A huge building detonates on the television screen. Do you feel a flash of sadness, along with awe at our ability to destroy faster than a speeding bullet? Well, watch a mountain explode down to rubble and see how your stomach constricts.
Emotion and impact are the hallmarks of a new documentary on the aftershocks of strip mining. "Crimes Against Nature," involves you visually and viscerally in the amputation of earth's monuments: its mountains. Its purpose is to tell a story about the impact of the mega business of coal extraction on the people and the land in its path. Its larger concept is to lay bare the impact of coal emissions on the air and warmth our planet. According to Dr. James Hansen, fired former head of NASA, we must soon eliminate coal-fired power plants altogether to prevent carbon emissions from skyrocketing past 450 parts per million, the consequences of which would be catastrophic.
Deep in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, the Aspen Film Fest premiered this film in late September; the audience reaction was dramatic. Aspen, a small town, is the home of the Aspen Institute and the Aspen Music Festival, both celebrated centers of international activity. The Film Fest is a relatively new addition to the list of attractions in the Colorado Rockies. Aspen is a place of great natural beauty and equally great commitment to preserving it. So, "Crimes Against Nature," opened to an audience receptive to a message about pollution, global warming, and government duplicity.
Greed has become a buzzword these last 3 weeks of financial meltdown. This film showcases greed at its graphic grizzliest. Aerial scenes of mining devastation are stunning; pollution of rivers and streams is stomach turning. Bobby Kennedy, the son of Robert F. Kennedy, is the author of the book on which the film is based, and he is the primary figure, with Morgan Freeman as narrator. The face-to-face confrontations with coal mining representatives are quintessential evasive dipping and ducking. They are entertaining to watch. Verbal combat between the environmentalist and the coal executives caught in EPA or even criminal violations turns into a joust of wordplay and lively gamesmanship.
From the internet, it is said that you can get instructions to make a nuclear device. "Crimes" instruct its viewers on how the Bush Administration changed the landscape by rewriting environmental regulations. By simply moving words around, the Administration opened the doors to federal lands for mining, timber, and other extraction uses. Important info to have if you want to self-destruct.
Very naughty, indeed. Perhaps even against the law. This film details specific instances of haughty disdain for rules and regulations and for public health, best exemplified in the lowering of mercury levels allowed by companies to dump into public waters. We have the need to know and we should pay attention. After all, it is we who get hurt by these little games played in the name of greed. It will keep happening until we elect officials who cry foul and watch over regulation rewrites.
The Bush administration takes heavy hits in this version of their misdeeds. One criticism could be that it is, in fact, a diatribe, not a documentary. The evidence, however, is that this Administration has been the most hostile toward environmental well-being of any in memory. It has been a goody wagon for oil, coal, and timber interests first and stewards of our land and values last. The criticism is deserved and well earned. Cheney had all his meetings with oil companies on energy issues in secret, refusing to invite other groups and refusing to reveal his cabal. The Chamber of Secrets needs a little sunlight and "Crimes against Nature," is a start. In this case, we have to become our own Harry potter to come to our own rescue.
The main fault of the film is neither its content nor its passion; it is its length. We really do not need to see "W" recite his oath of office again. There are too many scenes of Bobby Kennedy that lead us nowhere, and there are some scenes that are repetitive. An editorial knife should solve the problem nicely. Tightening up would compact this sad tale into a more powerful tool in the ongoing fight against ruining our planet and stealing the future from our children and grandchildren.
"Daddy, won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County ... Down by the Green River where paradise lay ... Sorry, my son, but its too late in asking ... Mr. Peabody's coal train has carried it away." These are melancholy words from a John Prine song, but the melody and words hit the target and capture the sad, irrevocable loss that has been dealt us. Yes, of course, we need energy. We will have it if we elect the right kind of leaders. There are myriad ways to provide energy: electricity from the sun, the wind, water, and cellulosic biofuels.
We have had no leadership in making this shift into healthy, independent, and job-producing energy production. It will be harder now, because so much time has been squandered and so much despoiling has taken place. And so much money has gone to Venezuela, Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. We have been fools. It is time to wake up and smell the fossil fuels. Time to act and take our country back. This film stirs us to do the right thing, even if a bit at length.
*In the interest of full disclosure, the author is a small investor in this film.