Divest! documentary review

by Cherice Bock
Editor, Whole Terrain

Just over a week after the People’s Climate March that drew over 200,000 marchers to Washington, DC and was organized by Bill McKibben’s 350.org, and in this moment where the president of the United States is considering withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, it seems apropos to review the documentary Divest! The Climate Movement on Tour. Though the “Do the Math” divestment tour happened in 2012, this Josh Fox (GASLAND) film provides background about the problem of fossil fuels, flashbacks to NASA scientists warning congress about the threat of global warming in 1988, and data about scientific and economic realities. McKibben and a cast of well known activists and public figures, as well as artists and speakers from each town, engaged in a 21-city bus tour. Cameos include: Naomi Klein, Reverend Lennox Yearwood, Gus Speth, Sandra Steingraber, Terry Tempest Williams, Winona LaDuke, Desmond Tutu, and Ira Glass.

In addition to sharing the high points of the “Do the Math” talking points, this film takes us behind the scenes, hearing from McKibben, Klein, and LaDuke about their path to climate activism. Although they visit college campuses and work to mobilize students to ask their educational institutions to divest from fossil fuels, they also encourage older people to get involved. It shows McKibben, Klein, and Speth getting arrested over the Keystone XL pipeline, noting that even with a climate change-sympathetic administration in power, no one paid attention to environmental activists’ resisting the pipeline until they put their bodies on the line. Older folks have less to lose because they have a lifetime of good citizenship in their favor, while college students risk a lot more if they get an arrest on their record.

LaDuke speaks powerfully about the need for giving people concrete actions they can take to get involved in helping solve and mitigate the problems:

If you’re going to make people unhappy about this, you have to give them something to do about it. And that’s what organizing is. It’s giving people an opportunity–this stuff’s hard, right? Here’s me, ‘I’m a student a Colorado State University,’ and here’s Exxon. Organizing is, ‘Here’s an opening you can go through. We’ll help you try to go through it…we’re not going to do it for you,’ but giving people enough direction and enough confidence that people can start working on it with confidence.

The film is filled with inspiring speeches, music, footage of actions, and voices from around the world coming together to address climate change through divestment from fossil fuels. It also tells the painful reasons why this transition is necessary. I recommend this documentary for college students, professors who want to communicate about climate change as well as inspire action, and “mature” adults who think activism is just for 20-somethings. It challenges each of us to “do the math,” and see what we can contribute to balancing the equation more healthfully and equitably. Individuals, community groups, and educational institutions can purchase the film or rights to show the film to groups through Bullfrog Films.

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