One of the surprises in the oil world in 2004 was the success of an underground documentary on the perilous state of world energy.
The End of Suburbia has sold more than 10,000 DVDs and has been aired on TV around the world.
Now the documentary maker behind the celluloid hit has announced the follow up, Escape From Suburbia, exclusively to Aljazeera.
Greg Greene made The End of Suburbia with editor Barry Sliverthorn, about the way the so-called American dream will be affected by an end to cheap energy.
“The whole post-war American way of life ended up being centred on the suburb; the nice house with a nice lawn and the picket fence; a nice car in the drive.
“It stopped being about escaping tyranny or finding democracy. Instead, it became about achieving a way of life that was propped up by cheap energy.”
Death of a dream
Greene believes the world is entering the beginning of the end of the age of oil, a phase that will affect every aspect of human existance.
“People who have bought into that American dream of an ever-growing lifestyle with ever cheaper goods and services, are going to be the most affected by the changes that are coming.”
Released in the spring of 2004, The End of Suburbia has been on television in Europe and Canada and is now being prepared for dubbing into Spanish.
“We were pleasantly surprised. We beat all our sales targets for the DVDs and they are still flying out,” says Greene. “And we have had a lot of TV stations around the world talking to us, except in the US.”
The timing of the release of The End of Suburbia could not have been better as oil hit the headlines during the summer of 2004. Spurred on by high prices and very tight demand, oil became a topic dripping its way into the mainstream.
“TV executives who did not understand why we wanted to make a film about oil suddenly realised what was going on. As oil climbed in price, so did the interest around the world.”
As a result, Greene is now set to start filming his second film, Escape From Suburbia, hitting the same topic from a different angle.
“In Escape I wanted to look at the people who really were trying to make some kind of impact over the energy question. Right now. Who were the people who had a future without cheap oil? Who were the ones who didn’t want to waste any time waiting around for it to hit them?
“After all, every time you even see a Hollywood science fiction movie, say AI or I-Robot, the futures predicted are always energy rich. It takes some foresight for people to actually start planning now, for a future in which we all may be energy poor.”
Greene is going to cover a variety of areas in the new documentary, including recoverable oil from so-called tar sands.
“We will start by looking at a guy who is working in the booming area of the Canadian tar sands.
“The desire to extract the energy from the sands in Northern Alberta has meant that there has been a great deal of expansion in these areas.
“We are going to use this guy, who also works in Kuwait, to look at the situation around Opec and how their influence is changing.”
As well as the conventional unconventionals such as tar sands, Greene is also going further afield.
“We are going to take a look at the Cuban situation as regards their urban agriculture programme.
“When their cheap oil imports stopped coming in from the Soviet Union, they were forced to use land in urban areas to grow food.
“A lot of land was opened up to private Cuban farmers in the cities. This was in order to get around the problem of fuel becoming so much more expensive. We want to see how they managed to do it and what lessons could be taken from their experience.”
Not content with this level of global travel Greene has then lined up Iceland as his next stop.
“Because it has one of the world’s oldest alternative energy economies with its use of thermal energy. But also because there have been people trying to kick-start the hydrogen economy there. It is important to see what they have achieved and what their plans are for the future.”
But even among those people who think oil is starting its decline there is scepticism over these alternatives. Hydrogen especially is often derided as pie-in-the-sky thinking, too energy-expensive to produce on any meaningful level.
“That is true. Even people who talk about things like peak oil are often sceptics about other forms of energy. We are not so concerned with that. We want to see the people who are actually making attempts.”
Greene says his new film will not just be about technical energy questions, it will be about the people who are trying to address them.
“These are people who are anticipating massive social changes based on energy becoming much more expensive. That is what we are going to look at. Their futures, our futures, could be vastly different depending on the success or failure of their projects. Very different indeed.”