Words from the Edge

2013, Environment  -   15 Comments
Ratings: 8.52/10 from 85 users.

For many years the environmental movement has assumed that if you want get people to do something, if you want to engage people, basically what you have to do is to make as efficiently depressing film or write as sufficiently horrific and miserable leaflet and get that into their hands and they will simply act. "Oh my God, that's terrible, I'll go and plant some carrots." Actually it doesn't work that way. You can look people at different stages of change. There are people who are just about ready to make a change, there are people who are aware of the issues but not really interested in taking any actions, and there are people who will not even admit that there's a problem.

The last couple of hundred of years have been absolutely unprecedented in the norm of human history. Population has grown from under a billion to seven billion, the rates of consumption of natural resources both on absolute and per capita basis have grown enormously. But the cause of this enormous change in terms of inventing new technologies, using more stuff, and increasing global trade, has been energy. Two hundred years ago we gained access to an enormous treasure trove of cheap concentrated energy in form of coal, oil and natural gas. And having this energy enabled us to do all these other things. We invented automobiles and airplanes so that we can use this treasure of resources, to transport ourselves, and transport our goods, and so on. We built the whole modern world on oil, coal and natural gas.

Before, we were using sunlight indirectly through green plants and animals, but with fossil fuels we have energy sources that were created by nature over the course of tens of millions of years and we didn't have to put any effort into making them. All we've had to do is to dig them out of the ground. It's not that we're going to run out of fossil fuels completely anytime soon, but we've extracted them in the wrong way. Initially we've extracted the highest quality, easiest accessed resources, and we left dirty, hard to get and expensive stuff for later. Well guess what? It's later.

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15 Comments / User Reviews

  1. Aliya

    Words From the Edge addresses the environmental issues surfacing with regards to natural resources, as interconnectedness becomes driven by energies such as coal, oil, and natural gas. Energy has allowed us to invent transportation which has lead to a more globalized earth; however, non renewable resources are becoming strained, and society is gradually decreasing the quality and amount of natural resources available. Though the economy depends on transportation, we have reached a peak level of growth. The film ultimately argues that the more biodiversity within an ecosystem, the more sustainable it is. As well, the producers argues that what makes the earth makes us. There is a clear bias throughout the documentary that the economy depends on transportation and that we are overusing the world's resources. The other side is not provided that the environmental initiatives occurring are beneficial in preserving natural resources. As well, few credentials of the speakers are given which minimizes the authenticity of the documentary. The communication throughout the documentary is extremely choppy, as one primary speaker and a range of back up individuals make the central claim confusing. The camera angles are shaky and the style of communication is unprofessional. A range of irrelevant facts are included such as discussing book writing and showing images of beaches and dogs. I found that the depressing colours used took away from the film, and it contributed to my negative response towards the film. The lack of elaboration on how capitalism relates to the hunger crisis left me confused and wanting further elaboration. I would not recommend this documentary as there is no clear thesis provided and the country of origin is unclear. As well, there is a lack of statistics and the information provided is irrelevant. If you are looking to gain an understanding of world environmental or economical issues DO NOT watch this film.

  2. Todd Morrow

    Solar will provide energy at the same cost as fossil, long before we run out of fossil. This is a recent development and many "peak oil" people are simply not aware of it.

    1. DigiWongaDude

      True, maybe 2020? And fusion will kick in about twenty years later, as genuine progress is being made right now.

  3. Luyang Han

    The discussion about energy and relation to society is just essential. The future of no cheap energy described here seems not so bad, if people take the correct measure.

    Well, this is an illusion. The "cheap energy", no matter how it comes, is essential for modernity and to some extend, the very development of humanity itself. Imaging that from now on we can only rely on natural photosynthesis, directly or indirectly, as the only energy source, as it is promoted, to grow your food locally and "organically", this means 90% of the population must be farmers, as this is the percentage of farmer to non-farmer in the pre-industrialized society growing "organic" food to supply themselves, and such value is kept at almost constant for centuries. With only 1 in 10 of the people involved in possible organizational work, wide spread deurbanization is almost inevitable. Without the concentration effect of cities, all human advancement in science and technology will be greatly slowed down, as well as education, health care and countless factors one can imagine.

    The optimistic view of the Indian woman in the doc to me sounds just as foolish as what she is criticizing. Of course now one can sit comfortably in a nice room in front of the camera talking about transition, without really understand the difficulties. Those people who really got their hands dirty trying to grow their own food immediately realized how difficult it is to completely support themselves. As already described in the doc, what they had achieved is to grow some vegetables for the dinner. To grow enough food completely feed oneself without using fossil fuel would require one's full time devotion.

    And again, such society cannot be really democratic either. The democracy is the luxury of non-farmers, who has enough time to receive extra education, to acquire information, to attend debates, to think on issues not directly related to growing food and so on. It is hardly conceivable that in such society democracy, if it would exist, would probably make any sense at all.

    I think, the transition should be rather to new energy source and related infrastructure. No matter if it is renewable or nuclear, it must be still cheap, or cheaper. A transition to expensive energy society will lead to no where.

    1. bringmeredwine

      You are so right about how difficult it would be for someone to supply all the food they need and the challenges one would face who lives in an urban environment.
      A person could be very creative, using old tires or home made boxes for planting in, but would they be enough to totally sustain themselves?
      I have a very decent-sized back yard, but cannot afford the mountains of soil and compost needed to create a large enough garden.
      I have to sprinkle seeds here and there in my existing flower beds. .Even if there was a community plot available, its still lots of money to buy what I would need to cultivate it. Not to mention the risk of thievery and vandalism that exists here.
      I grow food at my camp, again, very expensive to buy the soil, and am not always there to water it; plus its difficult to haul the needed water.
      At least whatever I do manage to grow is not transported to me from across the country in a smelly diesel truck.
      I'm no environmental hero, believe me!

    2. Bert

      I have got a 50m2 garden and I am eraning little money so have to eat as well from our garden to save money and yes we are getting things out there. Not everything of course but a lot of vegetables that you don't need to buy. If I would organize with others and would have more land of course it would be more work. Hard work. Think about Cuba when the Soviet Union crashed and the Cubans did not recieve much oil because of this. They planted in the cities and could produce enough food. The answer to all this starts at our small garden and ends up in the industry. So let's see if we can bring them down to do so but first me myself and I has to get it right. All starts in the inside I think.

      Right now and in summer I didn't have so much time to work the garden but had my automatic watering system on so did not have to work too much. Now I am working the earth over but if you know how and when it is not too hard and I like it.

      Think about how to get Nature working for yourself. You can get Nature working for you. So for example a forest garden is based on trees and plants working together. At the end it should not be too much work but of course it is. Like working 40hours at an office aswell.

      With a bit of free energy all would be easier. Who knows. Keep thinking positively man. Regards.

    3. cielo22

      I don't want to sound hostile in this very polite exchange of ideas here about the documentary, but everything you are saying is invalidated by the fact that the gains of modern times are artificial in that each lead to increasingly destabilized environmental and social problems. In realistic terms, one must live within their means. As you do that in your private life so must we as part of the Earth community. Current methods are failing to insure a healthy reasonable future for human, animals, ocean life, etc. As for the unfortunate impact living responsibly generates for each member and the whole society, it could hardly be more exacting than the current plight of those living in poverty in any one of the 200,000 slums on earth increasing in population at 25 million a year. If you lived in one of those slums, your ideas about what we need might be quite different. If you were one of a species on the verge of extinction, your ideas might be different. I'm sure the poor would be thrilled to work hard to grow healthy food if land were made available to them. You are living in bubble of denial. As members of the most advanced society or goal should be to stop the ongoing destruction any way possible.

    4. Luyang Han

      That is interesting, because I was originally from the area of poverty (monthly income < $10) according to your standard, and mentality of the people there is definitely not what you supposed: they want jobs, they want progress, they wish for new infrastructure, they admire to have cars and if you say, I give you this land and just be farmers growing your own food instead of digging coal and be rich, the people will revolt. And you know what, they care the least for environment. Pesticide? Yes. Synthetic fertilizer? Definitely.
      You cannot sell the idea of "organic farming" or environmental protection to people unless they are rich, secure and comfortable enough.

    5. Bert

      the rich countries could only say: hey we went through this before. don't do it. but thats all it can be done. of course all poor countries want cars, food, goods,...and they can say: hey, you don't want us to do this but you did the same! that's right. so environmental changes could be seen as an example. that's it. hey luyang, I think the documentary does not want to sell the idea of organic farmimg as a total response to everything. it's just about why you feel like this right now. I mean don't you think we are simply destroying everything as cielo22 says? so where is the problem. even permaculture in poor countries could be a good answer to get more food. there are ways. accept them and just believe. find out more about geoff lawton for example. the bigger structure has to change as well of course but you have to change your feeling as well in your inside if possible.that's where it all starts. that's more important than to grow your own food. once you understand this you will get it. although it might be difficult in the beginning and bringing up some things that does not feel you right....don't know...enjoy...regards

    6. johnBas5

      How does the invention and production of solar panels and wind turbines that deliver renewable energy leads to increasingly destabilized environmental and social problems compared to burning hydrocarbons and nuclear?
      The environmental impact is less and so are the social problems.

  4. Brogan M

    I did like this documentary and I think that the people that they've interviewed explained themselves very well. I think that that this documentary was honest in many ways as well. There was a few things though, I would like to get further understanding of.

    They talked a lot about "transition" and how we as people might like this new ecological world but they never gave any specific examples of what can replace the harmful aspects of our current world. Like for example - what can productively replace the use of oil for our energy needs.

    Also, one of the people in the interview said that he thinks that it's not ok to just buy a fridge or a tv whenever people want. The documentary didn't continue on to explain why he thought like that. The following interviewee mentioned that we could as an option (but negative) see our current economic system out of the fire and continue on producing forever and ever. The other dichotomy was to consciously and creatively think of new ways to change our system. They also continued on to interview people who were saying that they've accepted that there's going to be change and it'll change many aspects of our society. Even though they don't know what these changes are.

    Personally I don't think that buying things is bad. I'm quite glad that I have a computer to watch this documentary or a pair of shoes to walk in. In essence "things" are part of our evolutionary and anthropological development and I think that having a "consumer" market is a good thing. Unfortunately we don't live in a world where things are made to the highest quality and we also live in a world where we tend to just buy something new to replace something old. But mass production in essence enabled people to accumulate these things in the first place. Mass production is the technique that gives normal people the opportunity to acquire such a thing as a computer or fly an aeroplane.

    What my point is - is that if we lived in a world where we didn't feel like we were entitled to having these products, we could be taking ourselves back to a time of obscurity. A time where new inventions where only stumbled upon exclusively by mobile people. I totally agree that finding new and ecological ways to innovate is essential and I also agree that planning to a certain extent is a good thing. Although it needs to be clear what needs to be changed and weather the majority will accord to this wholeheartedly and also what negative implications can arise from these changes.


    1. Paul Gloor

      I think the biggest obstacle is a fear of losing convenience. We've grown fat and lazy over the centuries from hard working and flexible people to truly innovative and inflexible people. Our work and social lives bend us, if we lost any of our conveniences, we would break.

    2. Brogan M

      I agree that with consumerism there is the lazy and inflexibility aspect to it. But like I say, having these products have enabled people to achieve a lot. It's enabled people who wouldn't have have in the past to create remarkable lives for themselves. I think that we need to continue into this "new world" not excluding the things that have given mobility to people who would never have dreamed of such a thing a few hundred years ago.

      Perhaps this means that aspects of mass production needs to change in order for it to produce products that don't need to be changed every year. But I disagree that it needs to ended altogether.

      But I certainly wouldn't enjoy living in a world where someones ability to exceed is undermined by the need to be "sustainable". I feel like that would be very similar to a religion where someones own necessity is taken away for the good of the planet. Like a religion, I wouldn't want to live in a world where I couldn't have a computer or car because someone else says that's bad thing. Just like I wouldn't want to live in a world where I couldn't have think the way I want because someone else says that I'll go to hell if I do.

      Alternatives are available to the products that are causing serious damage to our environment.

    3. Bert

      Hello, I think in general it is just a matter of change the view of things. The real big change is still out there but it won't happen if there is no change in our individual inner consciousness.

      Oil and energy needs could be covered with alternative produced energy. Governments should prepare but in my opinion they don't do so. I don't really know how we could replace this needs but of course independent experts could
      give you an answer. It's just nobody listening to them or is interested in give them funds as oil compannies really controls this matter.

      So there has to be political changes as well. Same with agriculture. If you plant food for you it is fine but of course it is just a little step and bigger companies should follow and so on. As a single person we should think positivly. Of course if there is no land in an urban sourrounding what should we do ? Take the land ? At least buy products
      that comes from nearby. Its just about do little steps. The rest follows by its own.

      There are ways to plant food on a bigger scale not using
      industrial fertilizers and so on. There are a lot of thinking mind out there who already knows how and if we search we'll find them. If we start little by little at the end we can change things.

      Same with your buying power. As resources on this planet are not endless it has to be taken in account that we can't go on like this. This should be a logical matter of fact and point of departure we to start to think from. Maybe we can't buy then every year something new f.e. a fridge,...but its the people who decide this of course. To fly and to have a computer should be still possible I think. Of course. Its not going back to the stone-age. Inteligent progress and local economies. That could be the
      way. So computer and carrots.

      Something like that. At the end we are throwing 50% of our produces food into the garbage and its bad quality
      food. So whatfore? Energy can be produced in other ways, investigating, using natural resources in an inteligent way. There are things already out there but kept down by the rulers of oil.

      So if we alltogether at east are asking about an answer to this problem governments should take this into account. At the end they have to.

  5. bringmeredwine

    An Asian family moved onto my street.
    I found the mum fascinating because she began planting vegetables in her large front yard, including two rows of cabbages along her driveway.
    And instead of slathering herself with sun screen, she walks everywhere with a parasol.
    We smile and say "hello" in passing but cannot speak one another's language.
    She inspired me to plant radishes and carrots in my front flower bed.
    I use an umbrella now if I'm in the hot sun.
    Yeah, that seems pretty weird, because I'm living in a northern Ontario town!
    I gave up my vehicle last summer. Sometimes its a real drag, planning bus routes , or walking to places that used to take me 15 minutes in my car.
    Every bit helps, I guess.