'Be the change where you are' - thoughts from the documentary Demain (Tomorrow)
‘A lion doesn’t attack antelope to sell them to its buddies.’ A lion hunts for two reasons, hunger and survival. When a lion is full, he is no longer a threat to antelope or any of the other animals that share the bush with him. A lion won’t keep attacking and killing antelope for fun. The law of the jungle isn’t based on who has the largest amount of fresh meat stockpiled, in fact there is no currency, but there is a system. It’s a system of balance and it would make no sense for a lion to kill all the antelope around him. This would diminish his own food supplies. This would mess with the balance. This would put his own life at risk.
This is one of the concepts discussed in the French documentary Demain (Tomorrow) directed by Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent. It was an analogy used to describe the human obsession with economic growth – or to use another term from the movie – accumulative plunder.
The documentary team traveled the world to learn more about the initiatives people and communities are doing to tackle some of the biggest issues we as a global community are facing, looking specifically at the economy, agriculture, energy, waste, democracy and education as well as the relationship between each.
About half way through the movie a question was asked about civil disobedience, and should ‘we’ just stop abiding by the laws that are in many ways contributing to growing issues around social injustice and environmental degradation. The response was this, there are two higher laws and it’s suggested all others that don’t support them, should be disobeyed. The first law is to protect the earth and the biodiversity it sustains, the second law is to protect human rights and democracy. These provide a great place to start discussing some of the other initiatives shared in the film.
Going back to the lion analogy, changing the economic model from one that depends on growth is essential, because we exist in a closed system with 100% reliance on the essential services and resources that system provides us. Infinite growth implies those essential life giving services and resources are also infinite. They are not. The lion knows this.
Changing the economic model from one that provides ‘power and authority’ as a privilege of the few is also essential, because this model has been for a while now, delivering on social injustice and environmental degradation. We place a higher status on people based on their financial wealth and we allow them entitlements unbelievable to those with less. Money isn’t fundamentally bad, but the system in which money has become the higher law, is devastating.
However this movie didn’t focus long on what’s going wrong, its purpose was to share better ways of contributing to a brighter tomorrow. Many of them started at a grassroots level, not setting out to change the world, but to ‘be the change where you are’. I love this.
Obeying higher laws was well depicted by a company from Lile in France that produces envelopes. Their business model does not return profit to shareholders, at least not in a traditional sense. The shareholders they return to are the natural systems they rely on to produce envelopes and keep their company running. They plant 4 trees for every 1 tree they use. They produce their own energy (electricity from solar and for additional heat they grow bamboo for fuel), they use organic inks so all the water can be used to water the bamboo. Every part of their operation has a purpose higher than profit, and there is very limited actual waste, they are working towards a cyclical system, one that is balanced.
They also recognise the contribution of their people as a part of the system the business relies on to operate. The have income parity of 1:4 and they have incredibly high standards of safety and engagement. The business believes a financial economy isn’t the only economy in which they have to operate, they are proving there is another way.
Turning now to agriculture and large factory farms. It was discussed how factory farms are 'really good at making money but not producing food' and how they cater mostly to producing feedstock and biofuel, calling them ‘hopelessly inefficient’ with regards to resource use and actual output.
We rely on soil, sunlight and water to produce our food. Well at least we used to. Now we rely on land, water, chemicals, machinery, fossil fuels, factories and cheap labour to produce our food. And we rely on phenomenal amounts of land, water, chemicals, machinery, fossil fuels, factories and cheap labour to produce food to feed our food.
‘Our system is insane, destroying our ecological base (through the use of chemicals) and our social base (farmers), so where will all the food come from?’ Good question. Check out agroecology and urban gardening.
All over the world urban gardening is happening. Smaller, more localised gardens producing massive amounts of food within city boundaries, providing food close to where people live. Although it was highlighted that urban agriculture is not intended to replace rural, rather compliment it. Check out this example from the film in Detroit, Greening of Detroit.
Another example I loved was the Incredible Edible initiative from Tormorden, UK. In the truest example of community spirit, a couple of ladies held a meeting to which 100’s of people turned up (they expected about 5) and they ‘created a reason to have a conversation about food’. They now grow food all around the town centre, on routes to schools, railway stations, in front of the police station, available for anyone, anytime to pick and enjoy. This was a beautiful example of where the local council at first panicked, thought of all the reasons why the planting couldn’t go ahead and then took a step back and saw the initiative for what it was – and gave their full support. It was a genuine and purposeful way in which the community was changing where they lived and taking control, the outcome ‘radical community building in action’.
The other messages around food and agriculture were to grow forest gardens (monoculture doesn’t exist in nature), use more hand tools and more physical labour (less fossil fuel) and less chemicals in food production, oh and, eat less meat, eat less meat, and eat less meat.
The movie didn’t go deep in to the details of the ethical considerations around animal agriculture, but touched on the environmental impact of the insatiable greed the world has for eating meat and animal products. The following is taken from an earlier blog with sources referenced; globally, animal related agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, higher than air travel (14%). One acre of land can yield 250 pounds of beef, or, 53,000 pounds of potatoes. Locally, (2013) data available from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment showed Fonterra, New Zealand's largest company used 410,000 tonnes of coal to turn liquid milk into powder.
Since we are talking about coal, time to move onto energy. We have ‘dug up the burial ground of carbon’ and are in ‘real time climate change’. Yet we are insanely addicted to fossil fuel for transport and electricity when alternative energy sources are sitting patiently by, ready for when we are ready to break apart the failing system in order to recreate a more sustainable one. Copenhagen isn’t waiting though. Copenhagen wants to be entirely self-sufficient by 2025 and they have invested close to 1 billion Euros in renewables (sun, wind, water & biomass). Neither is La Réunion in France, they have embarked on a major renewable project sharing space between energy generation and farming by providing greenhouses to farmers free of charge in exchange for the use of the rooftops for solar. This is supporting small scale farmers and has the following goals.
Transport was also featured; ‘there is no more cost effective thing to do in city planning than build infrastructure for bikes and pedestrians. Plan and build to influence people’s behaviours, choices and lifestyle – not to support cars. There is no alternative.’
Those comments (not made by a cycle advocacy group but by a local authority in France) bring me immense joy and hope for a future where people on bikes and foot have priority on the streets and cars are a necessary but secondary option. Here is a great article of some cool ways cities are already achieving this (some also featured in the documentary). And if you are interested in changing your perspective on the role streets can play in creating strong communities forever, read this book. Streetfight: Handbook for an urban revolution If we can reclaim our streets and spaces as being for people by changing our behaviours around transport, the benefits are many and massive. Less of these: congestion, emissions, personal cost (fuel + parking), space (cars take up a lot of space), severe accidents. And more of this: health, vibrant communities, connectivity, money in your pocket, and money in the community. It also means connectivity and accessibility is possible for everyone within the community, owning a car isn’t a luxury for the few when it’s unnecessary. There is also much research to show supporting cyclists and pedestrians within retail spaces has a positive impact on spending. Check this out report from NZTA.
From transport to education. The documentary team also travelled to Finland to look at the education system there, recognised as one of academic excellence globally. They profiled a school in a lower socio-economic area in Espoo, the second largest city, that caters for 7 – 16 year olds. This school is a part of a national system that has no national testing, 2 teachers for every 15 students, with additional teacher aids as needed, less time in the classroom and believes teachers aren’t the authority (therefore are equals to the students). Teachers are required to complete a minimum of 5 years for their degree and continue training throughout their career. When one of the teachers was asked what’s different about the way she teaches, her response was ‘tolerance, non-racial ideas and loving each other’. The Principal (and teachers) sit in the cafeteria and eat lunch with the students, they form relationships based on respect, trust and kindness. When asked ‘are there still behavioural issues?’ his response was ‘of course’. But the way they approach learning must be doing something right, type Finland education system into a Google search and see for yourself the evidence for academic excellence.
The possibilities of those principles being learned at such a young age are immense so it’s no surprise that Europe is also leading the way with alternative currencies. Is the connection between those two things too much of a stretch? I don’t think so. If entire communities are growing up learning respect and compassion for one another as well as academic excellence, could it be that they are less driven by excessive financial wealth, through a deeper appreciation of what really matters? Makes sense in my mind.
The examples in the film about alternative currencies could be an indication this is true. Basel, Switzerland is the home to WIR Bank. This is really interesting. The WIR Bank was established in 1934 and has an alternative currency to the Swiss franc to ‘provide a way for small and medium businesses to continue trading during the economic crisis when nobody had money.’ Local businesses can use WIR within their local network and can switch to Swiss franc for external purchasing. It’s a way to keep ‘money’ circulating in the local system rather than it going to multinational corporations who contribute very little (to the local system). But get this, there is no interest paid on WIR savings, so the point is to keep it moving so everyone benefits and excessive individual wealth is avoided. This is a direct hit at the ‘power and authority being a privilege of the few’ model. There are many other examples of alternative currencies, check out Bristol pound and Totnes pound.
Waste and democracy were also well covered in the documentary, but in an effort to manage the length of this blog and to keep some of the stories just a little bit of a surprise for anyone yet to see it, I won’t go into any detail. Plus…my notes got a bit sketchy in places because I was sitting in a dark cinema and I couldn’t jot them down quick enough.
But to give you an idea of what’s happening in other parts of the world around waste, it’s the law for San Franciscans to participate in residential recycling and composting and it’s a user pays system – but they get a discount based on the volume of resource diverted from landfill. And, plastic bags were banned in 2007. They are working towards a goal of zero waste by 2020.
Meanwhile in Iceland (a few years back), Icelanders took to the streets and forced their entire government to resign. Due to my limited notes, and risk of sourcing something less than credible online, watch the film to hear this story from someone directly involved.
Demain is a positive and powerful look at a future being created now that prioritises social justice and environmental sustainability by working in unison with the natural systems we rely on and taking a step back from the failing system of economic growth. And the people involved aren’t millionaires, celebrities or politicians, they are just people who have seen a better way and no doubt largely fed up with inaction from the leaders making decisions with potentially good intentions but limited real understanding of what’s actually possible outside the broken system.
So who should see this movie? You should.
Who can 'be the change where you are'? You can.
NB: I have written this blog based on the notes I took while in the cinema, in an effort to capture as many of the key points as possible, I didn't take down 'who said what' so where a comment is in ' ' (in the blog) it was said by one of the people interviewed in the film. If I have misrepresented any of their messages I take full responsibility.