By Tobias Van Assche, Information Specialist at the U.S. Mission to the EU
‘They say, never work with children or animals’, and now I know why.” With this statement, director Seth Kramer introduced his climate change documentary “the Anthropologist” to more than 300 attendees at the Italian Cultural Institute in Brussels on May 19th, 2016. The screening, organized by the United States Mission to the European Union (USEU) and the United Nations (UN), was followed by a panel discussion with the movie’s director Seth Kramer, Anthropologist and Program Manager at the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Christine Haffner-Sifakis, Greenland Representative Minniguaq Kleist, and USEU Environmental Officer Mark Robinson.
What distinguishes the Anthropologist from many other documentaries on climate change is that it does not try to convince its audience that climate change is happening through what Kramer calls the “natural science” approach: It does not inform us of the plight of the penguins or polar bears due to the melting icecaps, nor does it show us what might happen to Manhattan or London if in the near future the oceans were to rise by six inches (15 centimeters). Instead, the documentary shows us that climate change is real and is already having dramatic effects on indigenous societies all over the world in areas such as Siberia, the South Pacific, and Peru. These remote villages, whose people have not contributed to climate change in any way themselves, are being forced to radically change their way of life because they are losing their source of income or their lands. For example, the Anthropologist shows how in the South Pacific, villagers are standing in the ocean up to their waist where their home used to be just a few years earlier (see image below).
As was stressed during the discussion session, these indigenous societies are fighting a life or death battle: they have to adapt to their new reality or they will perish, which in these cases most likely means moving away from their ancestral homes to the cities. Nothing they do can bring back the former reality. They are helpless. The fight against climate change has to be fought elsewhere on a global level by collectively reducing carbon emissions, the largest cause of climate change. At the COP21 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in December 2015, the nations of the world took steps in the right direction. The Paris Agreement establishes a long term, durable framework to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and lays the foundations for keeping the rise in temperature under 2 degrees Celsius at which the most severe effects of climate change will occur (source www.Whitehouse.gov). Still, a lot of work remains to be done.
As President Obama said following the signing of the COP21 agreement (Dec 12, 2015):
“Even if all the initial targets set in Paris are met, we’ll only be part of the way there when it comes to reducing carbon from the atmosphere. So we cannot be complacent because of today’s agreement. The problem is not solved because of this accord. But make no mistake, the Paris agreement establishes the enduring framework the world needs to solve the climate crisis. It creates the mechanism, the architecture, for us to continually tackle this problem in an effective way.”
The Anthropologist tells its story through the eyes of Katie Yegerov-Crate, a teenage girl who over a five-year period is dragged around the globe somewhat reluctantly by her anthropologist mother Suzie Crate to examine the effects of climate change. The movie’s director, Seth Kramer, says that working with a teenager was a challenge, but argues that Katie brought a human element to the film. Kramer hopes society is much like Katie: at first, she is not very interested in climate change, but as she becomes more aware of its severity and how it effects people she becomes more interested and engaged; a hopeful message for the planet.