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Planet Change
by Mary Nyiri

Before you even think about what people call climate change and the impacts of such change, there are the exponential changes upon Planet Earth that have taken place just within the time frame of the birth of my great grandparents and my newest great great niece this year. I am not a scientist, and in no way do I intend to explain climate change, which I leave up to those better informed than me. But what I do wish to encourage is that people take notice of how the space around us has changed, how land and sea are different today than what we may remember from years before, and how our lives are changing due to the very real impact of global warming. And further, that based upon personal observations and experiences, we make personal changes in ways that will help save our planet.

As a little girl some of my earliest happy memories are walking through the woods behind our house to the baseball field to watch my brother play ball. Along the way there were all kinds of colorful butterflies, creepy crawly ugly bugs, beautiful wild flowers, stinky wild onion greens, slimy frogs, thick moist grasses, lovely singing birds, chattering gray squirrels and so many, many trees including a natural arbor that I was sure belonged to a forest fairy. On a sunny day the sky was the most brilliant of blue. Traveling back to my childhood home last year, I visited my house which still stands but the woods have been replaced by more houses and other buildings. The clear sky seemed a pale imitation of my deep blue memory. Returning to a Florida beach I have visited for decades, I saw scraps of plastic, pieces of fishing net, the remains of an old fishing boat, and hundreds of sea shells all the same color strewn across the shoreline. I recalled when I walked that same beach in my childhood and saw starfish, sand dollars and a variety of seashells with so many different shapes, colors and sizes. And there was that deep blue sky.

Two films really brought home to me how dramatically the face of the Earth, not just my neighborhood, has changed during my lifetime. The first film, THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM (USA 2018), made me long for my grandfather’s tasty fresh vegetables grown in our backyard and a simple walk in the verdant woods. The second film, ANTHROPOCENE: THE HUMAN EPOCH (Canada 2018) made me yearn for a stroll along that wide, pristine, white sand Florida beach covered in living creatures washed up by gentle waves.

Returning to the land was once a dream of mine but I never did quite buy the farm, although not for lack of searching. However, another couple was more financially creative and successful in finding a place. In THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM, John Chester, his wife Molly and their rescue dog Todd are evicted from the confines of a Los Angles apartment block because Todd barks all day long. They see their ouster as an opportunity to, “…build a life in perfect harmony with nature like a traditional farm from the past.” With not much money, they turn to social media for help and raise funds to buy the parched, depleted fields of a small forgotten farm in the California countryside. This film uses stunning cinematography by John Chester and Kyle Romanek along with animal tales too cute and clever to make up, to entertainingly reveal the truly hard, sometimes heartbreaking, work and dedication to principles required to turn acres of dead dirt and dry brush into a living, lush farm that thrives in sync with nature. Challenges that faced the Chesters are indicative of what some people across the globe experience. For instance, accumulated topsoil on the pesticide poisoned drought stricken land would wash away with heavy rains, contributing to mudslides. However, once the fields were enriched with natural compost and replanted, including ground cover plants in the orchards, the heavy rains soaked into the ground, further nourishing the fields and providing some protection for dryer weather. There is much to be learned from going back to basics. John Chester said, “…we wanted to believe that everything had a purpose.” And so at Apricot Lane Farms they showed that everything does indeed.

Joy Joyce who is part of the team at Apricot Lane Farms explains, “Bio-dynamics, in a nutshell, is seeing the entire farm as a single living and breathing organism.” Perhaps that is a good way to look at the Earth itself, as a single living and breathing organism. Just how that organism copes with the human race has been chronicled by photographer Edward Burtynsky who explains that, “his imagery explores the collective impact we as a species are having on the surface of the planet; an inspection of the human systems we've imposed onto natural landscapes.” In MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES (Canada 2006), he teams up with director Jennifer Baichwal and cinematographer Nicholas de Pencier to capture changing natural landscapes into huge factories, waste dumps, high rise building complexes, and other man-made areas. They work together again on the way man reshapes water in WATERMARK (2013). And finally, their third documentary explores the idea raised by scientists from the Anthropocene Working Group (see International Union of Geological Sciences) that Homo sapiens have so transformed the Earth that we have entered into a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. To illustrate this new age of humanity, the film ANTHROPOCENE: THE HUMAN EPOCH (Canada 2018) explores six continents (20 countries, 43 locations). According to research from the Anthropocene Working Group, humans change the Earth more than all natural processes combined, meaning that humans within 10,000 years are the dominating force on our 4.5 billion year old planet. The film team documents man’s influence on changing the Earth by showing, for example, thousands of miles of concrete seawall in China, mountains of waste plastics, acres of massive deforestation, lithium evaporation ponds in the Atacama Desert of South America, an enormous Italian marble mine around since the ancient Romans, a 12,000 ton machine clearing land in Germany, flaming Texas oil refineries, potash mines in the Ural Mountains of Russia, and species extinction through the slaughter of elephants. Just these examples alone can be hard to grasp without personal experience, but the state of the art camera techniques, critical composition, expansive aerial clips contrasted with down to Earth images, combine to provide a truly shocking documentary. All three of these films seek to present human activities and the visible consequences through pictures, not opinions or lengthy explanations. What you see, is what we have done.

Both THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM and ANTHROPOCENE: THE HUMAN EPOCH exposes what humans do and have done to this Earth. Our disposable lifestyle is made possible through our frequently catastrophic disposal of what used to be pure nature. ANTHROPOCENE: THE HUMAN EPOCH reveals just a few of our most egregious activities. Will our actions cause our own extinction? In THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM known as Apricot Lane Farms we can see a bright ray of hope that humans can and will find solutions to rescue Mother Earth. Our very existence depends on it.