The heat is on


By Bonnie Rosenstock

I caught Karen Coshof at a bad time. A friend had just phoned the filmmaker to say that Newsweek slammed her documentary, “The Great Warming.” The most offensive line from the review: “[It] shows exactly what’s wrong with turning complex issues over to Hollywood.” Coshof, the producer, was livid. “We’re from Montreal. You think they would get their facts right. Nobody from the magazine called me.”

Getting the facts right is what her film is all about. And the incontrovertible fact is that global warming is here and now — and its effects are chilling. While the two-page Newsweek article cynically calls global warming “the topic du jour,” Coshof and her husband, writer/director Michael Taylor, didn’t just jump on the bandwagon; they helped build it six years ago with a three-part television series that was released on Earth Day 2004 on “Discovery Canada.” The well-received series was aired in countries all over the world. Notably absent was its neighbor to the South. “It’s absolutely accurate and impeccable,” Coshof declared. “We tried to get interest in the United States and had none. Media people in America said it was too depressing, and no one would be interested. I find their cynicism depressing and arrogant.”

Regrouping her energies, she went on to produce a one-hour special called “Global Warming, the Signs and the Science,” which was broadcast on PBS in November, and “bravely” co-produced by South Carolina ETV, Coshof said. It had a substantial viewership. However, Coshof realized that the only way to reach a wider American audience was to put it into theaters, “since people go to see documentaries these days, and this impacts everyone’s lives.”

The result is an expanded version of the special, a gorgeously filmed, intelligent and powerful 80-minute documentary narrated by Alanis Morissette and Keanu Reeves (both did it for free.) You might feel depressed after watching it, but for all the right reasons. The film is a wake-up call to the world to take action, as one expert warned, “yesterday.” Spanning the globe, “The Great Warming” takes us to densely populated at-risk cities, emerging countries like China and Bangladesh and remote areas like Inner Mongolia, which have all been affected by human-induced global warming in the form of more droughts, wildfires, flooding, polar melting, more powerful storms, more variable weather and unprecedented health risks.

One scientist cites the emergence of 30 new diseases in the past two and a half decades. “We are in an unusual period of the resurgence of infectious disease such as we have not seen since the 1830s, when Charles Dickens described the conditions in London, Boston and New York that led to the resurgence of tuberculosis, cholera and smallpox,” he said.

The film takes a hard look at the influence of climate change on politics, religion, science, education, energy and economics. Over 20 years ago, scientists began sounding the alarm bell, “but they’ve never been very good at communicating to the average citizen,” explained Coshof. “When they said, ‘highly probable,’ it means something specific to scientists. To the media and general public it means not sure. It’s mistaken that it’s a debatable issue.”

When she tried to get distribution in the U.S., Coshof said, “It was framed in the nature of a debate.” She adds that “well-orchestrated campaigns of disinformation, funded by the oil industry and other interests” have also made things difficult to get the message out. “It’s been very carefully politicized, which has cost us many years’ time. If you talk to climatologists, this issue is real.”

“The Great Warming” does have a hopeful side. It highlights initiatives taken by cities, groups and individuals to reverse the damage. Chris Holmes, a young architect, boasts that in a few years he will have an eco-building empire across Canada with energy-efficient homes. In a Montreal working class neighborhood he has built an Eco Cité, affordable multi-family two-story units costing $145,000 to $200,000 per unit, cheap by big city standards. Each new homeowner will pay only $75 a year for heating, cooling and hot water. We also meet a family in Inner Mongolia who is using solar power to generate electricity for their igloo’s television, thereby cutting its greenhouse emissions in half.

Relevant to American audiences is the growing role of the evangelical environmental movement, where the concept of creation care is taking hold. One leading advocate is Dr. J. Matthew Sleeth, a former emergency room doctor and chief of medical staff who now writes, preaches and teaches full-time about faith and the environment. (His book, “Serve God, Save the Planet, A Christian Call to Action,” will be published in May.) Sleeth explains that one of the reasons Evangelicals have been reluctant to get involved is that “environmentalism has sort of a left-wing tilt to it in their minds.”

Another advocate is Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, who states, in one of the film’s more provocative moments, that there are over 30 million Evangelicals in the U.S. “[who] comprise between 40 to 50 percent of the Republican base.”

He continues, “If the largest single population group in the Republican coalition were to say this is important, we want you to take as our leaders in the Republican Party, leadership on climate change, clean air, pure water, on the stewardship of our natural resources, I daresay Republicans will listen. This president will have to listen.”

Amen to that.

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