Mobilizing the Public to Move Beyond Crisis

Directors of the documentary “Beyond Crisis” discuss themes from the film and the importance of climate action.

An estimated 400,000 people showed their solidarity and support for climate action in New York City at what is now known as the largest climate march in history – and that doesn’t include the 2,646 solidarity events held in over 160 countries around the world.

An estimated 400,000 people showed their solidarity and support for climate action in New York City at what is now known as the largest climate march in history – and that doesn’t include the 2,646 solidarity events held in over 160 countries around the world.

The purpose of the People’s Climate March was to pressure world leaders to take action on climate change, and to mobilize the public ahead of the Emergency UN Climate Summit called by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Those 400,000 people included a broad range, from climate scientists and grassroots organizations to concerned citizens and celebrities.

Also in attendance was a Canadian media crew whose footage from the march will soon become part of the upcoming documentary “Beyond Crisis.” Comprised of five core members, an animator, a web development team, several musicians and 10 others from the film collective Toronto PCM Ltd, this is no small project. The documentary will look at mainstream climate action from as many perspectives as possible, including covering grassroots activism and climate policy.

A\J’s Samantha Hui sat down with the directors of “Beyond Crisis,” Kai Reimer-Watts and Ray Kocur, to discuss themes from the film and the importance of climate action.

Ray Kocur: We’ve been inspired by many environmental documentary films, but the film we want to see hasn’t been made yet. With “Beyond Crisis” we want to look at climate action over a greater horizon with an inward and outward gaze on reality. Our audience may be Canadian but our decisions have global impacts, and even though our elected officials make decisions that impact us, we have the power to affect local and national policy. 2015 will go down as one of the great turning points in our global history. Our team has kept our fingers on the pulse so that all of us may continue to learn from this moment in the future.

Kai Reimer-Watts: Our film is hoping to help mainstream action on climate throughout society, just as the march started to do. The moment in time that we stand in, right now, is entirely unique from what’s happened in the past, and the stakes are huge leading up to the international climate negotiations at COP21. Hence, our story is different in that it positions itself in this moment, right now, building towards an uncertain future. We want to ensure that the story of the reality we are all now living gets told.

A\J: Was there a cultural difference in how people face environmental crises/issues compared to other countries?

KRW: Absolutely. To put it broadly, [in the western countries] there is a very large focus on technology as the solution to solving this kind of crisis. Because we pride ourselves on having the latest and greatest technology, it can be easy to simplify the story that all we need to do is install solar and everything clean energy, and that will solve everything. But that is actually a very different perspective from the majority of the world, especially developing countries which are already seeing the impacts of climate change and are looking at it through more of a humanitarian lens in terms of how we can adapt in response to this and other political justice and equity issues. All of that comes into play, and in a lot of ways we are trying to bridge those perspectives.

RK: I think that the People’s Climate March really exemplified the diversity and the unity of this particular issue. Going to that march and seeing people from all over the world there and everyone in unity with one another, and in solidarity with one another – it brings those similarities to the forefront in a very good way.

A\J: What about within Canada? Do people living in the country do things or think differently than those living in bigger cities?

KRW: Yes. People’s [own] experiences affect how they perceive this issue. So even though it’s a global issue, it is felt very differently and it is experienced locally. That’s the bottom line. If you spent your whole life living in the city, you are going to have a different perspective than people in the country. And for a few stark differences, in whatever culture, one of the first sectors of society to really recognize and experience change first-hand [was] agriculture, in farming and people who are directly reliant on predictable weather patterns and really need to work with the seasons to make their livelihood. So they are generally, often, more aware of small changes that they have noticed.

We have noticed that in the cities, people are very aware of specific disasters or events that might come to mind, like the 2013 flooding in Toronto, but in terms of day-to-day or week-to-week more gradual changes, we’re also less aware of those changes.

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RK: I have a couple of anecdotes that can add it a bit of clarity to what Kai is saying, in terms of the ideas of sustainable energy and the transition away from fuel economy. I’ve spent a bit of time in Northern Alberta tree planting and bore witness to just how penetrating the extractive industry culture is: when you look at it from an in-this-moment perspective, you see and understand how people living in those areas see them in a very different way than people who just interact with things such as natural gas because of the economic dependence on those industries. When you’re looking at your house and your kids’ college fund and your vacation every year, and seeing how that is coming out of where you’re making your money, then it’s a lot easier to enjoy the product and look away from the negative things.

Moving on into energy, Ontario did a very strong push away from coal, taking that away completely from our energy infrastructure. We started to build things like windmills and solar panels. I’ve gone in to talk to people who own properties [that will be built on] and people who are going to be living next to these properties – You get that feeling of the fear of the unknown and the “not in my backyard” mentality that can creep in when looking at your own life through just your immediate situation. When you look at the historical significance of this, you see that it is more than the immediate problem; it is something that will take some getting used to just like power lines were, and roads and even farmers’ fields. You realize the importance of these things and because you’ve seen them for years, they don’t look like anything anymore.

KRW: I think that we’ve become so reliant on our resource-based economy that it is hard for us to imagine doing things differently. Meanwhile we argue that to bring our country into the 21st century, we should become both stronger environmental leaders and innovators.

A\J: We’ve been speaking on very large scales (countries), but many responsibilities are pushed to the municipalities even though they don’t hold enough power to create or revise broadly applicable laws. So what can municipalities do, or what are they trying to do, to enhance climate action?

RK: This is a really great question, and I think that answering questions like this helps to give the individual a bit more understanding of the power that they may have. Although municipalities are small-scale, and their impact on a world scale may not seem too big, at this point what we need more than anything, are some real-life proofs – case studies – of successful innovations and strategies that have led to energy, carbon and money savings. Some of the more proactive green energy communities in Canada will be ahead of the [green energy] curve when it comes to setting up infrastructure and benefitting from it as the initial startup costs turn into the minimal maintenance costs, which turn into savings passed onto customers.

KRW: At the community level, there are much better opportunities for engagement. I think that is critical because part of this transition is about changing our own relationships with the natural environment, with each other, and with energy – especially in the west. We are very used to energy being a top-down, centralized infrastructure that we don’t really participate in, as consumers. One of the exciting things about clean energy is the idea of distributing energy and the fact that people are actually producing, trading and distributing their own energy. That is very empowering. One initiative that I worked with prior to my Master’s degree, which A\J did a write-up on some time ago, is to get climate change warning labels at gas stations as a market signal to really help push infrastructure and markets toward greener energy. That is entirely focused at the municipal level – there’s a lot more room for innovation at the municipal level than at the federal level right now.

A\J: You mentioned individual action; how can individual action mitigate climate change, or other environmental issues in the world?

KRW: What we are trying to do is build a vision of what is possible. If people start to imagine what their world could look like, outside of a disaster narrative, then it can be something very exciting to strive towards. You have an idea of what you want to start pushing yourself towards, and that will make you more engaged in all kinds of different ways in your life. In general, if people can get excited about what some of the opportunities are, that is a much better motivator to act than fear alone.

In terms of specifically how individuals can get more engaged, I believe that as much as we can make individual changes in our lives, becoming more civically or politically engaged is really important, to ensure we are making the right policy decisions as a country. Individually, calling your MPs, getting involved in local climate advocacy groups, becoming more informed about clean energy, rebuilding community – all of those are very positive things to start building an idea of the community that we want. That is the big question for Canada: What is the Canada that we want?

A\J: Moving forward, should we teach the next generation more about climate action earlier on, to reach out and get them to be knowledgeable on this topic?

KRW: The resounding answer is ‘Yes!’ I taught high school for a few years, and that is what got me interested in this issue. The bottom line is that for such a global issue that really will shape our future and the contours of this century more than any other, it really should be integrated into all kinds of other course curriculums. Climate change should be a topic that is touched on across the board. One of the biggest shames is that it has been sidelined as merely an environmental issue. It’s not, it is so much more than an environmental issue. I think that we should start in grade school. We already do by teaching our kids the greenhouse effect; that’s the very basics of climate change. It should continue right through into university education.

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RK: Kai really hit the nail on the head there with the interdisciplinary aspect that shows people just how all-encompassing it is. In geography class it can be about human geography; in history class it can be learning how society has been affected by drought. In the end, understanding our current times is informed by what has happened in the past. But just as our film strives to do, when teaching our youth, it is important to hit them on all emotional levels. The idea of creating a situation that might scare someone or make them feel like they are powerless to some wave of uncertainty coming toward them is not helpful. We should be very sensitive going into the education realm so as to focus on how a clean sustainable way of life is going to benefit them going forward.

To beat the old cliché into the ground, the children are the future and are the ones who will be carrying on what we have established. If history has taught us anything, it is that no [singular] generation can completely flip a culture. It takes the support of the next three or four generations to solidify a new way of life. Start young, because it is much harder to keep yourself at something that you are not familiar with in your advanced years.

A\J: What are you most excited for viewers to see in the film?

RK: I am most excited for our viewers to see how easy it is to contribute to sustainable activity. There is an abundance of entry points to the realm of climate action and responsible stewardship of our planet, from small to monumental, and our film will give you dozens of options to consider, proving that you don’t have to do everything yourself to make a difference.

KRW: I’m excited for folks to get genuinely excited about the future clean energy society that is opening up before us, and shake off the shackles of our fossil fuel past! There is so much to get excited about, as Ray said, in building a more sustainable future – we just have to desire and fight for it.

Samantha Hui is an A\J editorial volunteer and an undergrad student in Environment and Resource Studies at the University of Waterloo.