Earth News: More than News of the World

Beginning of the Year Special edition

January 12, 2017image002“What strikes me especially,” an interviewer once noted to Deleuze, “is the friendship you have for the authors you write about.” “If you don’t admire something,” Deleuze replied, “if you don’t love it, you have no reason to write a word about it.”

Michael Munro, The Communism of Thought (punctum books, 2014)

Ever the optimist, I thought it would be good to begin the year on a hopeful note, and just at the end of writing this series, I came across Kim Stanley Robinson’s Foreword to Everything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction, from whom I have also taken the enchanting future imagined above.

KSR writes:

There’s a certain kind of joy that can emerge out of intense and meaningful situations; in an emergency, what to do and how to live become questions with clear answers. So it is that even the angriest and most cold-eyed of these stories give reasons for hope, because the writers have not flinched from the huge problems we face, and neither have their characters. Read on and enjoy learning more, knowing more, living more.

If that’s not an invitation to read cli-fi, I don’t know what is.

And as the editors of the Anthology note, Margaret Atwood observes “It’s not climate change – it’s everything change.”

Novels, short stories, photos, art, music, and performance are just a few of the ways we are telling and intend to tell more of the stories of climate justice around the world. This last essay explores the power of another medium for telling stories, and presents some of the most compelling recent film and video work that tells us on some profound plane of existence what we must do about the huge problems we face.

Now is most certainly the time for eliciting in ourselves and in and with others that kind of joy that can emerge out of intense and meaningful situations.


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OK, NOW Let’s Watch Some Stuff on Netflix

If you have made it to here, well congratulations! Your reward is that you get to watch some powerful films and shorter videos. Here is a very partial (no doubt in both senses of the word), annotated list of some of the best films and video shorts for climate justice that I have seen this year!

Let’s start with a few of the best feature films of 2016…

Demain

I had the opportunity to screen this film – which I had been unable to see on the internet [but now that may be changing, as this site, which seems legitimate, screens it in French with French subtitles, and a fair number of the interviews are in English; to see part two, click below part one].

I can only concur with what transitionista Rob Hopkins, who appears in it, says in this review. Keep an eye out for it!

The unstoppable rise of ‘Demain’

Rob Hopkins

February 5, 2016

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The film Demain (Tomorrow) is proving to be one of the most remarkable catalysts for Transition and other bottom-up approaches that has ever been made. I recently saw it described by a friend of mine as March of the Penguins for localists”. Mention of it often pops up in emails from people who have seen it. One recently said “Demain is working really well in France, it is a crazy phenomenon, never a documentary has touched so many people in France”.

The film, created by Cyril Dion and Melanie Laurent, was premiered in Paris during COP21 [in December 2015], and has since been seen by 560,000 people in France alone.

Its inspiring message has really hit a chord with people. As Cyril told me, “we are receiving every day messages from people launching projects or using the movie to support current initiatives”.

A review in Le Monde described the film as “a phenomenon of society” [JF: in English, we’d probably say, interestingly enough, “a phenomenon of nature”]. It added:

In a France darkened by crisis and terrorism, this documentary is a “breath of hope” … (it) presents the spectators with people who are not in the [spot]light, but who create, invent, and are preparing for the future. It takes them out of the impasse.

Another, in La Vie, wrote that “this was a rare thing: the audience actually spoke to each other, before and after the movie! Indeed, many of them were there for their second or third viewing of the film”.

Beyond the Red Lines: System Change Not Climate Change

After I watched the feature-length documentary, Beyond the Red Lines: System Change Not Climate Change, I wrote some friends: “There were so many familiar people and events, things seen or read or taught about, it was like watching a home movie – feelings of nostalgia, pride, and love for these people and their efforts on behalf of ourselves and all creatures on this planet.”
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You can watch it here, at cinemedia.

Here’s what it’s about:

From the lignite mines in the Rhineland, to the port of Amsterdam or on the streets of Paris during the World Climate Summit, the struggles for climate justice are fought at more and more fronts. Beyond the red lines is the story of a growing movement that says “Enough! Here and no further!” and commits civil disobedience taking the transition towards a climate just society into its own hands.

The year 2015 was marked by human induced climate change increasingly spiraling out of control – and the struggle for climate justice taking place at more and more fronts. In Paris a global climate agreement was adopted. But was it really about saving the planet? While negotiations and greenhouse gas emissions are in full swing, there are worlds between what would be needed to avert runaway climate chaos and the measures actually being taken.

This film portrays three initiatives before and during the World Climate Summit. It shows 1,300 people entering a lignite open cast mine and putting their bodies in the way of giant coal excavators in order to paralyze Europe’s largest source of CO2 for one day (Ende Gelände) [JF: more on this below]. We hear the voices of people that block the import of fossil fuels at the harbour of Amsterdam (Climate camp “ground control” & “Climate Games” [JF: also the subject of one of our video shorts]). We meet people on a 5,000 km bicycle ride to Paris, providing on their way a common voice for a climate just world to countless local initiatives (Alternatiba).

The film also documents how tens of thousands take the streets of Paris during the World Climate Summit despite the proclaimed state of emergency. Meanwhile the largest climate change mobilization recorded in recent history unites more than 785,000 people in 2,200 events in 175 countries.

In the midst of giant machines, raised voices and apocalyptic landscapes, the logic of a system based on endless growth and its “green” crisis management is questioned.

Beyond the red lines is the story of a growing movement that says “Enough! Here and no further!” and commits civil disobedience taking the transition towards a climate just society into its own hands.

Before the Flood

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The most publicized climate change film event of 2016, Before the Flood – whose title I keep misremembering as After the Flood! – is narrated by celebrity climate champion and U.N. Messenger of Peace [!] Leonardo DiCaprio [I say this in earnestness and with all due credit].

I watched it for free when it came out in November, and liked it very much. It is the best of the sub-genre of celebrity-made films on the climate crisis, and I feel DiCaprio is a genuine spokesperson for climate change action.

You can now rent it at its very informative website here, where you will find the following teaser and much more besides, including knowledgeable analyses of the crisis, some suggested solutions, and various ways to get involved:

If you could know the truth about the threat of climate change – would you want to know? Before the Flood, presented by National Geographic, features Leonardo DiCaprio on a journey as a United Nations Messenger of Peace, traveling to five continents and the Arctic to witness climate change firsthand. He goes on expeditions with scientists uncovering the reality of climate change and meets with political leaders fighting against inaction. He also discovers a calculated disinformation campaign orchestrated by powerful special interests working to confuse the public about the urgency of the growing climate crisis. With unprecedented access to thought leaders around the world, DiCaprio searches for hope in a rising tide of catastrophic news.

From Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Fisher Stevens and Academy Award®-winning actor, environmental activist and U.N. Messenger of Peace Leonardo DiCaprio, Before the Flood presents a riveting account of the dramatic changes now occurring around the world due to climate change, as well as the actions we as individuals and as a society can take to prevent the disruption of life on our planet. Beyond the steps we can take as individuals, the film urges viewers to push their elected officials in supporting the use of alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power. “We need everyone to demand bold action from their political leaders and to elect representatives who have their best interests at heart, not the interests of corporations to perpetuate a cycle of greed and destruction,” says DiCaprio. “This documentary shows how interconnected the fate of all humanity is – but also the power we all possess as individuals to build a better future for our planet.”

Time to Choose

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The film I liked better than After the Flood was Charles Ferguson’s Time to Choose, billed as the place where you can “Hear Rex Tillerson say: ‘The fear factor that people wanna throw out there that just says “We have to stop this [i.e. climate change],” I just do not accept’.”

Film critic Roberto Montiel did the film justice when he wrote:

The main variable in Time to Choose is, as in all of Ferguson’s work, time; now, however, he is looking into the future from the present continuous, rather than into the past from the present perfect (as is the case of his two previous documentaries, “No End in Sight,” “Inside Job”). It is the same story, though: You have all the information available, everybody who knows anything is warning you, and you did (are doing) nothing, you continued (are continuing) business as usual. Thus for the first time, a different verbal tense appears in Ferguson’s voice: The conditional. Should things continue this way . . . The race against time is thus, really, a race against power. The technology for clean energy, for alternative ways, is there, but not the power to move it forward, nor the will to change our ways.

Montiel also wrote these beautiful sentences in the same review: “Climate is the only tangible news we have of the emotions of this Earth. Once it really turns moody, it will claim back the coastlines we once claimed as ours to found almost every major city currently existing on Earth, turning all harbors into havoc.”

The movie also comes with a rich website of solutions and resources.

You can screen Time to Choose for free on Amazon Prime or pay $4.99 to see it here.


Where to Invade Next?

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Technically, this is not so much about climate change per se but instead it revolves around the slew of problems whose fallout [bad word choice, perhaps] the climate crisis exacerbates. Michael Moore’s film is nothing like its title; it’s not about U.S. militarism but rather about how a range of countries, mostly in Europe, have solved major social challenges that the U.S. has not. Maybe Bernie Sanders was onto something with his embrace of “democratic socialism” (by which he means European social democracy at its heyday, sadly no longer robust in Europe itself, and something which would be downright revolutionary in the U.S. context).

As Peter Travers explains in a review in Rolling Stone (source of some of our best climate writing):

In Italy, he meets a couple who get 30 days paid vacation each year with no loss in productivity. Their bosses encourage two-hour lunches at home, where families can connect. In France, Moore is astonished by school kids who are served nutritional food, including several kinds of cheeses (Camembert, mais oui!), and are horrified by the slop washed down with sugary soft drinks in America. They drink water. In Slovenia, college is free – even for foreigners – and students go on strike if anyone even thinks about charging tuition. (Take that, American students who start life burdened with staggering college loans.) In Finland, students attend school for shorter hours, are rarely given homework and still rank among the best in the world.

On a visit to a Norway prison, the worst felons are treated with compassion, with sentences capped at 21 years, even for murderers. Yet the crime rate is low, as is recidivism. In Tunisia, women win free health care from a hidebound Islamist regime. And a female activist complains that selfish, me-first Americans won’t even make the first move to learn about her culture. And get a load of Portugal, where using drugs is not a crime, but rehab is offered to those who want it. “I have cocaine in my pocket right now,” Moore jokes to a cop, who couldn’t care less.

A trip to Iceland finds that the bankers who brought economic ruin to their country are thrown in jail instead of being bailed out. And the saviors of society are the skilled female leaders who reject testosterone as a fuel source.

Still, it’s the Germans who most inspire Moore. They don’t run from their shameful backstory; they use art and public forums to remind citizens of the Holocaust. Back home, our vicious history with Native Americans and African slaves is mostly ignored, even as recent events echo the past through gun culture and racial violence.

Check it out, it will lift your spirits about what is possible and actually going on right now somewhere in the world – definitely Michael Moore’s best film, in my book, the book of climate justice!

Cowspiracy

This is the most “impactful” as – my students sometimes say – of all the films I have screened in the classes I teach at UC Santa Barbara: Earth in Crisis, Climate Justice, and The World in 2050. The first time I screened it, upwards of ninety percent spontaneously pledge to turn vegetarian or vegan! This proved to be harder than we had realized…

Although it overreaches when it says that industrial agriculture in one way or another accounts for fifty percent of greenhouse gas emissions, the real number, somewhere between fifteen and twenty percent depending on how you calculate it, still points to a crucial piece of the problem, and the film also presents some of the alternatives, particularly the insight that the single most effective thing an individual can do for the environment (besides dedicating their life to the climate justice movement) is simply to stop eating meat and dairy products.

I find the discussion below, found at the film’s website, to be accurate. The website also contains a wealth of information about agriculture and climate change.

Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret is a groundbreaking feature-length environmental documentary following intrepid filmmaker Kip Andersen as he uncovers the most destructive industry facing the planet today – and investigates why the world’s leading environmental organizations are too afraid to talk about it.

Animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation, water consumption and pollution, is responsible for more greenhouse gases than the transportation industry, and is a primary driver of rainforest destruction, species extinction, habitat loss, topsoil erosion, ocean “dead zones,” and virtually every other environmental ill. Yet it goes on, almost entirely unchallenged.

As Andersen approaches leaders in the environmental movement, he increasingly uncovers what appears to be an intentional refusal to discuss the issue of animal agriculture, while industry whistleblowers and watchdogs warn him of the risks to his freedom and even his life if he dares to persist.

As eye-opening as Blackfish and as inspiring as An Inconvenient Truth, this shocking yet humorous documentary reveals the absolutely devastating environmental impact large-scale factory farming has on our planet, and offers a path to global sustainability for a growing population.

It’s a great film to provoke discussion with friends and family over holiday meals, or with just about anybody at any time. Cowspiracy came out in 2014; the filmmakers are working on a new one called What the Health, which you can learn about here.

The following wonderful films were also nominated by friends and editors:

Occupied. Imagine this: the EU/NATO invade Norway after that country’s next-generation thorium reactor is so successful that the government shuts down Norway’s oil exports, thereby upsetting the economic basis of those other Rich World countries who are dragging their feet in making their own transition to renewables [and no, I am not in favor of nuclear energy as a viable alternative energy source, for the record]. The multipart drama is available on Netflix, and there’s a good review of it by Sharon Burke in Slate, here.

I Am. Filmmaker Tom Shadyac, of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Bruce Almighty fame asks two profound questions after a life-threatening bicycle accident causes him to re-evaluate his purpose on the planet: What is wrong with our world? and 2) How do we fix it? Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Desmond Tutu, David Suzuki and many other wise people who may not be quite as famous, attempt to provide answers. Find it here it’s really very good!


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Shorts

And now let’s turn to a tiny slice of the best short videos made on the theme of climate justice in the course of 2016 (with one or two from earlier years thrown in…).


Ende Gelände: Here and No Further

This mind-boggling direct action took place in 2015, when some 1,500 mostly young, mostly European activists clad in white jumpsuits swarmed past police to enter the world’s biggest open-pit lignite coal mine and biggest single emitter of CO2 in Germany – and briefly shut it down. It contains valuable lessons (and suggests some of the limitations as well) about how to do this, punctuated by beautiful words and faces in direct action.

It can be glimpsed at a variety of sites, in a variety of languages; all of which add something to one’s grasp of the significance of this action, which is a dramatic enactment of Blockadia.

 Try any of these:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eExgsVt2nMo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6wEd20WTNQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-gZ13cGS5E

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vC5Faqbw0Hg

The German version is even more powerful, showing some of the police violence on the way to the mine, and this clip has a brief interview at that juncture with Tadzio Müller, one of my favorite veteran climate justice radicals.

Part 1: Overcome the Motorway

Part 2: The Way to the Mine

Part 3: In the Coal Mine

Part 4: Activists overcome last police cordon

Part 5: Keep it in the ground! Activists block the coal excavator for 7 hours

The Future Starts Today

In this quite endearing video, told by an old woman who lived through it as a young girl growing up, our better selves get it together and keep the world under 1.5 degrees by 2090. All this in only ninety seconds!

This was made for Earth Hour – March 21, 2016 – which you can read about here, and see unfold across Asia here.

Capitalism is Just a Story

If only this were true… see it here.

 

Global Wealth Inequality in Four Minutes

Resilience drew my attention to this video, which is embedded in the accompanying article which tells it like it is:

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Of every dollar of wealth created, 93 cents goes to the top one percent since 1998…. Understanding that every dollar of wealth creates inequality, and every dollar of wealth heats up our planet – because we have a fossil fuels extractive-based system – you realize that there’s no way that reforming this current system is going to change the quality of life for the majority of humanity. Quite the opposite. The more we improve the system, the more we’re keeping in a vampiric system whose logical outcome will be the destruction of the planet.

Paul Hawken: ‘Best Video Ever Made on Climate Change’

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This is what Stephanie Spear of EcoWatch reported on this video of Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi playing the piano while floating on an iceberg past the glaciered floating mountains of the Arctic. Greenpeace took him there, off northernmost Norway in the summer of 2016. Paul Hawken, author of Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World and director of Project Drawdown, concurs.

Best ever? You decide. One of the most haunting? For sure.


The Trail of a Tail

I’m also sneaking in this 2015 short from Portugal that won Action4Climate‘s documentary competition that year. As told by EcoWatch/Climate Nexus,

The Trail of a Tale by Portuguese filmmaker Gonçalo Tocha, is captivating as the narrator tells us, the stranger, how things went right. Society gathered with a fundamental belief that the “purpose of the economic system is to improve the well-being for all within the limits of what the planet can sustain … We had to deal with overconsumption first. The prices we paid for things had to reflect the social and environmental costs…”

Its young maker, Gonçalo Tocha, puts it in proper perspective, with grace and dignity: “I am humble about its impact. It is just a simple film that does not intend to preach. Its images are open to multiple interpretations. We do not have to take the world for granted, as it is now. Let’s just imagine another solution. Let’s be strong and poetic. Life is many things, including markets and economics, but why do we have to allow these two dimensions to rule our lives?”


The Climate Games

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The
Climate Games took place while Paris was locked down under a state of emergency in December 2015 because of the historic COP21 climate negotiations [I am implying causality here]. We I, and the thousands of activists who were there, had to find ways to circumvent the new “law” that gatherings of more than two people with a political message were now illegal. The glossy, breathless trailer is here, and its self-introduction goes like this.

Billed as “the world’s largest Disobedient Action Adventure Game!,” proposing itself as the people’s response to “the Mesh” – austerity-dictating politicians, fossil fuel corporations, industry lobbyists, peddlers of false solutions and greenwashers – [who] are converging to solve the climate catastrophe. Or so they tell us.

We are not convinced.

Your objective is to join the global movements swarming to shift the game against profit and in favour of life.

The Climate Games are where action-adventure meets actual change. Anyone can play this real-time, real-world game and turn Paris and the world into a giant, direct action playing field for climate justice. We have everything to play for – but time is running out.

Meanwhile, to those (many of them my friends and comrades in this struggle) who say the Games and the Paris protests in general didn’t accomplish much, or that anything presented in these twelve days of climate justice is not “radical” enough, or lacks the “correct” [or even any] class analysis, or by itself won’t overthrow capitalism and create the utopias we want, I can only say: “What did you expect? Do you think there is a magical analysis or one-size-fits-all strategy or some one-shot direct action that can do that?”

I tend to agree with scorchedan9el 2 months ago who commented twelve months ago: “Thanks everyone for showing how joyful it can be to give a shit! Merci à tous pour montrer la joie de se soucier de la planète!”

Here‘s an exuberant look at some of the seriously playful whimsy as the Paris Climate Games [w]rapped up.

What you need to know about presidential candidates’ climate plans

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Speaking of someone who does give a shit and shows the joy that comes from telling the truth about the state of the planet and its people but does so with grace and a sense of humor, here‘s the provocative Seattle-based Grist journalist Eve Andrews [my secret eco-crush], presciently taking the Democratic and Republican (or is it the Republocratic and the Democantic?) presidential candidates to task last April.

Hello, it’s election season, which means we’re all living in a seemingly unending nightmare! Who’s saying what? Who do you pay attention to? How do you know what to believe, or what actually matters? Why are so many of your Facebook friends so angry?

These are complex and even unanswerable questions, so we’re going to tackle a much simpler one: What are our (remaining) candidates’ plans to deal with a warming climate? Watch our video to find out.

#ShutItDown

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Relive a big but underreported moment in climate justice civil disobedience for the climate that took place on October 11, 2016 when activists managed to simultaneously shut down all five pipelines that transport Canadian tar sands into the U.S. through Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and Washington. “If people are not acting as though there’s an emergency, people don’t believe that there is an emergency,” activist Leonard Higgins says in the video.

You can screen the video here, and visit the #ShutItDown website for continuing updates.

Seeing Wetiko

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The video is a piece by author and spoken word artist Alixa Garcia profiled by Kosmos in the summer of 2016.

Before getting to it, let’s briefly explore the indigenous concept of Wetiko, with the help of Paul Levy, who calls it “the greatest epidemic sickness known to humanity.”

Quoting indigenous philosopher Jack Forbes, Levy goes on to say:

“This disease, this wetiko (cannibal) psychosis, is the greatest epidemic sickness known to man.” We, as a species, are in the midst of a massive psychic epidemic, a virulent collective psychosis that has been brewing in the cauldron of humanity’s psyche from the beginning of time. Like a fractal, wetiko operates on multiple dimensions simultaneously – intra-personally (within individuals), inter-personally (between ourselves), as well as collectively (as a species). “Cannibalism,” in Forbes’s words, “is the consuming of another’s life for one’s own private purpose or profit.” Those afflicted with wetiko, like a cannibal, consume the life-force of others – human and nonhuman – for private purpose or profit, and do so without giving back something from their own lives. One example that symbolizes our self-destructive, collective madness is the oil companies’ destruction of the Amazonian rainforest, the lungs of our planet. This is literally a full-bodied revelation showing us what we are doing to ourselves. Another literal example that is symbolically illustrating the wetiko complex in action is Monsanto genetically engineering terminator seeds that do not reproduce a second generation, thus forcing farmers to buy new seeds from Monsanto for each year’s new crop. This makes survival for many poor farmers impossible, which has triggered a wave of suicides among farmers, as Monsanto grows richer from the process.

This is how Alixa Garcia and Naima Penniman see the antidote to Wetiko, which could well have served as the epigraph for this final essay on the twelve days of climate justice:

Creativity is the antidote for violence and destruction. Art is our most human expression, our voice to communicate our stories, to challenge injustice and the misrepresentations of mainstream media, to expose harsh realities and engender even more powerful hope, a force to bring diverse peoples together, a tool to rebuild our communities, and a weapon to win this struggle for universal liberation.

This Changes Fuck All

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I hesitated, but only briefly, to introduce tender-natured readers to the news presentations of “the stimulator,” but I find them stimulating (in fact) and I like their punchiness [if I may be permitted the violent term]. Beware that you will encounter harsh language and even harsher criticism of the powers that be if you venture here, where in June 2015 the Vancouver-based (we think) newscaster covered “the NGO led spectacle called the people’s climate march plus a look at Peru’s spectacular resistance against a copper mine, and the call from the east to disrupt oil extraction and infrastructure. On the music break, Ontario based hiphop group Flowtilla with Line 9. We wrap things up with an exclusive interview with Sea, an inhabitant of la ZAD, Europe’s largest post capitalist occupation.”

Rex Tillerson – characterized as one of the “well-paid and professional fucking liars of the extractive and manufacturing industries” – makes a cameo appearance at 1:42!

What is Environmental Justice?

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Want to learn or teach someone else about environmental justice in “just” [get it?] three minutes? Check out this Grist video.

Message to the World

And to end this lifelong journey of hope on a touching note…

These are my beautiful students who had this to say at the end of Sociology 134EC: Earth in Crisis in December 2013, after filmmaker and class teaching assistant Summer Gray and I returned from COP19 in Warsaw. The video was shot, edited, and made possible by the creative genius of Summer and the students in the class’s final discussion sections of the year.

The last student depicted of curse received an A+ for the course…

134EC Message to the World video

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Click here to watch the video.

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Sense8

And now, for a well-earned break from watching so much serious (if engaging) documentary work on what the ever-growing movements for climate justice around the world are doing about the climate crisis, feel free to binge watch Sense8 on Netflix!

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The final words of this twelve-day preview of climate justice for 2017 come from an unexpected source who wrote them almost a hundred years ago in another time of political and social turmoil.

Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. It takes both passion and perspective. Certainly all historical experience confirms the truth – that people would not have attained the possible unless time and again they had reached out for the impossible. But to do that people must be leaders, and not only leaders but heroes as well, in a very sober sense of the word. And even those who are neither leaders nor heroes must arm themselves with that steadfastness of heart which can brave even the crumbling of all hopes. This is necessary right now, or else we will not be able to attain even that which is possible today.

– Max Weber, in the final paragraph of “Politics as a Vocation” (1919)

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System Change Not Climate Change.

Here.

Now.

For ever.