Climate Refugees Film Screening Generates Debate

By ELIZA GUION

How can we address climate change and its impacts in ways that are accountable to systems of global power? This seemed to be the question left hanging in the air of Coloardo College’s Sacred Grounds after a screening of “Climate Refugees,” a 2010 documentary focusing on “the human face of climate change.”

The event was co-sponsored by EnAct, CC Refugee Alliance, and the Chaplain’s Office. This screening is part of the latter group’s “The Heart of the Fight Film Series,” which takes place every second Monday of the block.

Candace Woods ’13, the Master of Divinity Field Experience Fellow for the Chaplain’s Office, introduced the movie by saying, “I’d encourage you all to watch with an open heart and think, how does this influence how we make meaning of our world?”

The roughly 20 students in attendance loaded up on plates of falafel and hummus from DonerUSA before setting into the cushiony space for the duration of the movie. This was the last comfortable moment for students, however, as the film was disturbing not only in content, but in its problematic approach to the topic.

The movie panned back and forth from interviews with high-level, political figures from the U.S., Europe, and organizations like the UN, to footage of people navigating climate change impacts from Bangladesh to Louisiana. Citing staggering projections for increased human migration and decreased access to basic resources, the movie reached an apocalyptic fervor before ending on a hopeful note, searching to inspire action in the audience.

Afterwards, students broke up into small groups to discuss their impressions and takeaways from the film. When the groups gathered together again to share, CC Refugee Alliance Co-Chair Natalie Sarver ’20 said, “We weren’t comfortable with aspects of the film,” noting the white-savior complex at work in the film’s portrayal of America and Europe’s role in climate issues.

Ramah Aleryan ’20, a CC Refugee Alliance leader, furthered this sentiment. “That was a really disturbing movie for me, because there was no mention of colonialism,” she said. “There was no mention of global politics.”

While it’s true that black, brown, and Indigenous peoples bear the brunt of climate change impacts, the film did not delve into the structural and historical factors that cause this discrepancy. Instead, it provided montages of the faces of people dealing with climate change impacts, zooming in Ken Burns style to soft dramatic music. “It was a lot of depictions of people of color, brown people, as victims,” said Aleryan. “For me, it was poverty porn.”

In skipping over these larger power dynamics, the film put forth individual antidotes to climate change, beseeching the audience to change out light bulbs and other personal actions. “They highlighted that humans, the people that participate in capitalism, are the reason [for climate change], not capitalism itself,” said Aleryan.

Another aspect students found unsettling was the film’s focus on national security in Europe and America. The film “framed North America and Europe [as] conflict free zones,” said Madeleine Nicholson ’20, “and that statement, not only of course is that untrue, but [it] implies that we will become riddled with conflict if we accept refugees, which is false.” Olivia Petipas ’21 added, “It erases the fact that the US and Europe create conflict in other places.”

Aleryan underscored this point; the film “was for an American, white audience to feel like their country is under attack,” she said. The focus on national security revealed the film’s Eurocentric perspective, “so it’s not about what will the Global South do, it’s how the US and the West react to that.”

Though critical of this particular film, Aleryan, Nicholson, Petipas, and EnAct Co-Chair Emma Fetterly ’20, were positive about the potential of future collaboration between their two groups, stressing the importance of coalition-building on campus and in the wider community. If interested in issues of climate and human migration, they recommended watching movies such as The True Cost, or También la lluvia.

Fetterly also suggested interested students attend the Environmental Action Summit, which will take place on Tuesday, Mar. 5 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. in Gaylord Hall. “It’s all the environmental activists in the Springs and all the groups that exist at CC. And that’s going to be big for coalition building,” said Fetterly.

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