Friday, October 17, 2014

This Corner of the Earth

We're making two new films, both about fracking.
The first is a primer on fracking itself - the geological history of the Marcellus Shale, the development of fracking technology, and an overview of the thorny but unresolved issues that fracking brings to the surface. Dr. Sandra Steingraber is the host and narrator of our film. 
The second film is about New York State's burgeoning and celebrated agricultural industry, and how it is threatened by the prospect of widespread fracking. We traveled upstate to meet the principals of Farmer Ground, a cooperative venture that links farmers who grow grains to millers who grind them to bakers that turn them into amazing and delicious bread. We met vintners in the Finger Lakes region who are making wines on a level that competes with the best in the world. And we met chefs and restaurateurs who spoke passionately about the importance of fresh, local, high-quality ingredients.
It was inspiring to get to know some of these men and women who are shaping this new enterprise in New York State, to learn about their backgrounds and hear them extol the virtues of a life with purpose. We were humbled by their knowledge, their relentless work ethic and their optimism. So long as they continue to have clean air and clean water, their future is bright. But fracking threatens that future. 
It was impossible for us not to draw comparisons between the people and landscapes of New York State and those of Pennsylvania, where fracking has taken hold. The overwhelming gloom and sense of resignation that pervades the communities where fracking is already taking place is in stark contrast to the vibrant, upbeat spirit of the people we met in upstate New York.  The deteriorating, truck-filled, industrial two-lane back roads of Pennsylvania remind us of how the bucolic back roads we traveled upstate might look if Governor Cuomo decides to give fracking the green light.

The growth and success of New York's agricultural and food production community bodes well for the future prosperity of our upstate regions. We try not to think about the incredible loss of food, jobs and sustainable future that would result from the massive industrialization of this corner of the earth. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Public Opinion

I mentioned to a friend the other day that we were going to make another short documentary film about fracking, a kind of "FRACKING 101" for people who had heard about fracking but didn't really understand it. "Great," he said, "That's exactly what I need!"

Apparently, he's not the only one. Almost half of the people in New York say they don't actually know what "fracking" means.  Even some people who have watched our two latest films, No Second Chance and On Faith and Fracking are left with questions about this new technology. So this summer we'll be on the road again, shooting, interviewing and editing, to help more people understand what "fracking" means, and why the issue is so important.

The gas companies sure aren't going to do this for us. It's not by accident that their ads promoting "clean, natural gas" on TV don't mention the word "fracking."  They know the word has a negative connotation, and they steer away from it whenever they can.  I'm certain that many people who watch the ads and believe the gas company's fairy tale would probably oppose fracking in New York if they knew more about it. (See my previous blog below about the word "natural.")

In politics, the only thing more powerful than money is public opinion. And make no mistake, the battle over fracking is all about politics. Ultimately, Governor Cuomo's decision about whether or not to allow fracking in New York will be driven exclusively by public opinion.  Patti came up with a brilliant idea for a slogan the other day: "You Want The Vote; We Want The Promise." Watch for the signs this fall!

If we expect to win the battle over fracking in New York, we're going to need to win the public opinion battle. This means talking to your neighbor, your family and your co-workers.  Ask your priest or rabbi or minister to watch On Faith and Fracking and share it with your congregation. Ask your local town or county officials to watch No Second Chance.

None of us wants to look back in a few years and say, “We should have done more.” 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

There's Nothing Natural About "Natural" Gas

You have to hand it to the marketing folks at the energy companies. They really understand the power of words, and how to manipulate public opinion by attaching positive-sounding adjectives to dirty old industries.

The phrase "Clean Coal" comes to mind. How did coal get clean? you might ask.  Well, it didn't. There is no new technology, no magical discovery that has made coal a clean fuel. Someone at an ad agency just wrote those words down on a yellow pad during a meeting one day, and before long, it became the mantra of the beleaguered (and still dirty) coal industry.
"Natural Gas" is another one. The gas coming up out of the ground today is no more natural than oil or coal. It just sounds better than plain old "gas." And much better than "methane," which is what it really is, technically.

The word "natural" conjures up images of wheat fields swaying in the wind, bucolic mountain streams and clear blue skies.  It taps into the subconscious, encouraging us to think of this gas as special - and therefore better than other types of fuel. Nothing could be further from the truth.   

Let's be honest about it: the extraction of natural gas is a dirty, polluting, dangerous, climate-changing but enormously profitable enterprise that is making a few people very rich while it wreaks havoc on our environment and the health of our citizens. It is poisoning our air and water, leaving a toxic, radioactive  legacy that will burden hundreds of future generations. How is any of that natural?

America's gas boom has nothing to do with energy independence. It has nothing to do with addressing climate change or lowering energy costs.  It has everything to do with Wall Street, with speculators, with political payoffs and with profits for gas companies, who are hoping to cash in quick before the public wakes up and understands that something very unnatural is going on. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Why Can't We Talk About Food?

In the national debate over health care, we don't hear much about food.  We hear about prescription drugs, co-pays, pre-existing conditions, doctor networks, diagnostic tests and so on, but no one talks about food.

Which is really an amazing thing, considering the indisputable fact that food is the most important factor in determining your overall health. Your body makes everything - your muscles, your bones, your hair, your skin - everything, out of the raw materials you put in.

Quite literally, you are what you had for dinner last night and what you had for breakfast this morning.

Now I know food is a very personal issue, and people tend to get really upset if you tell them what they should and should not eat, but honestly, folks, we're at the tipping point here. 

Somebody has to teach the obese teenager making his way up to the fast food counter to order another double cheeseburger with fries and a giant soft drink that his choices are going to spell a lifetime of trouble for him.

Sure, there may be some nutrients in the pickle or the potato.  There might be some protein in the meat.

But look at the rest of the meal:
            the gigantic amounts of sugar and fat
            the GMO ingredients in the soda, the cheese, ketchup, the bread
            the antibiotics in the meat
            the pesticides in the lettuce

How does that help a growing body? What happens after years of eating that kind of food? Who is going to say something. And when?

One of our doctor friends says that taking your child to a fast food restaurant on a regular basis should be considered child abuse. I agree.

Kids whose parents are letting them eat junk food deserve better. These kids deserve a better chance - a better future - one without physical pain, doctors, waiting rooms, diagnostics, medications, co-pays, pre-existing conditions.

We should teach our kids how to eat. It may not be politically correct, and it may not be popular, but it's the right thing to do.