The film’s title might suggest it paints a bleak picture. And it does. The filmmakers don’t pull any punches in stating that every natural system on Earth is deteriorating evermore rapidly and that the confluence of all these pressures has brought us to the brink of environmental disaster. But the overall message of the film is one of hope. It calls directly on the viewers to be the generation that saves us all. And this challenge is presented as a huge opportunity for those lucky enough to be alive right now. “This generation gets to completely change this world,” says Paul Hawken in the film.
The 11th Hour picks up where An Inconvenient Truth left off by drawing the connections between seemingly disparate environmental and humanitarian issues (global warming, deforestation, poverty, globalization, etc.) and defining the space where the viewer fits into the equation. It is impossible to address the consequences of our lifestyle without first addressing the root cause – our way of thinking. The film outlines how modern philosophy, law and economics have all played a role in driving us to deplete our natural resources to the point where our very existence as a species is at risk. Former Soviet Prime Minister Mikhail Gorbachev tells us our biggest mistake was saying, “Man is the king of nature.”
The 11th Hour calls for us to think more holistically about the ecosystem and our place within it. Our current culture of unrelenting consumerism is fundamentally unsustainable. Ecological economist, Herman Daly explains:
I think the most basic thing to understand about our global economic system is that it's a subsystem. The larger system is the biosphere, and the subsystem is the economy. The problem, of course, is that our subsystem, the economy, is geared for growth; it's all set up to grow, to expand. Whereas the parent system doesn't grow; it remains the same size. So, as the economy grows, it displaces, it encroaches upon the biosphere, and this is the fundamental cost of economic growth. It's what you give up when you expand. You give up what used to be there.
Daly goes on to suggest that in order to balance our economic growth with environmental sustainability, the natural environment needs to be figured into the economic equation.
Reforming our way of thinking is no small task. But we at Worldchanging firmly believe that we are on the brink of this great change. It’s a big part of our mission to help people draw connections between global problems (and solutions!) and we are seeing a huge transition in public opinion in recent years. Films like The 11th Hour are an important step in getting us past the tipping point and turning ideas into action.
The 11th Hour is smartly edited, well paced and generally crafted with a sense of respect for the audience, the experts and the subject matter. Whatever your level of involvement/awareness in the sustainability movement, you will get something out of this film.
Regular Worldchanging readers will recognize many of the experts and solutions shared in the film. The 11th Hour features over 50 of the world’s most prominent thinkers and activists including Stephen Hawking, former head of the CIA R. James Woolsey, and sustainable design experts William McDonough and Bruce Mau. The film also touches on many of the topics we’ve covered here and in our book (architecture and urban planning, biomimicry, sustainable mobility, etc.) with a strong focus on design as a solution. McDonough says, “We have to imagine what it would be like to redesign design itself.”
As I watched the film, I found myself bouncing in my seat waiting for the lights to come on so I could do something. So what does the film say you should do? It’s easy. Once you have an understanding of your interconnectedness with the world around you, your decisions necessarily take that awareness into account. You can make a difference with the choices you make every day. Every time you buy something, you are voting with your wallet. Every decision you make for energy usage in your home and transport has an impact. Also, like we are fond of saying at Worldchanging, the film suggests that you get involved by way of your personal passion. Entrepreneurs, community-leaders, artists, chefs, designers – whatever your passion, there you can find your personal avenue toward building a sustainable future.
I spoke briefly via email with Leila Connors-Petersen who, with her sister Nadia, co-wrote and directed the film:
Micki Krimmel: What was your goal in making this film?
Leila Connors-Petersen: We felt that there was no substantial dialogue in the United States given that we are facing the collapse of the earth’s ecosystems that sustain life. We wanted to create a film that would start a dialogue about solutions and put aside the arguments around whether or not we are facing these crises. We are facing these crises, now we have to deal with them. We also started this film at the same time as An Inconvenient Truth, so the dialogue that opened up from that had not yet started. In addition, The 11th Hour broadens the discussion to include all ecosystems, and then includes why humans act in the way that we do given that the earth is our only home, and what to do about the problems we have created, the solutions.
MK: How did the project come together? Can you share a little bit about the history of the film and how you overcame any major hurdles?
LCP: The project was created by Leo (DiCaprio), Nadia and myself, and together we approached people who were interested in the environment to fund the film. We had incredibly supportive Executive Producers that helped us produce and complete the film. We all spent a year in the edit bay with our editor Luis Alvarez y Alvarez cutting down 150 hours of interview footage into a 91 minute film. We interviewed 72 people from across the spectrum of science, including biologists, psychologists, geneticists, oil industry experts, anthropologists and religious leaders. The hardest part was the editing and the licensing of the stock footage of over 2000 shots!
MK: Are you concerned with over saturation of environmental films in the marketplace? Do you think the public wants to see another movie about the environment? How are you planning to make The 11th Hour stand out? What unique ways are you spreading the message about this film?
LCP: I think that the subject of the environment in film and other media will be with us for a long time. There will be many more films about what happens as we face a collapsing biosphere; it will be something that we will all deal with for the rest of our lives. Will the public be interested? We’ll see, it’s about what is happening, I hope there will be interest. In terms of The 11th Hour, we are tapping into the environmental networks as well as other non-profit networks to get the word out. We are also creating an action community, 11thhouraction.com, to help as well as connect to other online communities.
MK: How do you hope the film will change people’s behavior? Are you providing tools for viewers to take action?
LCP: The film creates and awareness about the real nature of the problem, that it’s human thinking and behavior that is at the root of the destruction. And it is human behavior and thinking that will change it. From that we hope will flow a whole host of solutions and actions that people can take on their own, through the action community or other non-profits that they support. We show a lot of solutions in the film; most primarily that we need to move to renewable energy and redesign most of what we make, change the internal logic.
MK: How can Worldchanging readers get involved?
LCP: Worldchanging readers can get involved by taking action, perhaps getting together and issue a worldchanging action or challenge that supports sustainability. Issue the challenge and 11thhouraction.com can highlight it. Maybe you get solar panels on several elementary schools? Maybe you all get off plastic water bottles? There is so much to do!
The 11th Hour opens this weekend in Los Angeles and New York and will hit more cities on August 24. Like all films on a platform release, its success depends a great deal on how well the film does opening weekend. So check out the official film website for when it opens in your town and be sure to bring your friends. You can also arrange group sales online.
I think it has to be said again: Every time you DON'T buy something, that too is a choice that changes the world. Sometimes, the answer is no, neither, not now, not like this. What can you build...
This film will no doubt bring a lot of smart solutions, new ideas, and possibly new mentalities to its viewers. Those to go and see this movie already know the problems, and although they may learn some new facts about the issues, it isn't them who this message needs to reach. In an Inconvenient Truth they showed the cities that voted to abide by Kyoto protocol on a USA map, and it lined both the east and west coast.
This is because of awareness. What about the mid-west, the south? How will this message move into these regions. That is just the USA, one of the most media-friendly countries in the world. I want to see this message broadcast on mobile phones in India, China, and the new growing middle classes around the world. These new people, families and economies will profit from absorbing this responsible mentality, before absorbing some more old-fashioned, commercial, Western views.
Everybody needs to change themselves all at once. For everybody to change, there has to be an awareness, a reason, and a solution. We already have the reason, and the solutions.
Luke, you're totally right and the folks behind The 11th Hour are putting a lot of effort into getting the message beyond the coasts of the US. Media is America's biggest export and just might be the best tool to build the awareness you speak of.
Update from US Mayors, the Kyoto message is spreading, some nice clusters in landlocked areas.
USA map link here, http://usmayors.org/climateprotection/ClimateChange.asp
Though effective and worthwhile, what humans face cannot be turned back by Kyoto alone, the few with awareness are turning off many lights to make up for the many who lack awareness and light an unused room.
Sadly, there will never be the 'everybody' consensus often cited.
"Everybody needs to change themselves all at once."
That will never happen, unless we're sucked into a global overmind that makes us over into a happy green version of the Borg.
I think the images and tropes in 11th Hour will scare some people in the wrong way. It will make them resist change. ("Hell, they're just trying to scare us into giving up our cars and let them watermelon nanny state eurocommies take away our sovereignty!")
We need a wide variety of appeals to change, and of solutions.
We need a wide variety of appeals to change, and of solutions.
You make a good point, Stefan. So does Micki when she says,
It is impossible to address the consequences of our lifestyle without first addressing the root cause – our way of thinking.
It's unlikely that people will undergo a complete revolution in their thinking from one movie - if they did, their new thinking probably wouldn't be what's really needed.
And if someone is muttering about "watermelon nanny states" and such, they're clinging to entrenched thinking. But we don't cling when our world views are completely safe. No one runs around proclaiming, "The sky is blue, damn it, no matter what you say!" - there's no need.
Thinking changes when the contradictions and failures in our current paradigm become too obvious and immediate to ignore - and when a coherent, compelling new vision or explanation is offered as an alternative.
The best a movie like this can offer is more evidence of the failure of our current thinking, and more demonstration of the benefits of new thinking. And that's darned important.