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'If you want to save the planet, act immediately'

  • Published at 07:07 pm December 2nd, 2020
Photos: Courtesy

Urgency is the key mood at the Global Sustainability Film Awards

When I received an email to serve on the judging panel for the Solutions News Story Short Film Awards of the tve Global Sustainability Film Awards 2020, I did not realize this was a journey that would change me along the way. 

Lack of awareness combined with half-hearted government measures has choked the rivers in and around Dhaka, and left many of our forests denuded of trees. We become vaguely aware of how we are pushing ourselves to an environmental disaster yet we put off taking any action. We are happily ensconced in the routine of our lives. But how long can we live like this? The GSFA intends to tell us that living like this cannot sustain us for long and hence, we need to find sustainable solutions to address the climate issues.

The GSFA & Difficult Dialogues

The Global Sustainability Film Awards, founded in 2012, recognize outstanding films from the business, non-profit, media and creative sectors that inspire audiences with real-world solutions for a more sustainable future.

There were a total of nine categories in which entries were received, shortlisted and finally awarded through a five-day online ceremony that also included an international debate programme (featuring college finalists from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, USA, and Sri Lanka) and four engaging panel discussions comprising journalists, environmentalists, and human rights activists. The GSFA partnered with Difficult Dialogues to pull off the event that ran from November 16 to 20, and was themed around the idea of Global Sustainability, attracting green activists, green economists, journalists as well as the youth from the world over.

                 Screengrab of the winning film, The Man who Grew His Own Rainforest

All the submitted entries, which anyone could watch online during the event upon free registration, respond to the looming climate crisis, hitting home the fact that the exigency of climate change is of a different nature. While political issues relating to human rights may vary from one country to another, or while certain issues are specific to one country, climate issues involve the planet and therefore, are relevant to all the countries in the world. 

The Solutions News Story Short Film Awards

As I tuned in to the first and last days of the event broadcast live on Facebook, I was quite moved by debates and discussions that were truly illuminating, some of them revealing the terrible situation of child labour and girls’ menstrual rights in South Asia while some others highlighting the role of impact journalism in raising awareness and bringing about changes in our attitude towards women’s issues and children’s rights.

But the change I felt within me occurred when I watched the films in the Solutions News Story Short Film Awards category. The films in this category are basically short news stories that suggest sustainable solutions in many creative ways to problems relating either to environmental degradation or the larger climate crisis.

Although judging can be quite onerous at times, this one was a pleasant experience as it entailed watching and scoring 15 short films that are not only thought-provoking but also inspiring.

The first film that struck me was Saving Earth: Turkey’s Wildlife Corridor. Directed by Abed Ahmed, it is about Turkey’s first and largest wildlife corridor, covering a 162 km long conservation area that connects the Sarikamis National Park in eastern Turkey all the way north to the Caucasus forests, along the border with Gerogia. Implemented by non-government KuzeyDoga Society, it introduces the audience to a project through which over a million trees have been planted; the project also helps animals move from place to place, and find food and shelter. All the while watching it, I was reminded of how deforestation and poaching go unabated in Bangladesh’s forests. How wonderful it would be to have such a project in our forests.

A documentary styled film called The Trash Tourists also piqued my interest. It is about young activists from India challenging tourists who dump plastic garbage all around the places they visit, which is as much a reality in India as in Bangladesh. This is another idea we need to immediately start campaigning for in Bangladesh.

The shortlisted films

Needless to say, the shortlisted films were the best of the lot. In terms of scope as well as fulfilling the conditions of a balanced news story, Bill Gates-backed Carbon Capture Plant Does the Work of 40 Million Trees, directed by Katie Bigham for CNBC, must be mentioned first. It is about a company called Carbon Engineering which, making use of the direct air capture technology, extracts carbon dioxide from the air. It can indeed revolutionize our fight to stop climate change. According to the company’s CEO, one of its plants does the work of 40 million trees. Yet there are issues to be concerned about. This project is funded not only by Bill Gates; oil giants Chevron and Occidental are also funding it. That’s why this story is balanced out by criticisms made by energy experts who welcome this technology but are highly critical of receiving funding from the oil giants.

Seeds of Hope is about restoring seagrass from the seas of the UK, which is a fantastic life-giver to wildlife in the seas. Seagrass is also able to capture carbon from the atmosphere (up to 35 times faster than tropical rainforests) and thus can be an effective tool to fight climate change. More than 90% of seagrass in the seas in the UK is lost due to commercialization of tourist spots and many other activities. So, led by Dr Richard Unsworth of Swansea University, a committed team of researchers and volunteers comprising activists and students from schools are trying to plant seagrass in the UK seas and thus restore seagrass meadows.

My personal favourites were BBC’s Parisians Fight Climate Change with a Surprising Weapon (directed by Dougal Shaw) and The Man Who Grew His Own Amazon Forest (directed by Daniel Gordon). 

Food waste from restaurants is often dumped in landfill that contributes to the release of greenhouse gases. In north of Paris, a green business initiative called Les Alchimistes turns food waste from restaurants into compost with the help of a group of young cyclists, and a technology called “rocket”, imported from England. This is a business model that can be emulated all over the world. In my view, Parisians Fight Climate Change with a Surprising Weapon provided one of the most impressive solutions to a problem that directly relates to climate change.

But the film that provided the most effective solution in the most amazing way was The Man Who Grew His OwnAmazon Forest. In it, a man named Omar Tello from Ecuador gave up his job as accountant and dedicated his life to turning a considerably big patch of land into a rainforest. When he saw the rainforest in his area slowly disappear along with its wildlife, he had bought this patch of land 40 years ago and nursed it back into a rainforest. His neighbours and friends had called him a lunatic at the beginning. But Omar did not give up and after 40 years, wildlife is thriving in his patch of rainforest which stretches several hundred metres in every direction. After his success, now there are projects that help people to follow Omar’s example and coordinators of those projects often hire him to guide other people. 

It made me immensely happy when I found out that my fellow jurors and I were on the same page about the shortlisted entries as well as the winning film (The Man Who Grew His Own Amazon Forest). Writer, actor and child-rights activist Nandana Sen and Editor of Thomas Reuters Foundation’s Website Laurie Goering were my fellow jurors in the Solutions News Story category.

It was also great to see Dhaka Lit Fest producer and director Sadaf Saaz serving on the judging panel of Documentary Impact category. Maybe I should also mention that one of the two winning entries in this category interviews five international experts on environmental issues and one of them is Saleemul Haq from Bangladesh. 

Screengrab of Parisians Fight Climate Change with a Surprising Weapon

Averting a disaster

Although we like to describe the current phase of our civilizational journey as the “Anthropocene era”, implying our awareness of the environment that sustains us, the idea that our societies include the air, the forests, the wildlife, the birds, the waters and the thousands of creatures living under the waters is actually consigned to the textbooks in schools. We have reached a Paris Agreement about cutting carbon emission but have done virtually nothing about it yet. At national levels, except for a few instances, the forests along with their tremendous wildlife diversities continue to disappear fast while the oceans and the seas that surround us have gradually become places where we dump tonnes of our polythene-infested garbage and spill oil.

The garbage and spills have accumulated over centuries; hunting wildlife and chopping away trees has gone on for centuries as well. Yet the world leaders seem more intent on maintaining supremacy through alliance that inevitably leads to war while leaders in business communities are as resistant to cut carbon emission as ever.

Surina Narula, MBE, founder of both the GSFA and the Difficult Dialogues, aptly remarked on the concluding day, “I sincerely hope that all the participants who joined the online events in large numbers get a sense of the criticality of the situation, and go back and make a sustainable difference in their own sphere of influence.”

Whether or not world leaders will do their part, we need to act immediately from our own individual spheres. And maybe, in our bid to give back to society, we need to find creative ways to act collectively on bigger scales to save our rivers, forests, wildlife, and the seas and the oceans.

Rifat Munim is Literary Editor, Dhaka Tribune.

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