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Energy, Resources and the Environment

Film review: Revolution

Film review: Revolution

It’s not every day you are asked to review a film, and since it’s a documentary that encompasses a few of EGU’s sciences (such as climate sciences, biogeosciences, and energy, resources and the environment), I couldn’t say no. I’ll start by giving it a rating, 3.5/5 stars, though I would probably give it more if I were part of the film’s main target audience.

Revolution, by biologist-photographer turned filmmaker-conservationist Rob Stewart, is about some of the most pressing environmental issues of our time. It aims to educate the audience about ocean acidification, climate change, overfishing and deforestation, alerting them to how these issues can impact our planet and, in turn, humanity. But it’s also about much more than that.

The film starts with Stewart telling his own story, revealing how his personal experiences lead him to make his first documentary, Sharkwater, and how researching and promoting that film made him want to tell the broader story of Revolution. This makes for good story telling, and it’s an interesting and candid introduction (Stewart says at one point that he had no idea how to make a movie before Sharkwater). But it seems a tad overly dramatic at times and not always scientific in its claims. For example, to illustrate how humans, responsible for many environmental problems, can also be part of their solution, Stewart tells a crowd in Hong Kong that the “holes in the ozone layer are almost a figment of our imagination now”, which is not exactly true. According to a 2014 NASA release, the ozone hole is still roughly the size of North America, though it has been shrinking over the past couple of decades. I should point out, however, that while there are some minor scientific inaccuracies here and there in the film (and a glaring typo in a sentence where CO2 appears incorrectly written as CO2) the majority of the facts and figures cited in the movie do roughly seem to be accurate, even if rather dramatic and seemingly exaggerated at first.

The movie becomes more exciting (though, at times, depressing too) when Stewart changes the focus from his story to the story of how life evolved on Earth, and what its future might look like. The backdrop is beautiful footage, worthy of a BBC wildlife programme. Stewart starts where life itself started, underwater, and the images showing a diversity of corals and colourful fish (and the cute pigmy sea horse) are breath-taking and work well in illustrating his points. For example, as the colourful imagery gives place to shades of grey, Stewart describes and shows how corals have been affected by ocean acidification and rising temperatures.

Coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef has declined by 36% over the last 25 years. That's an enormous loss. Photo © Rob Stewart. From the documentary film Revolution.

Coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef has declined by 36% over the last 25 years. That’s an enormous loss. Photo © Rob Stewart. From the documentary film Revolution.

If the footage, both underwater and on land, makes for a stunning background, the interviews with various scientific experts bring home the film’s key messages. To me, they are the strongest aspect of Revolution. Stewart talks to credible researchers who are able to communicate their, often complex, science in clear language. Some of the readers of this blog may be able to relate to scientists Charlie Veron and Katharina Fabricius, whose field work is shown in the film, while viewers less familiar with the effects of ocean acidification on coral reefs will likely be moved by the dramatic words of these researchers.

What the scientists tell us will happen if humans continue in the business-as-usual path is indeed gloomy: deforestation increasing, fisheries collapsing, greenhouse gas emissions and temperatures on the rise at unprecedented rates, species going extinct en masse… the list goes on. The issues of deforestation and mass extinction are addressed when Stewart travels to Madagascar: the island’s tropical dry forests are home to unique animals and plants, many of which have seen their habitats destroyed by the burning of trees to make room for pastures and crops. Humanity’s dependence on fossil fuels is illustrated when Stewart talks about the Alberta tar sands, and how resource intensive and polluting it is to extract oil from them. A key message of the film is again illustrated here by one of the experts interviewed. Hans Joachim (‘John’) Schellnhuber, a scientific advisor to the German Government and director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, explains how stopping the Canadian tar sands project “is one of the decisive battles in the war against global warming”.

Indeed, Stewart sets out not only to inform people about the environmental issues faced by humanity, but also to encourage the audience to act on them: “Revolution is not just about the environment – it’s a film about hope and inspiration.” As such, Stewart balances out this negative outlook with examples of people who are standing up for climate justice and fighting for an end to fossil-fuel burning (and, sometimes, with clips of flamboyant cuttlefish and jumping lemurs!). Although it may not seem like it halfway through the film, the overall message is positive.

This is most evident when Stewart talks to young people, particularly those who travelled to Cancun, Mexico for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2010 (COP16). It is heartening to find out how committed and courageous some young people are in fighting for our future, their future, and in wanting to make the Earth a better place by changing human behaviour. This fighting spirit is best encapsulated in a speech by Mirna Haider, from the COP16 Lebanon Youth Delegation, which is particularly bold and moving, if impatient: “You have been negotiating all my life, you cannot tell me you need more time.”

Flamboyant Cuttlefish. Photo © Rob Stewart. From the documentary film Revolution.

Flamboyant Cuttlefish. Photo © Rob Stewart. From the documentary film Revolution.

Young people are those who may have the most to benefit from watching this film, and I think are the primary target audience of Revolution (there’s even an accompanying Educator’s guide with pre- and post-viewing resources and classroom activities teachers and parents might find useful). It inspires them towards (peaceful) revolution against corporations who profit from burning fossil fuels and from destroying natural resources, and against governments who take no action to stop them. It is a shame the film doesn’t address other ways in which individuals could help fight climate change, deforestation and ocean acidification, such as divesting from fossil fuels or eating less meat. But perhaps that’s something that resonates better with older people. Children and teenagers tend to be more optimistic about their power to save the Planet through revolution, and this film is sure to inspire them to act on the most pressing environmental problems the Earth faces.

Revolution premiered at festivals in 2012/2013, but has only been widely released earlier this year. You can watch the film online at: http://ykr.be/hn62dkp6v (sadly, it’s not free, but you can either rent it or buy it for only a few dollars, so it’s certainly affordable!). If the film is not available in your country through this link, please check http://therevolutionmovie.com/index.php/watch-the-movie/ to find out where you’d be able to watch it.

 

By Bárbara Ferreira, EGU Media and Communications Manager

The day the Earth trembled: A first-hand account of the 25 April Nepal earthquake

The day the Earth trembled: A first-hand account of the 25 April Nepal earthquake

On the 25th April 2015, Viktor Bruckman, a researcher at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and a team of his colleagues were a few hours into a hike between the settlements of Lamabagar, in a remote area of northeastern Nepal, and the Lapchi Monastery when a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal. Their journey cut short by the trembling Earth, stranded in the heights of the Himalayas, this is their personal experience of the Gorkha earthquake, summarised by EGU Communications Officer Laura Roberts. 

Researching land use in Nepal

Bruckman is part of an international team of researchers, from Austria, Nepal and China, studying the land use and forest resource management in the densely wooded and remote Gaurishankar Conservation Area, in eastern Nepal. Bruckman and his team want to better understand how the local communities are linked to the resources in the area and how their daily life has been affected since the introduction of the Conservation Area. Their research project also aims to explore how the ongoing building of the largest hydropower plant in Nepal: the Upper Tamakoshi Hydropower Project (UTHP) might disrupt the local populations.

The team conducted a set of semi-structured interviews in order to assess land management practices and the impact of new management policies since the Gaurishankar Conservation Area was set up in 2010 (by Dr. Viktor Bruckman).

The team conducted a set of semi-structured interviews to assess land management practices and the impact of new management policies since the Gaurishankar Conservation Area was set up in 2010 (Credit: Dr. Viktor Bruckman).

To answer these questions, Bruckman and his colleagues travelled to Nepal in April to participate in workshops with government and institutional bodies based in Kathmandu, as well as visiting local communities deep within the Gaurishankar Conservation Area to conduct face-to-face interviews.

Beyond the hydropower construction site there are no roads, meaning the team had to hike across the rugged Himalayas to reach the residents of the most remote settlements and the target location for setting up monitoring plots. Their planned route would take them 25 km from Lamabagar, at 2000 m above sea level, reaching Lapchi Monastery, close to the Tibetan border, two days later having climbed to an altitude of 3800 m.

The hike

On the morning of the 25th April, a team composed of Bruckman, his Nepalese colleague Prof. Devkota, Devkota’s student Puskar and Prof. Katzensteiner from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna (BOKU), set off on the trek to Lapchi. They were accompanied, albeit a little later following breakfast, by three porters who carried the bulk of their scientific equipment, some food and other ‘home comforts’ such as sleeping bags and mattresses. Given the physical effort the trek would involve, many of the food supplies were delivered to Lapchi via helicopter, a few days in advance – local porters would meet the team at settlements downstream of the monastery and deliver the provisions over the course of the next few days.

Despite the constant drizzle and strains of the climb, the entire team was stuck by the beauty of the surroundings: steep cliffs of metamorphosed sedimentary series (Tethys Himalaya within the Central Himalayan Domain), diverse mix deciduous forests and glistening streams.

The moment everything changed

At 12:05, not long after having traversed the most challenging section of the hike thus far, walking along the Lapchi River Valley, the ground under the team’s feet started to quiver. The quiver quickly grew to a strong shake dislodging football sized rocks from the surrounding slopes. The realisation hit the researchers that they were experiencing an earthquake and their primary concern was to seek shelter from the ongoing rock fall triggered by the ground shaking.

“Large rocks, with size equal to small houses, smashed into the river breaking into smaller pieces which where flung in all directions”, describes Bruckman, who by now had found protection, alongside Prof. Devkota, behind a large tree.

A few moments later, the earthquake ended and both emerged from behind the tree unharmed.

Left: Rockfall from the opposite cliffs made our location a highly dangerous place. Right: Seconds after the main tremor was over, everything was changed. The river color turned brown, dust and Sulphur smell was in the air and the path was destroyed by small landslides or rocks (Credit: Prof. Dr. Klaus Katzensteiner).

Left: Rockfall from the opposite cliffs made the researchers’ location a highly dangerous place. Right: Seconds after the main tremor was over, everything was changed. The river color turned brown, dust and Sulphur smell was in the air and the path was destroyed by small landslides or rocks (Credit: Prof. Dr. Klaus Katzensteiner).

They found Prof. Katzensteiner sheltering under a large rock overhang, but there was no sign of Puskar. The three men eyed up a large boulder which had come to rest on the path and feared the worst. Some minutes later, Puskar appeared, unharmed, along the path accompanied by a lama – a Buddhist monk – who’d encouraged the student to run up hill away from the projectiles from the river.

“The lama saved our student’s life; he was almost hit by a large rock which destroyed the water bottle attached to his backpack,” says Bruckman.

A stroke of luck

With their porters some hours trek behind them, almost no food supplies and no other equipment, and worried about potential flash floods as a result of landslides upstream, the group decided to make their way out of the valley and head back towards Lamabagar, only to find that the trail had been wiped out by a massive landslide.

The lama’s knowledge of the local terrain was invaluable as he guided the scientists to a meditation centre, where a group of about 20 lamas kindly took them in, sharing their food, offering tea and a place to sleep.

Having found a place of shelter, Bruckman and his colleagues, knowing how worried their families would be, were desperate to contact them. But amongst the high peaks of the Himalayas, in one of the most remote parts of Nepal, mobile phone signal is hard to come by. Only once, on the morning of the 26th of April, were the group successful in reaching loved ones, but it was enough: they were able to communicate they had survived, but were now trapped in the Lapchi River Valley.

The retreat where lamas provided the scientists with food and shelter (Credit: Prof. Dr. Klaus Katzensteiner).

The retreat where lamas provided the scientists with food and shelter (Credit: Prof. Dr. Klaus Katzensteiner).

Back home, a rescue mission started: The scientists’ families, the officials of their institutions, their countries Foreign Ministries’, Embassies and the local military all rallied to locate and bring home the researchers. Five days after first arriving at the Buddhist meditation centre, the group was rescued by a helicopter, which took them to the safety of military camp Charikot.

Retracing their steps, this time in a helicopter, Bruckman and his colleagues realised the scale of the devastation caused by the earthquake. The first village they’d intended to reach on their hike, Lumnang, was completely destroyed. 80% of the building structures in the valley had disappeared. Landslides has wiped out large sections of the trail, meaning returning to Lamabagar would have been out of the question.

Tragedy

The team’s porters, travelling behind the researchers when the earthquake hit, were far less fortunate. Tragically, one of the team’s porters was killed by a landslide triggered by the earthquake, whilst another was seriously injured. Only one returned safely to Lamabagar. Whilst hiking, the scientists overtook several groups of people also headed towards Lapchi and a team of hydropower experts – they are all reported missing.

The region, already damaged by the April 25th earthquake, was further rocked by a powerful, magnitude 7.3, aftershock. Since then, Bruckman and his colleagues have been unable to reach their contacts in Lamabagar. Reports indicate that hardly any structures were left standing in the village.

A view of Lamabagar prior to the earthquakes. At 2000m a.s.l., the village lies on the flat riverbed of the Upper Tamakoshi River, which developed as a consequence of a massive landslide (probably earthquake-induced) in the past (by Dr. Viktor Bruckman).

A view of Lamabagar prior to the earthquakes. At 2000m a.s.l., the village lies on the flat riverbed of the Upper Tamakoshi River, which developed as a consequence of a massive landslide (probably earthquake-induced) in the past (Credit: Dr. Viktor Bruckman).

The future

Following the earthquake, the scientists realise that the original research aims are no longer valid and “we would probably not meet the communities’ needs if we stick to the original ideas”, explains Bruckman.

Therefore, the plan is to carefully assess the regions current situation and develop a new research proposal which will focus on supporting the remote villages on a long-term and sustainable basis. In the event of any future field work in the region, the scientist will ensure they carry, at the very least, an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), if not a satellite phone.

Science aside, their experience in the Nepal means the scientists were deeply touched by the kindness extended to them by the lamas and now seek to support the communities affected by the earthquakes. In particular they want to raise funds for the families of the porters who passed away and were injured while transporting their supplies.

 By Laura Roberts, EGU Communications Officer

A message from Bruckman and his colleagues

Please help us support the affected families.

For the purpose of collecting donations, we opened an account at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna (BOKU). Funds will be collected in a transparent manner and directly used for supporting the porter’s families and the villagers of Lumnang, who have lost everything and they will most likely not receive help from other sources soon. We will facilitate support through the trustworthy Nepalese project partners (including full documentation) and the Lamas of Lapchi monastery and from the retreat where we were able to stay. Please help us to support this remote region; even a small contribution is very much appreciated. Our direct contacts ensure that 100% of the donations reach the target group.

Here are the account details for wire transfer:

Recipient: Universität für Bodenkultur Wien, Spenden IBAN: AT48 3200 0018 0050 0512 BIC: RLNWATWWXXX Payment reference: 7912000003

Payments via Credit Card are also possible (Master Card and Visa). Should you wish to pay per credit card, please send an e-mail containing your name, address, card number, expiry date and security code (3-digits) to c.hofer@boku.ac.at.

We thank you very much for your contribution!

The team after their ordeal. They extend their deepest condolences to the family of the porter that lost his life during our the Prof. Dr. Klaus Katzensteiner).

The team after their ordeal. They extend their deepest condolences to the family of the porter who lost his life during the expedition. (Credit: Prof. Dr. Klaus Katzensteiner).

 

This blog post is a summary of: How a geophysical extreme event dramatically changed fieldwork plans – a personal account of the Gorkha Earthquake, originally posted on the EGU’s Energy, Resources and the Environment Division Blog.

For more information about the 2015 April and May earthquakes, please see the links provided in the original blog post. You can also access more information via this information briefing issued by the EGU.

The ethics of mining

This guest blog post is brought to you by Nick Arndt, Professor at ISTerre and convenor of the the Great Debate at last year’s General Assembly, Metals in our backyard: to mine or not to mine. During the Great Debate the issue of whether the environment impact of mining outweighs the benefits vs. domestic metal production was questioned. With Europe currently importing between 60-100% of the metals that are essential for modern society, this posts explores how realistic it is to advocate for no mining in our own backyards.

Two years ago, in response to massive demonstrations on the streets of Bucharest, the Romania government reversed its decision to allow mining of the Rosia Montana gold deposit. Fierce discussion currently surrounds the Pebble deposit in Alaska, the fifth largest unmined copper deposit. Last summer, protesters derailed mineral exploration in the Rouez region, the first exploration authorized in France for 20 years. In all cases, the activists argued that the environmental risks were so great that mining was unacceptable. The slogan of the French protesters was:

“no mines!!! neither in Rouez, nor anywhere”.

When the Rouez activists were asked where the metals needed for modern society should come from, many answered that improved recycling and substitution would provide the solution. If only this were true! Recycling will indeed provide an increasing proportion of our metals in the future, but for decades to come, new supplies of metals and other mineral products will be required. The vast infrastructure of wind turbines and solar panels needed for a low-carbon society will consume huge amounts of mineral products, not only the well-publicized rare earths and other critical elements, but also enormous quantities of steel, aluminium, concrete and sand. All these materials will be locked up for the 20-30 year lifetime of the structures and will not be available for recycling.

Anti-mining march Auckland New Zealand. Credit: Greg Presland (distributed via Wikimedia Commons)

Anti-mining march Auckland New Zealand. Credit: Greg Presland (distributed via Wikimedia Commons)

To organize their demonstrations, the Rouez and Bucharest activists used cell phones containing numerous rare metals, including cobalt-tantalum that probably came from war-torn central Africa. Some of the titanium might have come from a mine in Norway, and some copper from Poland, but the other metals were imported from outside Europe

The main reason why oil prices have plunged in the past three months is the recent availability of large sources of gas and oil from shale in the USA. While the low prices will have a negative medium-term impact on movements to wean society from fossil fuels, in the short term they may provide a sorely needed boost to struggling European economies. France is in a peculiar position – it has been at the forefront of the movement to ban fracking and has prohibited even the exploration for non-conventional hydrocarbons on its territories, but its feeble economy will benefit from the low energy costs brought about by the availability of American shale-derived oil and gas.

Other Rouez activists recognized that new sources of metals were necessary, but they were adamant that the mining should be done in a manner that caused minimal environmental damage … and preferably far, far away from where they lived. While some metals can be imported to Europe from countries with stable and competent governments like Canada and Australia, most come from Africa, Asia and South America where governments are commonly too weak, too corrupt, or too poor to ensure that mining is done properly. The concerned citizens of Europe and other rich countries prefer that people in other regions put up with the nuisance associated with mining, and if this means that mining is done in places where the operation cannot be done properly, so be it.

The locavore movement argues that we should consume only what is produced within a short distance from where we live. The principle is normally applied to food, and is based on sound principles. Local consumption provides employment to local people and reduces ‘food miles’ – the distance from producers to consumers. But aren’t these ideas equally valid for metals? Is it reasonable and logical to shun green beans from Kenya while consuming copper from the Congo? The Aitik mine illustrates that metals can be produced correctly and efficiently in Europe. This mine, which is located in the far north of Sweden and respects stringent Swedish social and environmental norms, efficiently exploits ore containing only 0.27% Cu, far below the global average.

Rather than adopting the dubious stance that others should bear the burden of supplying the metals needed for European society, is it not more principled to argue that mining should done correctly, and in our own backyard?

By Nick Arndt, Professor at ISTerre & current GMPV Division President

 

Imaggeo on Mondays: Marble outcrops

This week’s Imaggeo on Mondays image was taken by Prof. Konstantinos Kourtidis, in Alykes, along the southern coast of Thassos island, where he photographed the beautifully white marbles that outcrop along the coastline. The Greek Island of Thassos is located in northeastern Greece, close to the coast of Thrace in the Aegean Sea, although geographically it belongs to the Macedonia region. There is geological evidence to suggest that at one time, the island was joined to the mainland.

Marble Outcrops. (Credit: Konstantinos Kourtidis via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Marble Outcrops. (Credit: Konstantinos Kourtidis via imaggeo.egu.eu)

“The island is formed of alternating marbles, gneisses and schists” explains Konstantinos, “in the southern Thassos area, where this image was taken, Palaeozoic (around 400 million years in age) and Mesozoic metamorphosed rocks of the Rhodopi Massif and more recent sedimentary Miocene formations (around 25 million years old) are exposed.” The sediments in this area are dominated by conglomerates, sandstones and argillaceous sands.

Banded iron formations, also known as BIFs, are repeated thin layers of iron-rich material which are alternated with shales and/or silica rich cherts. There are numerous occurrences of BIFs across Thassos island and this is interesting because BIFs are typical sediments of the Precambrian rock record and can indicate the presence of rocks which are in excess of 3 billion years old! It is unusual to find BIFs in the younger rocks record. On Thassos Island their formation is associated with changes in the depositional environment and climate.

During the formation of BIFs, volcano-sedimentary units become heavily mineralised and rich in iron and manganese oxides. In addition the island has dense accumulations of zinc and lead. As a result there is a long mining history on Thassos, dating back to 13,000 BC. The marbles seen in today’s Imaggeo on Mondays image belong to an ancient mine at sea level which was “exploited given the excellent quality of the marbles” states Konstantinos. The stone has been used in art projects, monuments and the building of numerous ancient temples.

Ancient Marble Quarry in Thassos, Eastern Macedonia, Greece. (Credit: Konstantinos Kourtidis via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Ancient marble quarry in Thassos, Eastern Macedonia, Greece. (Credit: Ioannis Daglis via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Given the islands rich archeological and geological heritage the Greek Institute of Geology and Mineral Exploration (IGME) has produced a geological guide for the southern part of the island, which also includes 4 geotrails and is available online.

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