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Avatar Meet Crude

 Posted by on January 7, 2010
Jan 072010
 

Avatar Movie PosterCrude Movie PosterLast week I watched the 3D blockbuster Avatar, where a giant mining corporation uses any and all available tactics to access the mineral “unobtanium” from under the land of the Na’vi, a tribe of intelligent aliens indigenous to the planet Pandora. The corporation starts with building schools and offering other things valued by humans and when that fails, the corporation uses military force to evict the Na’vi from their land.

At moments I felt like I was watching a remake of the documentary I saw a month before, Crude, which chronicles the extraction of oil by Chevron-Texaco from the lands of 30,000 Ecuadorians in the tropical forests of Ecuador. Of course, there were some superficial differences—the Na’vi were blue, 10-feet tall and could literally link up with the forest ecosystem of which they were part. The Ecuadorians aren’t 10-feet tall or blue, and cannot literally connect with the spirit of the Earth (Pachamama as Ecuadorians call this or Eywa as the Na’vi call the spirit that stems from their planet’s life) but they are as utterly dependent—both culturally and physically—on the forest ecosystem in which they live and are just as exploited by those that see the forest as only being valuable as a container for the resources stored beneath it.

Both movies were fantastic reminders of human short-sightedness, one as an epic myth in which one of the invading warriors awakens to his power, becomes champion of the exploited tribe and saves the planet from the oppressors; the other as a less exciting but highly detailed chronicle of the reality of modern battles—organizers, lawyers, and celebrities today have become the warriors, shamans, and chieftains of earlier times.

Two highlights of these films:

At the end of Avatar, Jake Sully—the warrior hero—asks Eywa to please help fight off the humans, for they will destroy Pandora just as they destroyed Earth, saying something like “there is nothing green on our planet any longer.” Interestingly, Eywa listens and the wildlife of the forest drive back the colonizers. Stay tuned for the planetary response of a feverish Earth. Don’t expect charging rhinoceroses and pouncing tigers as we’ve killed most of them, but the dramatic shifts triggered by climate change will do more to crush human transgressions than any Toruk could.

And watching Crude, I couldn’t help but find it amazing that one of the leading characters of the film (albeit never acknowledged) was the oil used to maintain our consumerist way of life—some of which was certainly extracted from the very forest in contention. From charity concerts and countless flights from the U.S. to Ecuador by lawyers involved in the case, to the plastic (i.e. oil-based) rain barrels to provide drinkable water to those living in the now polluted forests and even the film equipment itself, oil is ubiquitous in every scene (and every facet of consumer societies). So fighting exploitation of delicate ecosystems and the exploiters themselves is certainly important—whether in our myths or in real life settings—but without finding sustainable sources of energy, and especially shifting cultural norms so that we expect less consumptive lifestyles, we will never stop seeking out new sources of oil, unobtanium, or whatever mineral is central to our economies at that moment. And if indigenous people live on top of these deposits, well, they’ll either need to move or be moved.

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  8 Responses to “Avatar Meet Crude”

  1. ‘There is nothing green there. They killed their Mother (Earth).’ We aren’t doing too bad a job at killing Her even now, in the real world. And you would be surprised how connected some of the Ecuadorians are to Pachamama. I’m reading SOW 2010, and I agree, a total revolution in cultural values will have to take place. Going to be fun being part of the change!

  2. Thanks for pointing out this very interesting comparison. By the way, at the World Economic Forum in Davod Switzerland in 2006 Chevron/Texaco were given the award for Worst Environmental behaviour in the world, because of their actions in Ecuador. The Public Eye Awards are given every year for corporate irresponsibility and this year’s short list was announced this afternoon.

  3. C1: I believe a more appropriate tile for Mr. Assadourian’s piece would be: “Avatar Meets Crude Awakening”, because as the author reveals, they did destroy our planet.

    Q1: How many millions of microprocessors and trillions of computational cycles, releasing x gigatons of thermal energy and y megatons of GHG emissions into the Earth’s atmosphere to crunch the singular, virtual, floating point process within a sprawling server farm ecosystem as green as the grass on our lawns, did this visual, animated picture require to tell its story?

    C2: Fossil fuels required to support civilian and non-civilian nuclear energy, outside of mining, processing, facility construction, decommissioning, waste storage, etc. Think: air travel required to monitor these systems and fuel used for security and other purposes.

    Q2: What will be the true cost of sequestering hundreds of megatons of carbon if CONU* has its way? Would there ever be incentives to cheat? In what ways could widely-deployed CSS systems transform surfaces throughout the world? What about the soundscape? Could CSS sites become terrorist targets? If so, then to what possible effect, especially if there are hundreds, or possibly even thousands of these sites scattered throughout the world?

    *CONU: coal, oil, natural gas and uranium

  4. C3: Correction: CCS, not CSS. Also, a widely-deployed CCS transport and injection infrastructure would probably represent a low-priority target for terrorist organizations or saboteurs, similar to the world’s natural gas infrastructure.

  5. C4: The larger issues related to CCS, as Al Gore explains in the seventh chapter of his latest book titled “Our Choice”, pertain to the increased amount of coal necessary to generate an equivalent amount of power, the mining and other associated upstream impacts resulting from an increased demand for coal, and the technical challenges related to the location and monitoring of “safe” underground repositories or the development of materials that can “capture, stabilize, and ‘embody’ CO2″ in consumer, commercial or industrial products. Sadly, with respect to Mr. Gore’s book, minimal space is devoted to reporting on the upstream impacts related to the production, deployment and utilization of all energy sources described over their full life cycle, although I praise the overall balanced and strategic architecture of the book.

  6. Worldwatch is crapping itself (and us) on this topic. “Consumer” is an insult. Our problem is corporate capitalism, not airy-fairy cultural change.

    http://www.consumertrap.com/2010/01/worldwatch-craps-itself.html

  7. Here’s another analysis of Avatar with somewhat similar but also different points of view, by Fran Korten
    http://www.yesmagazine.org/peace-justice/whats-wrong-with-avatar , going more in depth on a who should be saving whom, and how a cultural transformation can/could happen. Interesting reading!

  8. [...] know I’m not the first one to draw comparisons between James Cameron’s fictional Avatar, where a corporate-military entity uses force to [...]

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