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Stuck in Climate Change Traffic: Hot Money Documentary Review

In the opening scene of climate change documentary, Hot Money, Wesley Clark Jr is stuck in traffic with his dad, retired four-star general and former NATO commander, Wesley Clark. The younger Clark explains that the world is in a position now with climate change where we can’t make the changes necessary to prevent a climate disaster at the pace we’re currently moving. He likens the highway they’re on to the American political system. He points to a bridge up ahead and says it’s like they need to get past that bridge in under a minute. Given the traffic around them, it’s impossible. Is it already too late? Will we change course without a massive disaster to push us in a new direction?

This Guide is very interested in that question. It’s one of the reasons we’ve started off on our nomadic journey. Maybe, as a society, we can learn to love our island and care for it. Maybe it is already lost. From my work in mental health and personal journey of recovery, I know how difficult it is to make a healthy change without first bouncing off of rock bottom. Not everybody (or every community) survives that bounce.

Can a two-hour documentary cover all of the challenges facing us? No. No it cannot.

In terms of the documentary, I have compassion for the filmmakers. I think they also got stuck in traffic with the amount of systems to cover. Just like there are many cars and trucks between the Clarks and that bridge, so too do multiple factors fuel climate change. Economies hooked on debt and constant growth, insecure food systems, gridlocked politicians beholden to special interest groups, the collapse of civil society, oil money… Each would need its own documentary series. The filmmakers also made choices that reflect challenges they didn’t mention, such as inequality and racism. The perspective is very American and Eurocentric, while the nations most affected by climate change, get little air time. 

For instance, a little over an hour in, there’s a discussion of social collapse, some clips of survivalist preppers in the US, and as a voice over predicts a billion refugees caused food system collapse, the visuals cut to aerial footage of farmland, the word AFRICA appears on screen (in a font and color that’s used throughout the doc and should not be in any film), and then there is unattributed archival footage of a white guy standing in front of a crowd of black kids as he talks about a drought. 

I get that the film was already too packed with different themes and directions, but instead of reducing the entire continent of Africa down to a stereotype in some b-roll, there are several examples on the continent (including the entire history of colonialism) that illustrate our unwillingness to change when destruction favors a wealthier group. 

Who is responsible for creating this traffic jam?

It is not difficult to find examples of how wealthier countries actively undercut the food systems in poorer countries. This makes them especially susceptible to climate change disruption. Example: the EU currently dumps low-grade, subsidized dairy products into countries like Burkina Faso, where dairy farmers are now selling off their cattle because they can’t sell the milk. Check out: The EU milk lookalike that is devastating West Africa’s dairy sector Or they could’ve looked at the long-running trade dispute at the WTO over the United States’ subsidies for cotton farmers, to the tune of $4.8 billion dollars per year as of 2005 (when the WTO ruled the US in violation of fair trade practices). This has devastated farmers in Benin, Chad and Mali Unfair fields: Asymmetric WTO rules let US inflate cotton subsidies 

And I get that this documentary wasn’t delving into any of that. However, the film’s purpose seems to be to catalogue difficult challenges we’ll face in making changes to confront climate change. It’s only beginning to scratch the surface of how bad this traffic jam truly is.

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