“I realised that humanity had just become another species,” says Ron Garan as he recalls the moment the world watched the Eagle mission touch down on the Moon in 1969, our first visit to a world other than our own; decades later, he would join the crew of the International Space Station, living aboard for six months as a Mission Specialist, watching the changing seasons from orbit.
Growing up during the birth of the space age, Doctor Mae Jemison never perceived her future as anything other than a natural progression: “As a child I assumed I would go into space.” It was in 1992 that she eventually flew on the Space Shuttle Endeavour, where she experienced “this feeling of belonging to the universe… We’re as much a part of this universe as any speck of stardust, any asteroid.”
In its infancy through the sixties, the environmental movement was given focus when humanity saw a different perspective on the planet inspired the first photos taken from orbit, the Earth as a whole, floating vulnerable in space, suggests Professor David Loy. The crucial questions, however, are what we as a species have learned from these, and how have we changed and adapted to this knowledge.
Rising hand in hand with the counter culture of the late sixties, environmental concerns and activism have struggled to shake the image of clueless carrot munchers, of being anti-progress idealists with no understanding of the world, but connection to the wider world is the key theme of director Guy Reid’s feature documentary Planetary.
The perspective of the film is truly global, with over thirty interviewees speaking in turn with a surprisingly uniform voice despite the diversity of their backgrounds, experiences, nationalities and languages, but while this consistency lends weight to the importance of their collective words it at first becomes repetitive then tends towards the soporific.
Though the contributors are intelligent and enlightened it is significant that, like Reid who studied Indo-Tibetan Buddhism at the School of Oriental and African Studies, a significant portion have a background in Eastern philosophies, including Zen priests, Buddhist teachers, poets, an “eco-philosopher” and a “transformational teacher.” The result is the same ideas echoing as though they were a mantra, lacking the structure or progression of a coherent and compelling argument for change. Through all the consciousness raising and talk of mindfulness and the need for connection, actual scientific contributions are rare.
It is Bill McKibben, founder of the environmental activism collective 350.org, who points out that our vision of the planet, the orbital photographs taken which we grew up with, the maps in our schools, are out of date, misleading, with the ice caps 40% smaller, the oceans 30% acidic, the cause “this exploding fountain of carbon” our species has pumped into the atmosphere. Cosmologist Brian Swimme concurs, pointing out that the next great extinction is already occuring, a fact the New York Times did not deem important enough for even a headline.
There are many approaches to raising awareness and campaigning for change and no one can be looked upon to be the correct choice in all circumstances, but it’s demonstrable that the worst offenders will do all they can to continue acting in the worst interests of the planet even in the face of the most punitive legislation.
The vision, dedication and sincerity of the producers and speakers is not in doubt, the opening archive footage of the Apollo missions leading into glorious modern low orbital transits, the time lapse photography of landscapes and cityscapes recalling the work of Godfrey Reggio and Ron Fricke, but while those pieces were consciously non-narrative Planetary needs a clear and unambiguous voice in order to be heard.
While Reid’s film will offer affirmation to those attuned to environmental awareness it will not sway those who are not already on board, and faced with the savage threat of the multinational corporations who will shout over the gentle and harmonious mindset of these speakers it is a timid response which pales in comparison to the messages of a number of films covering related topics such as Robert Kenner’s Food, Inc, Joe Berlinger’s Crude and Michael P Nash’s Climate Refugees.
Planetary is released on April 22nd, Global Earth Day