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Hope in a Changing Climate

December 18, 2009
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We attended the film premier of this show yesterday at the Natural History (Geologisk) Museum. Actually, I’m not sure why they called it a “film premier” since the video has already aired on BBC and is already up on their website so, perhaps a COP15 premier?

Anyway, I felt the film was pretty good as it articulated the importance of agriculture and collective action in the bid towards restoration of degraded landscapes. The film shows how people in living in the Loess Plateau in China, Ethiopia and Rwanda have empowered themselves by putting in the necessary efforts to irrigate their lands and ensure sustained vegetation cover to further pepetuate the water/hydrological cycle in the region/area. The film also brought up several issues of politics, and at different scales. I found it hard to ignore that such measures implemented through a top-down approach (by the World Bank and other large foundations) has to have some impact on the local communities. John D Liu showcases the 3 case studies really well, but I worry about his positionality in the field as an “outsider” and having an impact on the lives and livelihoods on the communities whose lives have been changed through these restoration projects. I believe and hope for this to be true, that the locals’ lives have been positively affected but cannot help but think about at what cost? Their rural livelihoods and vernacular societies have been radically changed and as one person in the audience called it, a “PARADIGM SHIFT”.

So I think while this film has the potential to affect change in that it can reach out to wider audiences, we must not fail to see the politics and micro-politics of how and why such restoration projects came out or how they were implemented, and at what cost? These societies/communities probably were chosen, and had no choice but to radically change their lifestyles, sell their sheep and to make do with walnut trees. I think that there’s more to that. The socio-cultural context matters and we cannot be blind to such issues because each of these cases are special and unique. There are thousands, if not millions of communities such as those exemplified in the film whose lives may have been changed for the worse because of failed or worse, controlled top down approaches where the restored lands become protected areas and the people become disenfranchised.

So I conclude by urging everyone to not watch documentaries blindly, yet not to be too critical either. Ask questions so that we all can make more informed decisions about what projects regarding the climate we should or should not take on for ourselves, whether in our daily lives or through collective action.

OK, signing out and much love from CPH,

Mel
Eco Singapore

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