In the movie, The Matrix, Keanu Reeves’ character, Neo, observes his current life and senses foreboding, a palpable feeling that something else is unfolding around him to which he and everyone else is oblivious. Later, he is contacted by those that “know” and he is offered the choice between gaining knowledge and freedom by understanding the reality of his existence (The Red Pill), or continuing to live a life of security through blissful ignorance (The Blue Pill).
Blue Pill Readers: Click the X at the top right of your screen and go back to business as usual.
Red Pill Readers: Buckle up and keep reading…
This world into which you were born is all you know, and it’s comfortable because it is familiar. Everything around you, the computer or phone you are reading this on, the chair or car you are sitting in, the coffee or bottled water you are drinking, are what you know. It is your reality, but is it real?
I know what you’re thinking, “Terry, what pills are YOU taking?” Stay with me.
For almost 200,000 years, our ancestors depended on catching and gathering food derived from the energy of the sun, and as long as the energy we consumed was greater than the energy we expended in the process of consuming it we survived. For most of this period, we also struggled to grow significantly because the balance of energy expended to hunt and gather food did not deviate greatly from the energy harvested from those efforts. However, 250 years ago we figured out how to exploit fossil energy- coal, oil and gas – and overnight our reality transformed. The sun’s energy that we consumed from eating plants and animals was now suddenly abundant, not as food or us to eat or drink, but as food for machines that could produce 100-1000 times the work of each of us, allowing for prodigious amounts of materials to be extracted, extruded and delivered to our new “reality”.
Everything we touch, feel and see around us are The Xs and O’s of the Matrix that were revealed to Neo when he was “awakened”. The glass I fill with water. The pen I write with. The aspirin I take. The groceries I buy. The diaper I put on my child. The clothes I place in the dryer. The car I drive. The light switch I flick. The music I stream. The elevator that lifts me to my office. The plane that carries my son home from college. EVERYTHING in this paradigm, our Matrix, exists because of fossil energy.
So, what does this have to do with the film 8 Billion Angels?
If taking the Red Pill has awakened you to the reality in which you live, you will now be able to take the journey toward understanding the interconnectedness of fossil energy and the exponential and “unnatural” growth of us as a species; how and why we have caused massive ecological destruction and overshoot of our natural resources; and how better to cope and thrive when confronted with the difficulties that lie ahead in our changing environment.
Our next newsletter will answer: How much fossil energy is there or how long can our current paradigm exist with 8 billion people consuming enormous amounts of energy? Can we replace fossil energy with substitutes before it runs out? And if we do, what does it mean for the habitability of the earth for us and all its creatures?
Two years ago, I embarked on a mission to produce a feature length documentary about mankind’s impact on planet Earth. At the time, I felt humanity was sleepwalking into a disaster of epic proportions for us and all of earth’s creatures.
Diving with marine biologists in Japan, spending a day with an oyster farmer in Maine, exploring our Midwest’s agricultural system, and investigating massive pollution in India revealed the magnitude and complexity of our predicament to me, and inspired an urgency to wake up others to what will happen without immediate action to reduce the number of humans on the planet.
Now that the film is in the final stages of editing, I have been focused on making sure our message of concern, hope and action reaches the greatest number of people. To do that, we are formulating a film festival schedule and distribution strategy in partnership with one of the most respected consultants in the film industry.
I have also been thinking about how to perpetuate and expand our impact in the afterlife of the film because, even in the best case scenario, one film can only do so much. Each day, our predicament grows worse as we add 220,000 more people to the planet, all needing, wanting and deserving clean water, food, shelter, clothing, reliable electricity, transportation and countless other goods and services. Collectively, this consumption has a catastrophic impact on our environment — stripping our soils, melting our glaciers, draining our rivers and aquifers, leveling our forests, reducing green space, exterminating untold numbers of animals, and polluting every square mile of land, ocean and air.
Therefore, to address these ongoing problems, we are in the process of establishing a non-profit organization designed to promote public and private action that will ensure that ecological limits are central to all decision-making in order to achieve a sustainable society characterized by human well-being and flourishing bio-diversity.
Stay tuned. Thank you for your trust and support.
The Last Straw?
The news about straw bans sucks the attention away from the reality of our environmental emergencies including climate change and overpopulation. 8 Billion Angels Executive Producer Terry Spahr puts it in perspective in this op/ed piece recently published in The Revelator, an online news and ideas initiative of the Center for Biological Diversity.
What’s the real environmental impact of a plastic straw compared to the 80 million people we add to our population every year?
There’s been a lot of press recently about Starbucks, Hyatt Hotels, McDonalds and other companies replacing plastic straws with more eco-friendly alternatives or eliminating them altogether. It’s true that Americans use a lot of plastic straws — somewhere between 200-250 million a day, based on comments by the president of the Foodservice Packaging Institute, a trade organization; extrapolations from BBC Reality Check in conjunction with McDonald’s; and figures provided by the National Restaurant Association.
But do straw bans really add up? Drawing upon data provided by Thomas Corporation, a data company for industrial manufacturers, and a number of other sources, let’s take a look at some of the things that the average American consumes in addition to those plastic straws that are currently grabbing the lion’s share of attention from the national media and environmental groups.
Over the course of a projected 79-year lifetime, the average American currently uses:
- 23,700 plastic and glass bottles and 27,650 aluminum cans (not to mention disposable Starbucks cups);
- Paper products that equate to 474 full-grown trees (that’s six trees a year);
- 5,600 articles of clothing;
- 9 automobiles, with each vehicle owned an average of 7 to 8 years;
- 5 ranges or ovens, 7 washing machines, 6 dryers, 5 refrigerators and 8 microwaves (some appliances may be shared as a family during one’s lifetime);
- 5 air conditioners;
- 10 televisions;
- 4,000-plus disposable diapers;
- And, yes, by my calculations, 24 pounds of plastic straws, each weighing just one sixty-seventh of an ounce.
As this partial list clearly shows, straws are just one small piece in the much larger mountain of our collective consumption. This feel-good movement of giving up straws is an easy and convenient “sacrifice” and greenwashes the reality of our environmental emergencies. It does nothing to address all of these products we consume, nor the resources such as fossil fuels and water that are used to extract, manufacture and deliver these goods and services.
The real question is, are Americans, other developed-world citizens and those aspiring to move into this category really ready and willing to sacrifice the stuff that causes truly profound impacts on the environment?
The honest answer, sadly, appears to be no.
And that’s a problem that we need to address as a society. All these goods carry with them an enormous ecological price tag of disruption, pollution, death and destruction to natural habitats like forests, soils, fresh water, oceans and the air. The impact is multiplied by the weight of our collective humanity — almost 8 billion people, with 80 million more being added to the earth every year — which, coupled with our consumption, is becoming too great for our planet to bear.
In fact, Earth Overshoot Day falls on Aug. 1 this year, marking the day that our global consumption exceeds the capacity of nature to regenerate. To maintain our current demand for resources, we would need 1.7 Earths, according to Global Footprint Network, an international nonprofit whose mission is to help end ecological overshoot. The Aug. 1 date projected for this year is earlier than any time in the dozen years the calculation has been made — and a warning about the heightened challenge from our escalating consumption exacerbated by our exploding global population.
Study after study shows that reducing our footprint on Mother Earth through curtailment of consumption will not work unless we fight the rising tide of humanity.
If we truly want a sustainable future, the answer isn’t straws. It’s acknowledging the elephant in the room, having an honest conversation about our human numbers, and compassionately and forthrightly working toward a better, safer and less crowded world.
Is Earth Day Off Its Axis?
Earth Day is the largest civic-focused day of action in the world. It is a global event with more than an estimated 1 billion people in 192 countries raising awareness of environmental issues. But would the founder of Earth Day be happy at the current state of this worldwide day of recognition?
The goal of Earth Day 2018 is to mobilize the world to “End Plastic Pollution.” The National Geographic Society estimates there are over 5 TRILLION pieces of plastic floating around our oceans. That’s 10 times more than all the stars in our galaxy. In addition to the plastic toys, chairs, and other objects we purchase, an average American consumes over his or her lifetime an estimated 44,300 plastic, glass, and aluminum cans and bottles of water, soda, juices, milk and various other non alcoholic liquids beverages. Many of these containers don’t make it into landfills and end up on our roads and in our waterways. Obviously, plastic pollution is an enormous problem for our environment, but does this specific focus ignore one of the overarching principles its founder was trying to emphasize by establishing this annual day of recognition?
The founder of Earth Day, the late U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI), was one of the great environmental heroes of America. Drawing on his experience as the “Conservation Governor” of Wisconsin, Nelson’s success in bringing the environment to the forefront of Washington politics signified the beginning of an era of bold federal legislation, including the Environmental Protection Act, and the growth of the modern environmental movement. As part of his campaign to create a national environmental agenda, he made the case for the inextricable link between the global population and the health and wellness of our planet. Nelson understood that no matter how much we may try to lessen the impact we have on nature, through recycling, conservation or lowering our consumption of resources, each one of us alters the environment in which we live.
Over time, he became very frustrated with mainstream environmental organizations’ retreat from advocating limits to population growth. Instead, they chose to focus more on safer, more visible issues like urban sprawl, traffic congestion, endangered animals, dam removal, clean air initiatives, forest conservation and climate change. In a March 2000 speech, Senator Nelson opined, “Will there be any wilderness left? Any quiet place? Any habitat for song birds? Waterfalls? Other wild creatures? Not much.”
Will we forget and ultimately fail in achieving Gaylord Nelson’s goal of forming “a new national coalition whose objective is to put quality of human life on par with gross national product?” Or, will the Green movement that now celebrates Earth Day heed his wisdom and foresight and reignite an honest and forthright dialogue on the fundamental cause of all of our environmental crises? Overpopulation.
At the the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Award Ceremony this year, one film thought to be an odds-on favorite was conspicuously absent. Despite its big budget, bankable star and blockbuster marketing campaign, “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” ended a disappointing run as the follow-up to the critically-acclaimed 2006 original film, “An Inconvenient Truth” by being snubbed completely by the Academy and the filmgoing public. And deservedly so.
An Inconvenient Truth detailed the perilous increase in world greenhouse gas emissions and Gore’s dispiriting fight to reverse their effects on climate change. Eleven years later, An Inconvenient Sequel showcases his high-profile Climate Reality Project, an effort to educate and energize volunteers to promote the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Clean Power Plan. The sequel also attempted to take a more optimistic approach to the climate change discussion by highlighting the dramatic increase of renewable energy adoption across the globe. Among the success stories the film touts is Georgetown, Texas, which has adopted 100% renewable energy despite being lead by a pro-business Republican mayor. At the end of the movie, the audience is lead to believe we are on the path to a safe, prosperous and sustainable world because of the rapid growth of renewable energy.
What Al Gore conveniently does not reveal in his sequel is that, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy June 2017, oil, gas, and coal burning have increased twice as fast as the growth in renewable energy in the same period since An Inconvenient Truth was released. In fact, the growth of fossil fuel use in the past 11 years exceeds all the world’s existing solar, wind, hydropower and biologically-derived energy combined.
Whether the Academy recognized this filtering of facts to fit a preconceived story narrative, or didn’t find the film compelling for another reason, is hard to know. What would have been more powerful from such a leader on climate change is the real inconvenient truth: We are losing the climate war of the past decade by attempting to reverse greenhouse gases. Perhaps the film would have been nominated if Gore had explored the fundamental cause of the growth in global energy demand and why 21 of the 37 major aquifers in the world continue to diminish at alarming rates, 13 million acres are lost to deforestation every year, 90% of the world’s fisheries are in peril, and why five times as many plastics in our oceans than stars in our galaxy.
Since Gore’s original film release in 2006 the earth has added 80,000,000 more people every year, all of whom require water, food, clothing, shelter and cooking fuel, and who desire reliable electricity, transportation and many other goods and services. Almost a billion more people.
That is the Real Inconvenient Truth.
Not being afraid to address our numbers openly and rationally is the path to the best achievable solution to climate change and all of our other environmental emergencies.