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Ecojustice and Ecocinema

How should today’s ecocinema engage critically with “cultural-specific and local communities” that are involved in harming the planet and other species? 

Eco justice describes the relationship between systemic problems facing individuals and communities on one hand and the natural world on the other. At the household level, people have to engage with eco-systems, environment, water, air, creatures, and the rules that facilitate social, cultural, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.  The interaction has implications for the environment thus, Eco justice is important in resolving the underlying issues that drive environmental destruction.   The future of the planet rests on the ability of people to understand their place in the natural world and protect ecosystems from destructions as they support human life.

Eco cinema describes cinemas with a positive ecological message. Eco cinema films are growing in importance as they highlight an important issue, namely, anthropocene in which humans as species consciously seek to explore their role or impact on the planet (Lu & Jiayan, 2009 p.23). Human induced climate change is threatening human, animal and plant survival over the world, and humans are to blame for the current environmental crisis because of focusing on individual welfare without due consideration to the future and other earth inhabitants with whom they share the ecosystems. Pollution resulting from plastics especially in the marine environment is a major concern because of its devastating effects on the ecosystems. Asian countries including Indonesia, China, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Malaysia lead the pack in terms of the total mass of mismanaged plastic waste (Lu & Jiayan, 2009 p.25). The economic boom in the post-Mao-Deng era left in its wake a wave of unprecedented environmental crisis. Lu & Jiayan (2009, p.3) attributes this to the radical break from Chinese beliefs of living in harmony with one another and with the planet earth. The Mao era, which started in 1949 and ended in 1976 recorded, elevated levels of class struggle where it was thought that it necessitated revolution and socialist nation building.

After the Mao era came the Chinese communist party, which focused on growing the GDP of the country. In the pursuit of increased economic growth rate, the human habitat and natural environment began deteriorating as China rapidly grew into a global dumpster and wasteland (Lu &Jiayan, 2009, p.4). China’s environmental woes are many and diverse, and it is worth noting that China and the rest of the world are facing the age of global warming, which is a phenomenon to which China has played a significant part. The ancient Chinese cosmology and ethics revolve around the notions of living in harmony with not only one another, but also the nature, including all the animals and plants. However, Asian traditions play a significant role in the imbalance created between humans and the nature, and especially with other animals. Bear farming in China is one such a practice that creates disharmony between man and nature, because the bears are meant to forage, but due to Asian traditions that are absorbed in traditional medicine, they are kept in tiny cages for the harvesting of bile as seen in “Moon Bear” (10:50). Apart from the Asian traditions, capitalism that is geared towards amassing of wealth irrespective of the means has led to animal abuse due for every product of the bear is monetized and this includes the skin, and the meat.

In the film “Under the Dome”, air pollution in China is on another level, and this is due to effluent from factories and machinery from mining grounds such as coal processing zones coupled with the dust swept off by the wind, hence the haze (2:53). The haze has carcinogenic contents, and according to the documentary 15 kinds of carcinogens exists (7:30). Moreover, water pollution is rampant in China with almost 62% of stream segments being dysfunctional (3:21). The increasing number of vehicles in East Asian cities such as Beijing, Qingdao, and Hangzhou is one of the leading courses of air pollution. According the the film under the dome, the number of vehicles increased by approximately 800, 000 in 2010 alone (39:11). This massive growth in the number of cars per person definitely translates into increased pollution die to fuel used in traffic jams, and the additional metallic fumes produced by vehicles when not moving, but have their engines on. China consumes unreasonably large amounts of coal and fuel. Additionally, some people in china use coal without cleaning it, and this spells disaster in global warming and climate change as a whole. Therefore, haze in most Chinese cities explains the high magnitude of air pollution in the countries, with people unable to see the blue skies, or even the stars at night on almost 150 days of the year.

One of the ways of introducing new narratives on the anthropecene is inviting people into discussions to focus on this important issue (Willoquet-Maricondi, 2010: p. 34). However, for the discussion to have an impact, it needs to consider Asian traditions to make the message resonate with local communities. Ideally, cultural specific messages achieve this end, for the realities of the communities are considered (Rust et al (2015, p.52.). Moreover, the content of the messages should be relayed in a local language through consideration of people’s dialects. Targeting the right people is also instrumental. In as much as policy makers, politicians, intellectuals, and opinion leaders, are useful, incorporation of people at lower levels to embrace new changes is key to mitigate resistance at grassroots level. When targeted with the right messages, it is easier to make them support government decisions to deal with the pollution and other matters relating to environmental protection.

Eco cinema also needs to respect the rights of people to develop. The current narrative of an ongoing environmental catastrophe is based on the fear that as Asia continues to prosper, the impact on the environment will have huge implication. However, the leading polluters are the western countries due to their wasteful consumption of the resources since the industrial revolution (Rust et al 2013, p.52.). Therefore, when Eco cinema messages continue to the dwell on fears of overconsumption due to the growing prosperity of Asia, they might not face ready reception (Anderson & Kuhn, 2014: p. 20). People all over the world have the right to develop and consume goods and services. Therefore, instead of focusing on fears of consumption, the message should be about sustainable development but not preserving the environment at the cost of the development itself.

The need to develop is urgent because poverty is also a driver of environmental destruction.  In emerging nations, poor people continue to invade forests to set up farmlands, overfish, and conduct illegal mining, logging, poaching, and other activities in the quest to earn a living. Thus, Eco cinema needs to focus on such issues as well in an honest and thought provoking way (Al Gore, 2006). The right to develop and empower communities is important. In this regard, the wealthy nations have a role in supporting emerging nations deal with poverty and economic backwardness if the promise of protecting the environment is to be realized.  Promoting development can also help deal with some destructive traditions. For example, communities that rely on fishing can seek alternative sources of livelihoods. However, as of Anderson, & Keegan (2014, p.22), the solution lies with the investment in other areas of the economy to create more jobs. Alternatively, some traditions support environmental conservation as some societies have developed strategies for living harmoniously with their environment without overexploiting resources (Chang, 2019: p. 14). For those traditions, it is necessary to preserve them or even promote them to deal with the global warming crisis.

In conclusion, Eco justice and Eco cinema are important concepts when dealing with the ongoing environmental crisis of global warming. Both seek to address the problem of global warming and environmental destruction in a holistic way. Asia, a region plagued by environmental issues, needs to incorporate the concept of the Eco cinema in a critical way so that the discourse of the saving the planet is richer and focuses on underlying issues such as poverty. Moreover, Eco cinema should focus on communities with content in their local languages to promote understanding. People want to preserve the environment but they must understand the underlying goal of taking protective measures and their right to develop respected. Therefore, Eco cinema should interrogate matters related to pollution and environmental destruction deeply or avoid promoting cosmetic solutions. There is a need to support communities and wealthier nations should invest in conservation by reducing wasteful consumption while using their wealth to support communities under strain from climate change or the uncertainties of transitioning to other occupations that are less harmful to the environment.

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