Last chance to save our relationship?

This post is about one of the ten short films in the Open University/BBC Creative Climate short film competition, made by students from UK film schools. You can see them all here on the OU’s YouTube channel.

No Second Chances by Ben Goodger, National Film and Television School

The bookshelves are full of lengthy tomes that explore disconnects between people and planet, but this portrait of a relationship breakdown tells that story in a couple of minutes, inviting viewers to rethink their own priorities.

The idea behind “No Second Chances” was to highlight how utterly dependant mankind is on the natural world for its survival whilst conversely the natural world has absolutely no need of mankind to prosper. We tend to forget the inequity of this relationship and our chronic failure to appreciate the importance of the natural environment has led to its systematic abuse and destruction in many parts of the world.

I felt using the metaphor of an embittered ex was a good way to emphasise our total vulnerability and hopelessness when detached from the resources of our environment. Like an abusive partner we take our blessings for granted until it is all too late.  Only when forced to confront the error of his ways does he learn the lessons he should have learnt whilst there was still time. For her part Mother Nature is absolutely indifferent to his desperate plight.

With the production values of a slick ad this short film portrays the end of a relationship. The sharp suited business executive stands in the middle of the forest begging his former partner to give him one more chance. As the camera pans out it is clear that the target of the young man’s pleading is a gnarled old oak tree.

Ben chose to explore the ‘environment and economics’ theme. Environmental economists are trying to find the magic numbers that ensure we value our environment. How much is the Earth worth? Despite the fact that the human economy is entirely reliant on natural systems for its survival it continues to consume its non-renewable natural capital as if it were a steady flow of income. Current economics fails to count the value of the functioning of oceans, rivers, soils and the atmosphere in household, business and national accounts. How can the fundamental importance of ‘ecosystems services’ for economics be captured?

The UN’s report on the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) has sought to do just that. It talks about our ‘faulty economic compass that has led us to decisions that are prejudicial to both current well-being and that of future generations. The invisibility of biodiversity values has often encouraged inefficient use or even destruction of the natural capital that is the foundation of our economies’ (2010, 3). It shows how bringing the natural world into the national accounts can throw up some surprises: research suggests that bee keeping generates US$ 213 million annually in Switzerland, global fisheries underperform by US$ 50 billion annually due to over-exploitation and conserving forests avoids greenhouse gas emissions worth US$ 3.7 trillion.

But the film prompts us to think whether even that kind of approach isn’t missing a more fundamental point made by ecological economists and environmental philosophers about humanity being entirely in-and-of the natural world. Philosopher, musician and nature writer David Rothenberg summarises a key perspective in environmental philosophy when he writes that“The philosopher Martin Heidegger said all we had to do was sing… (and) that the Earth needs humanity in order to sing it into existence, to give it word, name, not substance but story.  Much as I too want to sing I can’t quite believe that.  The world is wonderful because it doesn’t need me at all, except perhaps to save it from the sum total of human mistake” (Always the Mountains, 2002, viii). We are deceiving ourselves if we think we can live without the natural world, but Ben’s piece suggests it would get on just fine if we were out of the picture.

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