The Great Squeeze: Surviving the Human Project is the latest film from Colorado-based Tiroir a Films. This sequel to their 2006 offering, Energy Crossroads: The Burning Need to Change Course, looks to dig even deeper into how the concurrent processes of resource depletion, climate change, ecosystem destruction and our consumption-oriented economic model are threatening to destroy both our planet and possibly our very civilization. I would say in large part that it succeeds.
For those of you familiar with other peak oil/ecocatastrophe films, this one follows the tried-and-true format of talking heads, interspersed with shots of ecosystem malaise tied together by an articulate PBS-style narrative. The list of experts featured includes noted economist Lester Brown, who gets a refreshing amount of screen time along with peak oil experts Richard Heinberg and James Howard Kunstler, as well as scientific lights Jim White, Professor of Geological Sciences at University of Colorado at Boulder, and the famous naturalist Edward O. Wilson from Harvard University. This list might reinforce an impression that Bart Anderson noted in his previous EB review of Energy Crossroads, that the film’s voices are heavily weighted on the side of American white males over 40. With the addition of five women to its roster, however, two of whom are the geologist Shemin Ge (University of Colorado) and Dr. Anu Ramaswami (University of Colorado-Denver), the Great Squeeze balances the scales a bit better this time around.
Largely due to its impressive array of intellectual muscle, the film presents its points in a very balanced and scientific way. There are no wild-eyed conspiracy theorists here. Bart goes on in his review to intimate that Energy Crossroads could coax one’s “…Midwest relatives to swallow the Red Pill and understand why you’re obsessed with peak oil…” I should add that if they don’t reach an “End of Suburbia” moment after seeing the multiple critiques of our energy, economic, and environmental situation that are offered in The Great Squeeze, they probably never will. After the de rigueur peak oil presentation at the beginning, the film in its remaining 60-odd minutes touches on and ties together almost every aspect of the converging catastrophes which face us, from peak water to peak agriculture to potential economic collapse. And the film tries to pick us off the floor afterward by offering some mitigation strategies, such as “powering down” to smaller-scale, more organic agriculture, that we can take to head off some of the worst effects of said catastrophes.
My interest was caught by the inclusion of two anthropologists in the film, Stephen Lekson and David Stuart. With the popularity of Jared Diamond’s book Collapse, many people are now familiar with the idea of previous complex societies, such as the Maya and the Anasazi, “collapsing” from overshooting their environmental capacities in some way. The parallels with our current situation are almost too obvious to need drawing out, but the Anasazi situation is pointed up in an interesting and compelling fashion (and no, the Anasazi didn’t “disappear”, they moved south to become the Pueblo tribes of New Mexico). The film leaves us with the question and ultimately, a call to action: is our society going to be the exception to that rule?
Well worth a watch, even for those of you who might be peak-oiled out at the movies, and a good overview of the larger issues for an audience who hasn’t already been exposed to the usual canon.