Using film to challenge the dubious economics of tar sands and fracking

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On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with producer and director David Lavallee about his new documentary film, To the Ends of the Earth, which explores the impacts of unconventional fossil fuels.

It is easy to overestimate the extent to which circulating information can, in and of itself, create social change -- collective material interventions by movements of whatever sort, from the meekest of petitions to the most militant of direct actions, is invariably necessary to push change forward, and it takes more than "did you know..." to catalyze such things. But even so, even if change is not driven by information on its own, nonetheless the circulation of knowledge and stories is still one key element within the overall context of how movements happen.

David Lavallee divides his life into two parts: before he saw the climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth, and after. He had been working as a hiking guide in the Rockies, but he knew then that he needed to start doing his bit to fight climate change. And given the profound impact it had on him, he decided -- despite never having done anything of the sort before -- that "his bit" would take the form of filmmaking.

To the Ends of the Earth is Lavallee's second film. It deals with the increasing investment in and dependence on what the industry describes as "unconventional" sources of fossil fuels, but that he describes as "extreme energy." That means things like the tar sands, fracking, and oil shale. What these diverse source have in common is that they require far larger energy inputs than conventional oil for the same energy output. In the film, Lavallee talks to people living with the impacts of these highly destructive forms of resource extraction, to activists who are mobilizing against them, as well as to world-renowned energy economists. Folks in that last category argue that along with extreme energy's appalling environmental impact, the energy inputs required to produce extreme energy make it unsustainable even in purely economic terms -- that the amount of return per unit of energy invested in the sources that are increasingly coming to dominate our supply is simply not sufficient to sustain industrialized society as we understand it.

Lavallee talks about his filmmaking process, about the challenges and opportunities offered by filmmaking as a medium for addressing complex social issues, and about the threat posed by extreme energy sources like the tar sands and fracking. We spoke while he was in Toronto for the Canadian festival premier screening of To the Ends of the Earth at the Planet in Focus Film Festival.

To learn more about To the Ends of the Earth or to find out how to organize a screening in your community, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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