________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 19 . . . . May 16, 2008


The Refugees of the Blue Planet.

Hélène Choquette & Jean-Philippe Duval (Writers & Directors). Monique Simard & Marcel Simard (Productions Virage Producers). Yves Bisaillon (NFB Producer). Luc Martin-Gousset (Point du Jour Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2007.
53 min., 8 sec., VHS or DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153E 9907 101.

Subject Headings:
Environmental refugees.
Environmental degradation-Social aspects.
Disaster victims.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Barbara McMillan.

**** /4


There are many reasons why people become environmental refugees. As we look to the future, it's quite clear that one of the biggest driving factors will be global warming and the extreme weather events that come with global warming. But, ironically, many people may also become environmental refugees as a consequence of the failed economic development model…that places a huge emphasis on the using up of  natural resources. In some cases people may be refugees because of deforestation, in other circumstances people may become refugees  because their way of farming gets displaced by people coming in and planting great swaths of monoculture… It may be because engineering firms have argued that there should be a huge new dam in an area so a  valley gets flooded.  (Andrew Simms, Policy Director and Head of the  Climate Change Program, new economics foundation's Centre for Global  Interdependence.)

There are more environmental refugees than political refugees, but no one takes care of the people who have had to leave their land, their  village, their town because of a natural disaster or because their environment was destroyed. These people are completely abandoned….  (Jean Ziegler, Author and the U.N. Human Rights Council's Special  Rapporteur on the Right for Food.)


The Refugees of the Blue Planet was written and directed by Canadian filmmakers Hélène Choquette and Jean-Philippe Duval. It is a poignant and thought-provoking documentary that helps to explain the reasons for the 25,000,000 people that were listed as environmental refugees  by the United Nations in 2003.

     The film begins with an aerial view of Kandhalhudhoo, an island in the Maldives, that has the appearance of a white-flour crepe in a jewel-coloured ocean of blues and turquoises that is almost indistinguishable from the sky. As the camera closes in on the buildings nearest the shoreline, we see that what appeared to be an idyllic island community is actually the uninhabited, destroyed remains of a community flooded by the December 2004 Asian tsunami. The Maldive Islands are one of three locations where Choquette and Duval introduce viewers to environmental refugees. They travel to Brazil where the focus is on small farmers displaced by Aracruz Cellulose, a manufacturer of pulp with 25,000 hectares of eucalyptus trees on expropriated land, and to Alberta where drilling for highly toxic sour gas is driving small farmers and cattle ranchers off their properties. In each of these settings, individuals or the members of families speak about their circumstances, what they have lost, and their uncertain futures.

     The filmed responses of the environmental refugees are interspersed with commentary from experts, including Andrew Simms and Jean Ziegler quoted in the excerpts above, who either work directly with environmental refugees or on their behalf. Andrew Nikiforuk, a Canadian author and investigative reporter, describes the situation in Alberta and in so doing moves the focus away from the consequences for individual refugees toward a more critical look at government  sanctioned deterioration of the air, water, land, and human health. His forthright narrative ties together the portrayals of four Alberta families: Doris and William (natural beef ranchers); Mahlon; Shelia and Leonard (farmers); and Barbara and her son Darrel (farmers). David Swann (doctor) and James Argo (medical geographer) discuss the risks to life and health that the sour oil wells and refineries pose, and they describe the difficulties and obstacles encountered when attempting to study, know, and understand the effects of the toxic by- products on health and well-being.

     In the film, what Nikiforuk does for rangeland and farmland owners in Alberta, Valmir Noventa (Coordinator, Movement of Small Farmers) and Marcelo Calazans (Coordinator, FASE) do for displaced, small acreage Brazilian farmers. Andrew Simms, Jean Ziegler, George Marshall (Environmentalist and Co-director, Climate Outreach), and Helena Norberg-Hodge (Philosopher and Founder, International Society for Ecology and Culture) speak out on behalf of all people displaced by natural disasters or environmental degradation. It is the commentary of these activists and experts juxtaposed with the personal commentaries of the environmental refugees featured in The Refugees of the Blue Planet that make the film as informative as it is captivating, albeit captivating in a very disquieting way.

     The film ends with the printed words "If everyone on Earth lived the way North Americans do, we would need five extra planets." Projections of the United Nations for the end of the decade indicate that as many as 50 million people will become the displaced victims of climate change (rising sea levels, desertification, dried up aquifers…). Yet, even with this awareness, Andrew Simms states that "some of the world's richest and most advanced countries are now, per person, pumping out more greenhouse gas pollution contributing to the problems of global warming than they were back in 1992," the year of the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

     Choquette and Duval make it quite clear that human caused "environmental degradation knows no borders" and that the preponderance of environmental refugees will not always come from the "poorest" in developing countries that had nothing to do with creating the problem. "It's very much going to be everyone who suffers" (George Marshall), if we don't soon understand and act on the knowledge that it is planet Earth that feeds, nurtures, and sustains human life.

Highly Recommended.

Barbara McMillan is a teacher educator and professor of science education in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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