Anthropocene

My head moves slowly side to side saying no, no, no. I watch in horror as images of human devastation move across the screen, rendered in heartbreaking beauty.

Tusks from six thousand elephants aflame in Kenya; lithium evaporation ponds liquid green and turquoise in Chile; sculptured landscapes carved by giant earth movers in Germany; clear cuts in BC and Borneo; psychedelic potash tunnels in Russia, and a flooded city in Italy.

I walked the lanes beside the canals of Venice when I was fourteen years old. My parents and older sister with me, a gaggle of four English tourists soaking in the wonder of that historic city. We rode in a gondola piloted by a handsome gondolier who plied the waters between quaint beautiful buildings, under the Bridge of Sighs, into scenes only known in my history books. A picturesque magical place full of treasures, not the place I see on the screen in front of me. Golden in the evening light, empty café tables and chairs their legs deep in water, restaurant doors open to reveal flooded floors, locals and visitors in tall red, blue and yellow waterproof boots, wandering the streets. I’d heard the stories of this, seeing the evidence brought such deep sadness, perhaps intensified because of my personal childhood experiences of the place. The message of loss hit hard in my heart.

Anthropocene, a multimedia collaboration between Nicholas de Pencier, Edward Burtynsky, and Jennifer Baichwal, documents the singular most significant thing we as a human race must come to terms with. Anthropocene is the age where the human impact on the planet is greater than all other forces existing at this time. Collectively we have contributed to the death of a 23 million year old coral reef, the extinction of the white Rhinoceros, the grave threat to the ongoing survival in the wild of the Sumatran Tiger, the list goes on and on, we’ve all heard these stories too.

Edward Burtynsky’s images are gloriously beautiful and profoundly frightening. There’s a Q and A with filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal, the audience asks questions, we learn more, we leave. We carry on.

I get into my car and drive home. I could have taken the bus to Cinécenta but I always choose to drive. There’s really no excuse, I have plenty of time and freedom to choose how I spend it. It’s a habit I seem unwilling to change. There’s the rub. I along with all the others sitting in the movie theatre appalled and saddened, concerned, moved by what we have just shared, mostly drove there, mostly have our cell phones in our pocket. We are privileged to live in great comfort. We are players in the game of climate change. This is not an exercise in guilting each other for what is past, rather we need to acknowledge the reality. We are part of the nature that is being destroyed. We are users of the products created through this destruction. We are actors in this tragedy and by virtue of living in this age, we are actors in future productions on planet earth.

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