Sunday, December 17, 2017

Happening: A Renewable Energy Action Film

Stepping from behind the camera, documentary filmmaker James Redford invites viewers to join him on a cross-country trip to explore notable milestones in the renewable energy transformation of America.

Redford, the son of actor and environmental activist Robert Redford and an accomplished documentary director on a variety of topical issues, debuted as an on-camera host before a national audience when Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution opened recently on HBO. That attracted the serious attention of cable TV program reviewers. 

“Cities like Buffalo, NY, a former manufacturing hub, are being revitalized by the clean energy revolution,” Broadway World reported in the no-nonsense style of business news reports. “There, Redford visits the site of the largest solar panel manufacturing plant in the western world, which will employ more people than the former steel plants that once sustained the community. …

“Even big business recognizes the benefits,” the Broadway World report continued. “All of Apple's U.S. facilities are now 100% renewable-powered. During a visit to an Apple data center [in Oregon], Redford learns that the company built its own solar farm in order to control its energy source.” 

Summarizing another newsworthy story that Redford films in Texas, Broadway World informs its readers that “Dale Ross, the conservative mayor of Georgetown, Tex., also maintains that clean energy is cost-effective, and goes beyond partisan politics. Offered a lucrative long-term deal by wind and solar companies, Georgetown became the second U.S. city to run on 100% renewable energy. Soon, solar energy will be as affordable as, or more affordable than, fossil fuels in 47 states, according to Emily Kirsch, a CEO who funds solar startups. Kirsch stresses that the clean energy industry can ‘democratize energy production and consumption,’ and already employs more people than Google, Apple, Facebook and Twitter combined.”

A reviewer on the Bill Moyers program, documentary filmmaker Titi Yu, was impressed. In an interview with Redford, she said “it was very effective to have you in the film” talking with clean energy innovators across the nation, including civic activists in Nevada who convinced the state legislature and Republican governor to enact clean energy bills into law.

Redford replied: “I just decided to open up my own process of discovery. I decided to take everyone along on the ride. I think there is an inherent resistance to the topic of clean energy and renewable energy. It sounds kind of boring. I thought, well, maybe this might make it a little interesting. Also, I didn’t major in science or technology so I thought if I can understand this, so can everyone else.”

“You started the journey in your own home,” Yu continued, citing a scene in Redford’s house in northern California, where he decides to install solar panels on the roof. “You tracked your own power line to an ugly power plant that was across the bay from a wind farm. I thought it really brought it home how we all have a stake in this green energy revolution and there are many things we can all do, starting with ourselves.”

Redford expands on that point in his directors’ statement on the documentary website. “During the journey of making ‘happening’, I met many inspiring citizens, business leaders and politicians leading the clean energy revolution, but the most significant journey involved my own heart and mind,” he wrote. “At the start of ‘Happening’, I was feeling pretty cynical about the value of political engagement. Three years later, I have witnessed first-hand the enduring value of politically engaged citizenry.

“In spite of the turbulent political divides we are currently enduring,” he continued, “I feel more hopeful today than ever about our ability as Americans to combat climate change, and I am excited to share this with audiences so that they may feel this way as well.”

For more information:

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Poetry of Transformation

There’s a place in New Jersey, hemmed in by highways and humongous landfills, where a paddler can disappear into winding waterways lined by tall reeds and be immersed in a garden of eden blessed with choruses of bird songs, skim around a swishing grove of cattails and abruptly stare up at the Empire State Building, looming in the Manhattan skyline.

This is the Hackensack Meadowlands, a place where Pamela Hughes grew up playing in the dumps and falling in love with wildlife in marshland. Returning as a creative writing professor, she discovered the poetry of transformation. 

“How does a meadow move you?” Hughes writes in Meadowland Take My Hand, her eco-poetry collection published by Three Mile Harbor Press. “I rustle and glide/ like a low swooping bird,/ seeking nothing but the welcome of distance,/ wild streaks and strands/ of phragmites and birch boughs,/ the unbowed salve of green.”

Spend some time in this place, walking on the duckboards or a wildlife trail near the Meadowlands Environment Center in Lyndhurst, and nature reclaims you.

“And you are revised/ like the sky after a thunderstorm—/ slim summer segment of newly rinsed air/ or the thread of a rainbow … When you turn to glow,/ you are revised/ on the edge of the suburban wilderness,“ Hughes observed in a recent reading sponsored by the Teaneck Creek Conservancy at the Puffin Cultural Center in Teaneck.

In an interview in Huffington Post, Hughes said “As a poet, I’ve found that the environment has been my best muse so far. Being grounded in place helped me create my poetry collection … I had no intention to write a book of poems about the meadowlands, but when I immersed myself in the actual place—the physical landscape of the Meadowlands—the book began to write itself.”

Lamenting the loss of so much of this natural wonder to suburban housing developments, shopping centers, industrial hubs, a massive sports complex and malodorous mountains of trash, Hughes notes in the preface to her poetry collection: “As a poet I ask, what palliative grace can be summoned with poetry? What medicine to heal? This narrative and lyric hike asks: how do we honor the land instead of turning it into another strip mall?”

Besides deploying poetry as conservation campaign banners, Hughes invites adventuresome folks to explore the infamously polluted, glorious remains of the Meadowlands.

An engaging place to start is Overpeck County Park, a reclaimed landfill transformed into a refreshing playground, rowing center and bird sanctuary just off the NJ Turnpike exit for Teaneck and Leonia. Bald eagles sometimes hang out there in the cottonwoods. Another memorable experience is to join a kayaking, canoeing or pontoon boat trek through the Meadowlands organized by the Hackensack Riverkeeper out of Laurel Hill County Park in Secaucus.

“If I had a wish,” Hughes writes, “there would be mandatory play-in-nature programs for adults and teens where they would have to roll in it, lie in it, leap over it, run their palms over blades of grass, bark and stone. It’s hard, as kids know, not to appreciate and like the one you’ve played well with.”