SUE JACKSON Therapist | Writer | Photographer | Activist

An avid blogger for the last fifteen years, I believe in the power of the word to change the world. I have participated in, and reported on, a range of protests during this period, including the successful East-West Link campaign and, more recently, our wonderful, home-grown Extinction Rebellion (XR). If you believe, like I do, that it is time for ordinary people to rise up in defence of the planet, I encourage you to explore this blog, share it with your networks, and – of course – take action.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

'BIKES VS CARS' at Melbourne International Film Festival

Cycling to work on Melbourne bike path

Last night viewing 'Bikes vs. Cars' at MIFF I felt very grateful that I live in Melbourne, and that this is the main place I cycle. Our bike path system is certainly not perfect, and there can be conflict over resources, but at least we have a system. Other countries are not so lucky.
Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten has unabashedly created 'Bikes vs Cars', billed as 'David and Goliath on Wheels', to promote his pro-bike stance. He does this by travelling the world to show how cyclists are faring in different cities. In so doing he has unearthed some big surprises.
At the turn of the 20th century Los Angeles, now the car capital of the world, boasted an extensive public transport system and a thriving bicycling community. This PT system was dismantled by a government keen to substitute freeways to please the local car manufacturing industry. As advertising was harnessed to convince people that how they travelled showed who they were, bicycles quickly gathered dust in sheds and cars were king.
Interestingly, currently 50% of car trips in the USA are less that three miles distance, so dusting off those bikes (and those feet) could reduce petrol use and emissions massively.
Sao Paolo, Brazil, with its huge population of 20 million, has hardly any public transport except for buses. Its trains and trams were decommissioned years ago under the influence of the roads lobby. There is no opportunity as exists in Melbourne for people to cycle and ride:

Instead the film shows Sao Paolo cyclists (all without helmets) duelling daily with car, truck and bus drivers for lane space, which leads to one bicyclist death every week in the country's capital. 'Ghost Bikes' - bikes painted white as a memorial to killed or severely injured cyclists - are regular sights around San Paolo.
These days, as in so many of the world's largest cities, grid-lock is part of life and peak hour starts earlier and extends later into the night, with the average commuter in Sao Paolo spending up to 4 hours in their car every single working day.
By the end of the film - in an unexpected twist and with a change of government - with no warning and literally overnight, Sao Paolo streets, to the delight of bike activists and the horror of motorists, were decorated with an expansive network of pink bike lanes.
This tension between motors and feet was best illustrated in Toronto, which did the opposite of Sao Paolo. Former mayor Rob Ford, in response to what he declared a 'war on cars', simply had all the city's bike lanes summarily removed. It was also illustrated by interviews with a taxi-driver in Copenhagen, who finds the 40% of residents who cycle daily, to say nothing of the wheeled tourists, an ongoing menace and cause of stress.
Copenhagen and Amsterdam are identified as the world's two best cities for cyclists. It was interesting to hear that neither place has a car industry, and so cycling interests have never been stymied by car lobbyists influencing governments.
The film included a brief visit to Bogota, Colombia where a local bicycling advocate was doing great work encouraging children to cycle in a city with few facilities for bikes. Even though there are plenty of places in Australia where cyclists have to take that same risk:

it was hard to watch primary schoolers blithely weaving through the traffic.

Although I did find 'Bikes vs Cars' interesting, I do have a major problem with it. The issue ignored within the film, as in so many other places, is that the world's oil is running out. Reserves will inevitably become increasingly expensive. This has profound implications for future private car ownership patterns, as for many other things, especially as air pollution and climate change become greater health concerns - and provide more political leverage.
I believe that in a relatively short time oil-based transport will largely become a thing of the past, and for those who can't afford the motoring alternatives, bikes along with PT (as was the case in pre-car industry California) will be increasingly attractive options.
So, in my view, although cars are currently in the ascendancy, soon they will start losing ground.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

'Racing Extinction' at MIFF

Last night I emerged from Melbourne's gorgeous old Comedy Theatre awe-struck. I'd been there for the Melbourne International Film Festival's inaugural screening of Racing Extinction. (I've discovered since that you can view it on line for free, so if you missed out last night, you are in luck!)
As the film's title suggests, the story is about the present-day escalation of mankind's destruction of fellow species. But it's also about hope in dark times and how more and more people are finding brilliant ways to resist this apparently inexorable trend.
In 'Racing Extinction', a group of film makers, activists and artists, led by Louis Psihoyos, veteran National Geographic photographer and creator of the Oscar award-winning 'The Cove', have created a master-piece. And I love MIFF because last night's Q & A featured a jet-lagged (but still ridiculously handsome) Psihoyos, primed to share with us just how they did it.
The film manages to combine glorious wild-life photography, a thrilling and dangerous expose of the illegal endangered species trade (which is second only to the drug trade in its lucrativeness) with a powerful message about people power. There are instances galore of determined people making a huge difference. For example one film maker, who opened his documentary on the nefarious shark fin trade with the image of a beautiful finned shark spinning slowly to its death at the bottom of the ocean, is predominantly responsible for the reduction of the trade in shark fins by a massive 75%. Every one of us, contend the film-makers, by changing our own lives can make a difference, even in what might seem like small ways. As they put it: 'Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness'.
In a miraculous piece of synchronicity with the film's theme and launch, this week the activist organisation the Sum of Us, by presenting a petition with 250,000 signatories to the American airline, Delta, has managed to extract an assurance that the airline will no longer transport trophy animals. And just this morning American Airlines, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic have come on board too. If the big game hunters are thwarted from hanging their trophy heads, like that of Cecil the lion, on their living room walls hopefully the 'sport' will soon lose its allure.
I need no convincing these days that people acting together can make a difference. This became abundantly clear during our successful fight against the East-West Link, where protecting the environment, wild life and zoo animals was a major motivator:

One fantastic action undertaken by the film-makers in collaboration with the Oceanic Preservation Society (headed by Psihoyos) took place just last week-end. Parts of downtown New York came to a standstill as its famous buildings, including the Empire State Building, morphed into immense screens on which the film-makers projected images of threatened animals and other scenes from the film. Incredibly, footage of awe-struck New Yorkers and wild life adorning the sides of buildings has already been integrated into the finished film. No wonder Psihoyos was tired.
This organic, spontaneous attitude to film-making is a feature of the director's work. When the team decided they needed to find a 'get-away' driver prepared to drive the custom-made 'projector' car through the streets of Manhattan they managed to find a female racing car driver, who amazingly is anti-fossil fuels. And that is how, according to Psihoyos, things unfold. He is reluctant to go so far as to say that the angels are on his side, but he does feel that if your cause is just, things do work out.

As you can see, in Melbourne recently angels are definitely on the side of the opponents of Hazelwood power station 

The film will be progressively released around the world in advance of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris in November, the aim being for all conference participants to know of it or better still, to have seen it before they arrive at the table.

What could possibly follow this film? was a question asked last night. The answer surprised me. Because not transport, as I had expected, but food production is the highest global producer of carbon dioxide, Psihoyos believes that we all need to change our diets. We need to become either vegan or vegetarian or at least use meat and dairy products much more sparingly. So in his next film he will be demonstrating how 'real men' can be vegan. No doubt just like 'Racing Extinction, this one too will be a 'must-see'.