Below are the show notes for our episode on Avatar. We actually wrote a whole blog post on the colonial fantasies of Avatar and their relationship to the current Dakota Access Pipeline conflict, which you can read here.
Join us as we dive deep with special guest Rodrigo Otárola y Bentín into the 2009 blockbuster’s environmental themes, their relevance to the struggles of indigenous peoples, and whether a Hollywood movie can adequately critique American consumerism. You can listen here or on iTunes.
Updates from the Field
Silvan read an interesting analysis this week on Modern Farmer of what a border wall might do to our food system. There is little projected impact on unemployed Americans, but food prices would go up 5-6% and food production would go down due to lost labor. An estimated 50-70% of the agricultural workforce are undocumented immigrants.
Jordan brings us news of a meeting with business leaders and President Trump, in which Elon Musk floated the idea of a revenue neutral carbon tax. The idea was reportedly not well received at all, which Jordan sees as sending a pretty strong if predictable message about how this administration will approach environmental issues.
Emily tells us about a new study published on January 13th in the journal BioMed Central Nutrition. The study found that drinking brewed caffeinated cocoa (hot chocolate with added caffeine) makes you both more attentive and energetic and less anxious and error-prone than drinking just caffeinated beverages or just cocoa. Red Bull, look out! Chocolate’s coming for you.
Steffi brings us an update on the Dan River coal ash spill. Three years ago a storm pipe under a Duke Energy coal ash pond broke, releasing 40,000 tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of contaminated water into the Dan River in North Carolina. There has been a lot of concern over the toxic chemicals released in this waste including arsenic, cadmium and lead. In February a new study was released by North Carolina State University which confirmed a study done by Duke Energy saying that there is no significant toxic buildup in the soil near Dan River and that the water is safe to use as irrigation for crops and as drinking water for livestock.
Rodrigo updates us on the Dakota Access Pipeline, which President Trump has given the green light despite a previous victory for indigenous water warriors when Obama rejected the project after increasing public pressure and protest.
What’s Giving Us Hope for the Earth
Silvan is happy to hear that the Center for Disease Control’s climate change and public health conference, which they canceled when President Trump took office, is back on. Though the new conference is now at the Carter Center on February 16th rather than the CDC and not backed by the federal government but by Al Gore and other NGOs.
Jordan tells us that a few companies have started using recycled ocean plastics in their products recently, specifically Nike with a specialty shoe and P&G with some of their shampoo bottles. However, while these products are bringing attention to the issue, this can’t really be seen as a solution to the problem of ocean plastics. We don’t have the technology to efficiently collect the plastic that is already in the ocean and shouldn’t focus money on developing that until we stop the flow of plastic into the ocean in the first place.
One real solution which has been identified in a report by the Ocean Conservancy is improving waste management infrastructure in southeast Asia where the majority of ocean plastic is coming from. China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand contribute over half of the plastic that ends up in oceans, due to poorly managed open air landfills, basic littering and irresponsible waste haulers that dump material to save money on landfill fees. In order to clean up our oceans we need to give promote companies that invest in waste management infrastructure that prevents waste from getting in the ocean in the first place, rather than praising them for cleaning small fractions of it up. Jordan encourage everybody to look up the Trash Free Seas Alliance to see a list of member companies doing great work to identify methods of preventing waste from leaking into the ocean.
Emily is excited about the March for Science! Proposed on January 23rd, as of recording the event has over 400,000 participants on Facebook. This is particularly exciting because we’re a podcast that values fact-based discussion and relies upon data to come to conclusions and these are scientists proclaiming their right to collect and publish data.
Steffi is finding hope within herself and the American people. With Scott Pruitt- a climate change denier- as Trump’s pick to lead the EPA, the removal of climate change information from the EPA website, a government blackout of social media for many offices, as well as a freeze on EPA’s grants and contracts, things can seem more than a bit dire for science and our efforts to mitigate impacts of climate change. So Steffi has an action item for our listeners, because nothing feels as good as doing something and making your voice heard! This website lets you input your zip code and gives you phone numbers for your senators as well as other pertinent representatives and a list of issues that you can peruse. If you resonate with any there is a script to help you voice your opinion. Calling is the most effective method of getting your point across to legislators.
Rodrigo is feeling hopeful about seeing more empowering indigenous-led or -produced films. He recommends the film When Two Worlds Collide, a Peruvian film about the struggle of indigenous peoples against the Peruvian government over building an oil refinery on their land, and Daughter of the Lake, about an Andean activist during the Peruvian gold rush.