comments_image Comments

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.

This article was published in partnership with  GlobalPossibilities.org.

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 McKibbentalks 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, 350.org, 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."