These days, much is spoken and written about the destruction of our planet as a result of climate change. In his evocative film “Climate Crimes”, the Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Eichelmann who was an active member of WWF for 17 years and worked in conservation for decades, now documents that it is rather the reverse: he shows how many ecosystems, species, habitats and the cultural heritage too are threatened – but, as he sums up, “not by climate change, but by climate protection and the things done in its name.” It is predominantly hydropower and bioenergy projects that threaten to destroy precious areas of our planet’s nature.
That current climate policies harm conservation in many ways is nothing new, even if many do not want to admit it. However, no one so far has compiled the evidence as strongly and on a global scale as Eichelmann. His one-hour film, which is shown in several cinemas in Germany these days and also on Austrian television, is the result of two years of work that led his team to Brazil, Turkey, Iraq and to Indonesia, but also to the model country of climate protection, Germany, where crimes against nature are especially evident.
Eichelmann feels particularly affected by what he has found out in the course of his research; that’s because, as he says, he has been deeply involved in the fight against climate change – until he discovered some time ago “that something went wrong here “.
The individual stages of the film:
Brazil: The huge dams of the South American country, each of which put dozens of square miles of rainforest under water for the generation of electricity, have always been a problem for the Amazon basin. But now, as the momentum of climate policy is added, all laborious progress in terms of environmental sustainability, which has been be built up in recent decades, and even all moratoria, have gone overnight. 60 mega dams of several kilometres in length and several hundreds of medium size are planned in the Amazon basin in coming years. One of them alone, the Belo Monte Dam on the Xingu River, will flood a forested area larger than the Lake of Constance; it threatens 200 fish species and will force 20,000 people to relocate. One of the very few large nesting sites of Amazon turtles will fall victim to the dam. The Catholic Bishop Erwin Kräutler, who works there, calls Brazil’s current energy policies of Brazil the “death knell” for the Amazon rainforest.
Turkey: One of the oldest cities in Anatolia, Hasankeyf, renowned for its extensive cave dwellings and other buildings dating from the fourth century, built on the border between the Eastern Roman and the Sassanid Empire, will simply disappear from the map. The reason: the Ilisu dam, which is built there to produce “clean energy”, will ensure that the Tigris will swallow the city. With luck, the upper tips of the ancient minarets could still poke out of the reservoir.
By the way: Do you remember the worldwide outrage over the Taliban, when they destroyed the giant statue of Buddha of Bamiyan? These barbarians, it was said at that time! The loss of Hasankeyf would be vastly greater, yet outrage outside Turkey did not happen – in the name of climate protection people keep quite.
Iraq: There was also great indignation worldwide when the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in the mid 1990s dried up the vast Mesopotamian marshes near Basra, out of revenge for what he deemed as the missing fighting spirit of its inhabitants during the first Gulf War. The wetlands, where many species live and people have their agricultural livelihoods, have since been partially restored laboriously. Now, they will finally disappear because dams further upstream will deny them enough water.
Germany: It is hardly possible to describe in words the damage done to German nature, as Eichelmann describes it in his film. The country side is made desolate by monoculture of corn fields stretching to the horizon, and biosphere reserves are not spared. Everything is done just to ensure enough biofuels are produced to meet Germany’s climate targets – all in the name of a supposedly clean energy. Many bird species have already disappeared completely, others will follow. Hares and other soil dwellers will not be seen again. The largest biogas plant in the country needs 1,000 tons of corn per day. 7,000 plants have already been built, about 1,000 on average will be added each year. Due to generous subsidies, the corn farmers can pay any rent, so the rents have more than doubled and farms are going bankrupt. By the way: in 2011 Germany could not cover its cereal needs for the first time.
Indonesia: Even greater is the sprawl of monocultures in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, where palm oil plantations – not least for the production of biodiesel – have destroyed the rainforest almost completely. The last orang-utans are losing their habitat.
Eichelmann presents calculations in his film which show that almost every single project he presents, e.g. each “Climate Crime”, is responsible for emitting more carbon dioxide or methane instead of reducing emissions. Although he has changed from being a climate change campaigner into a fighter against this kind of climate protection, Eichelmann still assumes that greenhouse gases pose a risk to the global climate. He thinks the only chance to counter the risk is to question the idea of global economic growth. Only in this way, he argues, the world could prevent the “Climate Crimes”, which his film documents.
You do not have to share – like this writer – the growth denial strategy in order to be impressed by the movie which is extremely well and comprehensively researched. The development of the global climate, the warming pause in the last decade and a half, and the climate forecasts for the next few years could indicate that it might be useful to transform our energy supply in the long run; but there is no reason today to throw out “the baby with the bathwater”, as economist Niko Paech says in the film – or to accept that “climate protection is used as a cover for environmental crimes.”
My fear is, however, that a growth denial strategy would be nothing else than throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The fact is: only growth-oriented economies can afford to protect the environment. To crack this historic challenge is not impossible theoretically, but it could lead to similar questionable experiments as documented in “Climate Crimes”.
We must take the time to plan sensibly and not to rush into “head-over-heels” measures. Let us beware of exaggerated doomsday prophecies and instead protect nature. Either way, growth or denial, greenhouse hysteria or cool head: “Climate Crimes” is one of the most interesting and daring films on the subject.
Translation Philipp Mueller