By Carolyn Baker
Speaking Truth to Power
Thursday, 02 August 2007
Sit still and listen
For you are drunk, and
We are at the edge of the roof…
We must cease investing our emotional energy and condition in the events of civilization. It is diseased to the core. We must realize the “dear thing” cannot be saved, even with major surgery.
–William Kotke, The Final Empire, The Collapse Of Civilization
The 2004 documentary, “End Of Suburbia”, produced and edited by Barry Silverthorn and written and directed by Greg Greene, was a stunning and chilling cinematic landmark which placed the issue of Peak Oil and its consequences squarely on the world stage and connected the dots between the unsustainable suburban lifestyle and perilous issues of the twenty-first century such as food production, population die-off, and economic meltdown. Recently, Greene and producer, Dara Rowland, have released the sequel, “Escape From Suburbia” which examines the journeys of several individuals who have fled or are in the process of fleeing from civilization. It highlights how they are building new lives and new subcultures which offer the possibilities of deepened humanity and sustainability. Unlike “End Of Suburbia”, “Escape” spends less time interviewing the usual Peak Oil experts and follows the escape routes of ordinary people who are passionate about removing themselves from a culture of over-consumption and extinction.
After a brief explanation of Peak Oil, the film opens with the departure of a baby-boomer man and woman from their suburban home in Portland to an ecovillage in Canada, then moves into focusing on two gay men from New York City, Philip and Tom, who are eagerly planning their escape from the Big Apple to a venue where they can utilize the plethora of farming and permaculture skills they have intentionally acquired over the past few years. Juxtaposing these “escapees” is Kate from Toronto who strongly believes that her calling is not to escape but remain in suburbia and dig in to green it and make it truly sustainable. Interwoven with the various vignettes is Philip’s personal experiences with the 2005 Petrocollapse conference in New York and the 2006 Local Solutions To The Energy Dilemma conference in that city which he helped produce, Philip adamantly insisting that New York and cities like it are not only unsustainable but are self-destructing before his eyes. On the opposite coast in Willits, California, the film highlights a number of its residents engaged in creating a relocalized, sustainable town of 13,000 people who are energy self-sufficient and passionately involved in community building.
“Escape” is refreshing because regardless of what viewers may consider feasible or unfeasible responses to the collapse of civilization, it is a powerful testimony to the reality that we do have options and follows the path of several individuals who are seizing them with remarkable creativity. What is under-emphasized in my opinion is the urgency with which those options must be taken in the face of global warming’s rapid progression, the likelihood that we have passed Peak, and the reality of economic meltdown and a burgeoning fascist dictatorship in the United States. Some scenes, such as sections of the interview with Philip and Tom which conveyed the direness of the situation, may have been edited out in order to make the documentary more palatable to more skeptical viewers. Nevertheless, “Escape” affirms the stark reality of collapse and the glaring truth that some individuals are consciously organizing their lives around preparing for it.
At the same time, Greene leaves us with numerous unanswered questions such as: How will newcomers to an ecovillage be received, and how will they integrate into the community? Will their transition be successful in their eyes? Will they regret making the move, or will they thrive? How will two gay men navigate collapse in a homophobic world where gay and lesbian people more often than not have no connection with families of origin because they have been rejected by them? How will gay and lesbian people be received in ecovillages or communities comprised primarily of heterosexuals? What will be the specific challenges to gay men and women in a collapsing world? Will people of various ethnicities be genuinely welcomed in such communities, or will they encounter prejudice behind politically correct rhetoric? What is unique about Willits? And what will transpire in similar communities committed to self-sufficiency and relocalization? What options exist besides the creation of ecovillages? What options exist for people who want to leave the United States and live in other countries besides Canada?
For me, the most riveting and wrenching footage in the film was the destruction by the Los Angeles police of South Central L.A.’s community gardens in 2006. I was thrilled that Greene chose to include this footage because it destroys all notions of “hope” and “happy endings.” Moreover, it raises deeply disturbing questions about the extent to which ecovillages and sustainable communities will be allowed to function in the face of a dictatorial response to civilization’s collapse. I have no words to describe the sensations in my body as I watched the obliteration of the gardens in South Central by order of the L.A. City Council which had voted to replace them with a warehouse. “Rape” is the only word that even comes close to describing scenes of lush plants and fruit trees being bulldozed as those tending their former garden plots valiantly resisted police or sobbed in abject despair.
The film’s archival and current footage are masterfully woven together, along with a musical score even more haunting and appropriately timed than that of “End Of Suburbia”. So is there anything wrong with Greene’s sequel documentary? Well actually, there is: the price. Whereas “End” consistently retailed for around $25 U.S. dollars, “Escape” retails for $35 plus shipping which approaches $40, and its screening rights have been set at $1500-a marketing decision guaranteed to result in pirating and many fewer people seeing the film which in my opinion is tragic because “Escape” needs to be seen by everyone concerned about Peak Oil, climate change, and economic catastrophe.
The film is a mix of hopeful fantasies such as those offered by Kate from Toronto and Guy Dauncey, President of British Columbia’s Sustainable Energy Association, and the non-sugar-coated reality offered by James Howard Kunstler, Richard Heinberg, and Mike Ruppert. As always, these two opposite poles of reality offer the daunting challenge of holding both as opposed to eliminating one or the other.
Collapse is axiomatic and inevitable, and-human beings are not powerless in the face of it. Although in my opinion we are powerless to prevent it, we must decide how we want to live in the throes of it. “Escape From Suburbia” offers some options worth considering. They are not magic bullet remedies, and some viewers may be deluded by the more hopeful voices in the film, but overall, the usefulness of “Escape” is not even in the options it includes but in the empowerment it evokes. If nothing else, it enticingly demands that we become busy doing something, rather than nothing, in preparation for the end of earth-murdering, humanity-annihilating civilization.
**Note: Truth To Power will be announcing fall screenings in the NYC area.
The End of Suburbia – 52 minute documentary on peak oil
The End of Suburbia on Oct 26, 2006
“We’re literally stuck up a cul-de-sac in a cement SUV without a fill-up” – James Howard Kunstler
Global oil peak and the inevitable decline of fossil fuels are upon us now, Are today’s suburbs destined to become the slums of the future? This is a short version of “The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of The American Dream”, a documentary about the end of the age of cheap oil.
The complete 78-minute version of The End of Suburbia is available on DVD at http://www.endofsuburbia.com. If you own the DVD, you are welcome to screen it to live audiences without permission, as long as it is not for profit.
What A Way To Go: Life at the end of Empire
donHooligan·Jan 9, 2011