Wednesday 5 December 2007

Cheat Neutral and Baked Alaska

The regular 'Green Screen' slot at the Keele Postgraduate Association bar yielded up two films for us on Monday night. The first of these, Cheat Neutral, was a short documentary following the exploits of two lads who'd come up with a novel idea. For a small fee, they can arrange for you to offset the guilt of your cheating ways by paying someone to remain monogamous on your behalf. The film makers pointed out they were inspired by carbon offsetting, where polluters can salve their environmental consciences by paying someone in the developing world to plant a few trees to soak up their emissions. Just as Cheat Neutral does not decrease the sum total of infidelities, carbon offsetting fails to reduce emission levels. Overall, it is a searing satire on the absurdity of what is touted as a serious strategy for dealing with climate change.

The second screening was Baked Alaska, a 2003 documentary looking at the climate change impacts on Alaska, as well as the state's environmental politics. It reported a four-degree Celsius rise in average temperatures since 1960. As a result the thawing ground has seen lakes drain away, and increasing incidences of houses and infrastructure sinking into the earth. The damage from melting permafrost was put at $35 million/year. On Alaska's western coast, Inuit villagers explained how sea ice thickness has decreased on average from four inches to one. Weaker sea ice has meant fewer places for walruses - an Inuit staple - to bask, and therefore affecting community self-sufficiency. If this wasn't enough, storms are more frequent, their winds are stronger, and surges tend to be higher. In the 40 year period, around 500 metres of land have succumbed to the waves.

Alaska happens to be the USA's primary centre of domestic oil production. On average, the film calculated oil production accounts, on average, for $1,500 worth of income per annum for each Alaskan. Small wonder Bush's plans to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are backed by around 80% of residents. The very spot where Bush and his oil friends want to begin pumping is ecologically sensitive because they take in the breeding grounds of one of North America's largest caribou herds. This just isn't a matter of animal welfare - the self-sufficiency of Inuit communities across the border in Canada depends on the herd's migration. If caribou numbers are affected, as seems likely, these communities will wither on the vine. In addition, Inuit within Alaska but outside ANWR's boundaries are opposed on spiritual grounds, though interestingly, the community nearest to the proposed site endorse the project, believing it will bring much-needed jobs and economic growth to their settlements.

The discussion afterwards addressed several issues. Right now, drilling in ANWR has been held up by the Democrats in the senate, who follow the position adopted by Clinton in 1992, when he vetoed the proposals. The one criticism of the film that emerged was despite pressing home the message that climate change affects us all equally, it (positively) undermined this message by showing how the poor and the marginalised - in this case the Inuit - disproportionately suffer. The experience of climate change is classed, and the intra-Inuit conflict over ANWR drilling is a case in point. Opposition to it came from communities who would lose out from any decline in caribou numbers, or, for those who fielded theirs on spiritual grounds, were already self-sufficient. The on-site Inuit were very different - they were not self-sufficient. They constantly faced year-on-year funding cuts for their school and local government apparatus, and unemployment was a problem - small wonder they supported the oil companies' case. Here we have, in all cases, social being conditioning (environmental) consciousness.

Another interesting observation was how Alaska as a whole serves as a case study. The environmental consequences of global warming will be felt more severely here than before the chickens come home to roost in the rest of the world's advanced capitalist states. The disruptions and dislocations Alaskan society could suffer may offer the rest a vision of their own future. Unless there is serious concerted global action - which immediately puts the necessity of democratic socialist planning on the agenda - in time, we will suffer the whirlwind capitalism has reaped for us.


Aaron A. said...

in time, we will suffer the whirlwind capitalism has reaped for us.

With many of the "baking" estimates and computer models being on the conservative side, it seems we may be in that whirlwind sooner than we all think.

Jonathan Wood said...

Can you update the link to my blog. I've just changed my blog address, it's now


Derek Wall said...

have a look at my blog for stuff on enclosure, biofuels and the disaster which is the conventional market based environmental approach

Foxessa said...

This is a most educational blog. It shall take some time to work through all the resources you've collected.

Under the circumstances I hope you don't mind this question -- are you familiar with Eric Hobsbawm's work? If so, does he fit into the conceptualizations so many of you (there seems to be an extensive circles or intersecting circles of very knowledgable bloggers here on blogspot who deal with the crossings of economic systems, political systems and class systems -- which Left in East Dakota has kind of introduced me to).


Love, C.