Over the last few years the issue of global warming has been disputed by scientists, academics and the general public and the debate over whether it exists or doesn't exist has been ever present in the media. Lately however, the shifting climate has begun to take its toll on the planet and a movement of change has begun to gain momentum.
Today it's less about whether we 'believe' in global warming and more about how we can come together to save the planet that supports all life.
Being a part of the Live Earth campaign as a filmmaker has offered me (and many other filmmakers) the opportunity to come face to face with people who are losing their lives as a result of the rapidly changing climate and those who are devoted to researching and educating people on the severity of the issue.
I chose to document the lives of people living in a remote village in Alaska called Shishmaref because there we can literally see how climate change is affecting their homes, livelihoods and ultimately their lives. The fact that the people of Shishmaref are largely out of sight (and therefore out of our minds) made their story all the more compelling. It was a story that undoubtedly needed to be told and until I began making POLARIZED I never realized how human consumption is affecting people in the remotest areas.
I flew to one of the northern most spots of Alaska, just 100 miles off the Arctic Circle. Our final destination was only 30 miles from Russia and the tiny landing strip was surrounded by snow. We arrived in April during what was supposed to be springtime expecting most of the local community to be off on hunting trips but most were housebound due to a thick whiteout making visibility near impossible.
The native people of Shishmaref (all six hundred of them) and the people in almost three hundred other villages in Alaska depend on the freezing temperatures for food. When the winter is warmer and lasts longer the local communities cannot make it to the places where they need to fish as the partially melted ice over the sea cannot sustain their weight. This is the same plight as the polar bears, walruses, and sea mammals -- all of whom are suffering equally.
As the people of Shishmaref lose their natural hunting grounds to the warming sea they are forced to buy US canned goods from the only local store on the island however, this is not their natural diet and cannot sustain them throughout the year. But this is not the only catastrophe. The warming sea water and meting permafrost that protects their coastline is melting and vast expanses of land are literally falling into the sea. Homes teeter on the edge of the coastline and many families have already been evacuated. Experts predict the whole village along with 85% of the other native villages in Alaska will be under water in the next 15 years.
For thousands of years the polar bears have lived outside of the villages and had their own systems for fishing and hunting the sea mammals that they feed on. Now, with the ice chips melting day by day, the polar bears either drown or are forced to find new feeding grounds, which take them further inland to the villages. In search of food, the hungry polar bears take what they can and are often found pillaging through trash just feet from their next targets...This puts the dogs and the children at great risk. The battle for survival is very real in Shishmaref and the collision with humans usually results in polar bears being shot.
The people of Shishmaref want their community to survive but they are holding on to their legacy by a very delicate thread indeed. The threat of their land disappearing is only the beginning. Currently, the US government has not allocated anything towards their relocation. They are hopeless and need something to change or their way of life, which has continued for 4,000 years. If not, they will disappear along with the coastline.
Our daily habits of driving, drilling, buying and supporting all of the economic benefits a free economy demands has cost us dearly but none more so than for the people of Shishmaref. I sincerely hope that these films can create lasting change in our daily habits after all it's the smallest changes that can influence the big ones.
Experts predict in the next 70 years the plight in Shishmaref will hit one hundred million coastal dwellers worldwide. That's all of us....