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Promised Land, the new movie starring Matt Damon, is a movie in part about fracking, the new and extremely problematic way of getting natural gas out of shale rock far below the earth’s surface. It’s a very good movie, with good acting, particularly by Damon in a very different role than, for example, his Jason Bourne trilogy. Instead of being a kick-ass former CIA assassin on a mission to reclaim his memory and the truth about what was done to him, in Promised Land Damon is a conflicted, conscience-stricken, corporate hot shot “land man” using bribes and threats, when necessary, to get people in a small, rural town to agree to let their town be fracked.
But the movie in no way presents all, or even most, of the many problems that come with fracking, much less do so in a clear and convincing way. The primary problem it does present is the very real one of contamination of land and water. This happens as a result of the toxic chemicals, mixed with water and sand, that are forced down into the shale under heavy pressure to break the rock and release the gas within it. Some of that toxic mix comes back up, along with methane, the primary ingredient of natural gas, and there are huge numbers of specific instances of plant and animal deaths, human sickness and water poisoning afterwards that are clear proof of this serious problem.
But there are many more that Promised Land doesn’t mention, much less explain:
· fracking’s huge and growing contribution to our global heating crisis: methane is 72-105 times as powerful a greenhouse gas as CO2 over the first 20 years after it is released into the atmosphere, and studies over the past two years, including by the EPA, show that there is much more methane leakage over the lifecycle of fracked, as well as conventionally-produced, natural gas, than the oil/gas industry admits;
· constant heavy truck traffic transporting water, sand and fracking fluids that pollutes surrounding air, causes damage to roads, creates traffic congestion and noise and other negative impacts;
· the contamination of rivers close to fracking sites through either deliberate dumping of “flowback” wastewater after a well is drilled or through migration of those fluids underground;
· the drawdown of massive amounts of sometimes-scarce—as in historically dry or dought-impacted areas—nearby river and lake water, many millions of gallons per well;
· documented radiation levels in wastewater 100 or more times the EPA’s drinking water standard;
· disruption of other economically-and socially-valued industries or practices, such as agriculture, tourism, hunting and fishing;
· fragmentation of woods and forests via construction of well sites, pipelines, roads and other infrastructure;
· a decline in property values of homes and land adjacent to or near wells; and,
· earthquakes: the United States Geological Survey has reported that deep underground injection of drilling wastewater is the probable cause of a six-fold increase in earthquakes in middle America in 2011 compared to 20th century levels.
So if you are looking for a movie about all of the negatives about fracking, Promised Land is not the movie to watch.
Promised Land is in many ways more a movie about corporate power, and the ideology that undergirds it, versus the power of an informed people and the old-but-still-good values of love for family, land, home, and the truth. The energy company that Damon works for is thoroughly despicable, while the individuals who work for it, like Damon and the character played by Frances McDormand, are shown as more complex, human, less corporatist in their ideology.
One small but telling example is when a youngish man overly excited about the potential riches he thinks he will gain from signing a lease drives up to Damon in a fancy new car. Because of a prior scene, the movie audience knows that the money he will get from the gas under his land, if there is any, will probably not pay for this car. At the time Damon is struggling with his conscience, and as he looks at the expensive car and the young man you can almost feel his angst, his guilt over what he may have done.
Hal Holbrook is effective as a smart and articulate older teacher who is the only townsperson, at first, aware of some of fracking’s dangers and willing to stand up and say so publicly. Unfortunately, when he does so for the first time, he also describes gas as “clean,” which it absolutely isn’t. He does, however, play a key role in the movie’s successful effort to counterpose a life of place, of community, of eternal values against the scheming and greed-driven corporate culture that has no difficulty destroying anything in its way.
There’s a lot of food for thought in Promised Land, and I hope large numbers of people see it.
Ted Glick is the National Campaign Coordinator of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Past writings and other information can be found at http://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on twitter at http://twitter.com/jtglick.
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; email@example.com; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; email@example.com; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: email@example.com; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.