent concerns that some types of carbon sequestration – such as ground injection into oil fields – are not as permanent as advertised.

This is not a new movie. It was premiered six months ago. It took two years to make, and, of course, the world moves on. I was also a bit skeptical of some of the experts. For example, Amory Lovins has a lot to say. He has been around for a long while – he started to get attention during the 1970s oil crisis – which was when I started to work on this stuff myself. That means he has had plenty of time to be shown wrong, and sadly he made many predictions of what could be done as though it would be. For example, he thought that the motor industry would abandon pressed steel bodies in favour of carbon fibre. While there is a lot more plastic in cars these days, they are still mostly very heavy lumps of metal.

Missing was any discussion of urban form or land use. I think that is probably because it is very much a long term issue – and will not produce much in the way of change in the vanishing amount of time was have left to turn things around. But it will also be a while before there is a smart grid – especially one connecting the Sahara desert solar power stations to Europe. Or a high speed train network here – Europe is well on the way and, of course, Japan has already got one. Obama is only just getting started – and we are not even thinking about it yet.

If you read this blog and agree with any of its stated objectives, I doubt you need to see this movie. I also think the sort of people who might see screening at community events and so on will already be converted. Followers of Stephen Harper or Sarah Palin won’t give it any time at all. But maybe some of the fundies could do with a jolt of – well its all very well you being right but we have to do something and do it now so it might as well be this  – reality.


Written by Stephen Rees

January 14, 2011 at 4:04 pm

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