Catch A (Fierce Green) Fire, You Will Get Learned

With apologies to Bob Marley and the Wailers, but I couldn’t resist. A Fierce Green Fire is an important enough chronicle of our indispensable environmental movement’s last century to merit a nod to the revolutionary spirit of the Wailers’ immortal Catch a Fire. Because it has taken green revolutionaries to awake us to both the science and sci-fi of the singular planet we call home.

And we need way more of them.

What they will face when they crash headlong into a dystopian confluence of perpetual resource war and exponential climate change is the challenge of our new century. I spoke with A Fierce Green Fire‘s director Mark Kitchell, who’s Oscar-nominated Berkeley in the Sixties inspired me during Berkeley in the 90s.

We published our mindmeld on the history and future of the environmental movement over at AlterNet, where the commenters are equally fierce. Light it up!

10 Stunning Things You Should Know About the Environmental Movement: ‘A Fierce Green Fire’ Film Inspires

You won’t be able to go back to business-as-usual after seeing this hell-raising documentary.

With runaway global warming threatening to annihilate climate stability and perhaps life on Earth as we know it, there’s no bigger issue on humanity’s crowded docket and no better time to catch up on the history of the environmental movement. So let’s give thanks that writer, producer and director Mark Kitchell’s A Fierce Green Fire has arrived to exhaustively school us all. Especially since the Obama administration has gone long on rhetoric but short on activism, and practically begged to be pushed into action by the American people.

“The main lesson of A Fierce Green Fire is the importance of bottom-up movements to force political action and change at the top,” Kitchell, director of the Oscar-nominated Berkeley in the Sixties, told me. “Although the environmental movement put on the largest demonstration ever on the original Earth Day in 1970, it was never all that big on taking to the streets. So I’m pleased that the Sierra Club is endorsing getting arrested, and environmental organizations are forming an alliance against the Keystone XL pipeline. The time has come for nonviolent civil disobedience. This is what we need, and we need more of it.”

And sooner rather than later, given the popular disconnect that still hovers over the issue, which still suffers from a visibility and comprehension disorder of befuddling proportions given its existential horror. As powerful as the recent Keystone XL protests at the White House proved, they’re still paltry compared to the popular momentum needed to get the Obama administration off its ass.

“No, we’re not getting the level of protest we need,” Kitchell added. “But part of that is lacking the urgency that a war in Vietnam engenders. Climate change really is the impossible issue, and it’s taking a lot of time and work to get people really focused on protesting it.”

Viewers of A Fierce Green Fire — theatrically released by First Run Features and opening March 1 in New York before going wide across the United States — likely will feel more galvanized into activism than they were before screening the epic five-act documentary, which is narrated by Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Isabel Allende, Ashley Judd and Van Jones. Ranging from the turbulent formation and fights of the Sierra Club and Greenpeace to the toxic madness of Love Canal and costly Amazon sacrifice of Chico Mendes, and of course culminating in the mind-wiping dystopia of apocalyptic climate change, A Fierce Green Fire frontloads more than a century’s worth of environmental madness and mobilization into a documentary demanding even more activism and answers. It’s very hard to walk away from it wanting to go back to business-as-usual.

“We were trying to bring together all the strands of environmentalism, create a grand synthesis and capture the arc of the movement,” Kitchell explained. “What struck me was the evolution from local, specific issues to global resource crises. It’s not just climate change, but forests, water, soils, oceans, salinization, agriculture, equity and justice — and the really big ones like loss of biodiversity and how to put our civilization on a sustainable path to balance with nature. It has been hard for the environmental movement to deal with problems so huge and beyond our ability to solve. Bill McKibben talks about this in Act Five: ‘Climate change is too big an issue for the environmental movement to take on.’ Of course, he proceeds to start an organization,, to do just that. Maybe that’s what those who consider themselves environmentalists should pass along to younger generations: An appreciation of how big the battle has become, as well as a sense of possibility and hope that comes from succeeding against all odds on earlier issues.”

Despite those odds, mammoth progress has been made, said Kitchell. There are a multitude of solutions and changes that have been accomplished during the environmental movement’s extensive history of hell-raising. It doesn’t take more than a cursory glance around our warming Earth to find citizens engaged in beating back the ravages of environmental devastation.

“I could point to all sorts of signs that things are changing,” he said. “Forty years after photovoltaics first emerged, they’re finally showing up in big arrays around California. I love what is happening in Germany, which is not only getting off of fossil and nuclear fuels, but doing distributed generation — quite literally, power to the people. California and lots of other places are moving toward zero waste. There’s a long list of chemicals and synthetic substances that have been banned one after another.”

That said, we’re still in a race against time, added Kitchell. Global warming is an exponential, existential nightmare, and it’s quickly outpacing our comparatively sluggish efforts at righting the many wrongs of our unsustainable production and consumption, which have seemingly proceeded at light-speed since the Industrial Revolution. If we don’t get our earthly priorities straight by the middle of this century, all of our significant advances might not make the slightest bit of difference in the final analysis.

“The smart people I know who are really thinking about this think that 2050 or so is the nadir, when things get really bad,” Kitchell told me. “By 2100, they think we are turning the corner. Depending on how bad it gets — climate, resource depletion, economic and social collapse and instability — population and carrying capacity may drop, perhaps drastically. We don’t know and we won’t be around to find out. Hell of a way to run a planet, and a movement. This is new territory.”

For those new to the expansive territories of environmental activism, here’s a list of 10 stunning things the movement has faced, fought or said in its substantial history and battles.



‘We Are Slaves To Fossil Fuels:’ An Interview With Chasing Ice Director Jeff Orlowski

Morphizm: Climate change is existentially exhausting.

Jeff Orlowski: It’s a tough issue. It’s hard for people to maintain the energy to get the issue out there, because the opposition is so well-funded. But I still have a lot of hope: One of my mentors is Jane Goodall, and she always talks about the indomitable human spririt, which I agree with. But she also talks about the resiliecy of nature. This is not a matter of saving the planet or protecting the environment. The planet is going to be fine. The question is what kind of civilization are we going to have that will be able to sustain any semblance of what we’re used ot. That’s what it comes down to, in my mind. Our lifestyle is in jeopardy now… READ MORE MORPHIZM