CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 8. . . .October 21, 2011
Visionnaires Planètaires=Earth Keepers is a film about Mikeal Rioux, an environmental activist and founder of the environmental festival Échofête in Trois Pistoles, Québec. The film addresses four facets of Rioux’s life occurring between 2002 and 2008. Chronologically, these are his decision to protest the construction of dams on Rivière Trois-Pistoles; being mentored by Christian De Laet, one of 12 Wisdom Keepers acknowledged at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; meeting and learning from seven of the world’s renowned visionaries in areas of sustainable development, environmental quality, and social equity; and coming to realize that concrete solutions to the massive problems facing humans on Earth can only be tackled with dialogue, consensus on a vision for the future, and a refusal to give up.
The majority of the film’s 82½ minutes has Rioux introducing viewers to the work of John Todd, Nancy Jack Todd, Ashik Khosla, Peter Koenig, Karl-Henrik Robèrt, Marilyn Mehlmann, and Wangari Maathai. John Todd is an ecological designer. He is also the inventor of “the living machine”, a cost-effective and renewable wastewater treatment system that is based upon the natural purification of water by plants. Nancy Jack Todd is an environmental author and was co-founder, with John Todd, of the New Alchemy Institute in Massachusetts. This was a successful experimental project that focused on creating strategies that reduced reliance on fossil fuels and operated on a scale accessible to individuals and small groups. Surprising to Rioux, and to Roiux’s mentor Christian De Laet, who characterizes John Todd as a “provisional catastrophist”, Todd is openly optimistic about the future. This optimism, however, is dependent on humans reducing their negative impact on the planet and doing so by decoding and applying “Nature’s operating instructions.”
Ashok Khosla, with Christian De Laet, is co-founder of Development Alternatives. This is an NGO in India that is focused on environmentally friendly, commercially viable technologies adapted to local culture that generate green jobs and sustainable livelihoods for the marginalized. As the excerpt above suggests, Khosla’s recorded conversations with Rioux are contemplative, compassionate, and well worth listening to.
Peter Koenig is a humanist economist. His contribution to the film is small, but he draws viewers’ attention to the meaning of money for others including those who see money as bringing about happiness or security. He suggests that consciousness, not money, is “the only win-only game on the planet” as consciousness provides “more chance to become sovereign”, individually or collectively, and “to change the course of things”.
From Koenig in Zurich, Rioux travels to Sweden were sustainability thinking has made significant inroads in business, civic policy, and education. In part, this is owing to Karl-Henrik Robèrt, a cancer scientist who developed “The Natural Step” when he saw that pollution and encroachment on natural systems were destroying nature and eroding the possibility of people to meet their needs. His advice to Rioux is to develop a vision of the future and to bring this vision into reality step-by-step. Marilyn Mehlmann, co-founder of Global Action Plan and environmental educator, helps Rioux to see that the sustainability movement is about “re-personalizing all of the things we rely on other people for”.
Rioux’s final stop brings him back to North American for a meeting with Wangari Maathai in the U. S. capitol. Maathai is founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya and winner of the 2004 Noble Peace Prize. By describing the origin of the Green Belt Movement, she helps Rioux to understand the change that as few as five people can manage to bring about.
Each one of these visionaries is inspiring and projects a cautious optimism for the future if people, collectively, make smarter decisions and choose to live in ways that meet the needs of all living things.
Visionnaires Planètaires is well-researched and beautifully filmed. It’s unfortunate, however, that so little was told about the life and work of the late Christian De Laet whom we learn was an environmental pioneer and to whom the film has been dedicated. The sound track is in French with English subtitles. Sylvie Van Brabant, director, and Claude Beaugrand, sound designer and editor, have chosen to incorporate slam poetry at various points in the film. It is possible that some viewers may find this, and the “dynamic, modern visuals,” to be too hard-hitting for the hopeful vision the film attempts to portray.
Barbara McMillan is a teacher educator and a professor of science education in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.