A purposefully unsettling but ultimately encouraging global overview of efforts by activists to push back against corporate polluters and ameliorate climate change, “This Changes Everything” plays very much like the cinematic equivalent of a pep rally. Working from the book of the same title by journalist Naomi Klein, who serves as narrator and onscreen interviewer, director Avi Lewis casts his net wide, from rural Montana to smog-choked Beijing, to illustrate that, yes, climate change is a demonstrably real and increasingly dire threat, and no, the situation isn’t entirely hopeless. His documentary isn’t likely to convert unbelievers — assuming, of course, that any climate change deniers would ever watch this film in the first place — but it could find receptive audiences in a variety of platforms, especially on the eve of a U.S. Presidential election, and eventually serve as a fund-raising tool for environmental groups.
Klein herself says early on, “Can I be honest with you? I’ve always kind of hated films about climate change.” Indeed, after exposure to too many grim statistics, urgent earnings and heart-tugging images of endangered polar bears, she has started wondering, “Is it really possible to be bored by the end of the world?”
This prologue raises hopes that “This Changes Everything” really will be a different sort of documentary on the subject. And even though it takes a while, as Lewis and Klein dutifully and more often than not compellingly catalogue assorted worst-case scenarios involving the greedy ravaging of Mother Earth, the filmmakers wind up offering hope by indicating the power of game-changing grassroots activism and enlightened government action.
Klein provocatively provides her take on historical context, tracing many of today’s woes back to the Enlightenment notion that nature is a beast to be tamed, by any means necessary, and then forced to fulfill human needs. From that idea, Klein claims, it’s a not-terribly-difficult leap for rapacious capitalists to view any exploitation of nature to be permissible as long as it is profitable — and if that harms the environment and/or other human beings, well, chalk that up to unavoidable collateral damage.
To back up Klein’s contentions, “This Changes Everything” zigzags around the world, starting with Fort McMurray in Alberta, where migrant workers are enjoying inflated salaries too much to dwell on the possible environmental threat posed by oil sands mining, and continuing on an itinerary that includes the Halkidiki region of Greece, where locals are revolting against government officials who are using the country’s economic crisis as an excuse to greenlight a gold-processing complex, and Andhra Pradesh, India, where activists struggle to preserve wetlands that may be despoiled by a proposed coal-fired power plant.
“This Changes Everything” is genuinely stirring as it details improbable victories and green-economy opportunities. (Cheyenne entrepreneurs in Wyoming and elsewhere are launching profitable solar-power panel installation businesses.) There are only sporadic moments of humor, however, with most of the big laughs coming at the expense of climate change deniers who are given enough rope to hang themselves with their own words. (“Sustainability,” one blogger insists, “is a Marxist concept.”)
Production values are sufficiently impressive to guarantee that even viewers normally as bored as Klein by global warming warnings will be attentive, if not enthralled.