This interview was conducted in occasion of the first edition of the Global Social Change Film Festival, which took place in Ubud, Bali on April 13 – 17 2011
-What pushed you to make this documentary about Climate Refugees?
I made this film for the people in the US that don’t believe that man is causing climate change. I wanted to bring the right part of the American government into a conversation with the left so that they could have an intelligent conversation about this, because right now nothing is taking place. In fact, today half of the population of the United States does not believe man is causing climate change. This is mainly due to the fact that in the US a lot of documentation has been produced and a lot of propaganda has been made that affirms this.
-What surprised you the most during the making of this documentary?
When I started this film I thought climate change was 50, 100 years away. After travelling to 47 countries and speaking to fishermen, farmers, scientists and politicians absolutely nobody can tell that climate change is not happening. It’s happening today and it’s tens of millions of people that are already being affected and it’s all about water and food.
-To what extent American institutions recognize this fact?
When I was creating and writing this film, never did the words “climate” and “war” ever got together. Then I started interviewing people at the Penthagon and I quickly learned that in 2004 the Penthagon hired some people to figure out the national security implications of climate change. That’s a sign. Generals and admirals I talked to told me that we will be in climate wars in the next decade or two. However, this awareness is only felt as a problem for national security. The green and sustainable aspect of this catastrophe has not yet been considered. We had the worst natural disaster of the decade if not more, Katrina. Then we had an oil spill that caused unparalleled damage and it’s still sitting at the bottom of the gulf! We could not even have a green energy bill signed when all of that was going on! We are very much behind but we cannot afford it because the rest of the world is realizing there is a problem and is taking action, Europe for instance.
-People have always migrated for environmental, economic, political and religious reasons and they have always fought for resources. What is the difference with the migrants “Climate Refugees” deals with?
Yes, but not to this degree. If there were a billion people on earth right now we would not be talking about climate change. It’s the collision of overpopulation, over consumption, lack of resources in a changing climate that is causing all these people to relocate. People have always relocated, they have always migrated. There used to be places for them to go; now these people are crossing borders and creating conflicts. People used to be able to relocate. They cannot do that anymore because crossing borders is creating flashpoints.
-What is the legal status of these refugees?
The UN has finally come up with a definition 7-8 months ago: Environmentally Displaced Migrants. Now the problem is to protect them legally. The UN are concerned that the number of climate refugees is so high, 25 to 50 million people right now. [There are more climate refugees than there are refugees from political or religious prosecution.] that if these refugees were included in the Geneva Convention, the Convention would implode. However, they may not even be covered by the Geneva Convention because only if one could prove that G20 countries have polluted and prosecuted these countries because of the carbon they put up there, would people from these countries deserve asylum under the Geneva Convention.
-What solutions are being proposed to tackle this problem?
The UN has estimated that in the next 10/12 years, 75 to 100 million Africans are going to run out of water. A lot of them have already crossed into the Mediterranean and a lot of them are considered economic refugees. However, when you dig into what caused their economy to collapse, you will find that they can no longer grow food. Either through deforestation, lack of water… I believe that when you add it all together, these migrants are partially economic, partially climate refugees, and there is not a single law that gives these people protection. Institutions are just starting to tackle the issue. Let’s take an island that will be submerged by water soon. What do you do? Do you give these people some million dollars to buy a piece of land in some other areas of the world and move to this new property or do you bring engineers in and start build a sea wall so that these people can live there for another 100 years? It’s a real problem and nobody has got an answer to it yet.
-What is the campaign launched by “Climate Refugees”?
With “Climate Refugees” we are trying to raise awareness by screening it as much as possible. At the moment we have a massive educational campaign going on, screening the documentary in thousands of universities, embassies and parliaments all around the world. Then recently I was contacted by some church organizations and I hope to start collaborating with them. This will allow screening the film in around 15,000 churches. This is particularly important because Christians and church goers in America have to possibility to reach and to influence a large part of the population Traditionally, the Church has always been very conservative but now apparently there is a movement called “creation care” based on the fact that the Bible says that good Christians have to be good shepherds for God’s green earth and they need to take care of their neighbor. It’s a force and it may be the only way to convince America, because America is so behind in this whole issue.
-What are your expectations for the future?
It’s the first time in the history of human kind where the world population has doubled in just a generation. That doubling in the last 40 years has put tremendous strain on all aspects of life. Even if climate was not changing, we would be dealing with a lot of issues. Climate change seems to be a threat multiplier, regardless that it is human made or cyclical. I am an eternal optimist, but I am also looking at the reality that we don’t live in a preventative society we are crisis management. I believe that there is collateral damage that is going to take place. We are all going to have to sacrifice to a certain degree; the question really is how much we want to sacrifice. The quicker we get ahead of the storm, the less we all have to sacrifice.