PROJECT TOPIC- ECOCINEMA AND ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH ADVOCACY: A STUDY OF ERIN BROCKOVICH AND MOOLAADÉ
Environmental degradation often tends to become irreversible and imposes damaging costs on the economy resulting in output and human losses, loss of labour productivity from ill- health and loss of crop output. The ecological and social costs of such unrestrained pollution and degradation have put a big question mark on the perceived notion of industrialisation as a way of economic development. Industrialisation is on the increase which is undoubtedly necessary for civilisation, but so is the pollution due to emission of waste generated from these industries. The industrial pollution due to its nature has the potential to cause irreversible reactions in the environment and hence is posing a major threat to our very existence. Since the carrying capacity of the environment is not unlimited and some areas or ecosystems are more susceptible to adverse environmental impacts than others, unplanned and haphazard industrialisation has substantially increased the risk to the environment. A number of studies have shown that air and water pollution are taking a heavy toll of human life, particularly, in the developing countries through ill-health and premature mortality. Pollution control thus, assumes greater significance in the context of ensuring sustainable development through planned industrialisation. Within the social and cultural milieu, certain esteemed indigenous cultural practises like female genital mutilation encourage environmental health problems which in turn bring about maternal and child mortality. They continue up till this day because of long practice and acceptance as part of socialisation and cultural heritage by communities. Thus, this project proposes the use of ecocinema as a tool for advocacy for environmental health risks and a means for ensuring environmental justice. It identifies corruption, poor implementation of laws, greed, lack of accountability on the part of the government and the private sector as the continued cause of environmental pollution and environmental health risks. This thesis also submits that collective action is the way forward for environmentally challenged communities to seek and obtain justice for the harm done to them. This can only achieved when they eschew rancour, selfishness, ethnic bias and dishonesty. Such values can be promoted via ecocinema which conscientizes and empowers them with information and strategies for securing justice from the appropriate authorities. Through critical analysis and interpretation of two ecocinematic films this project consulted a several books, journals, articles, internet, reports and archival documents to authenticate its position. Historical and literary research methodologies are employed to establish its argument while the standard MLA style of documentation was employed in acknowledging works cited in the dissertation.
BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
Environment has been defined as the totality of the physical, economic, cultural, aesthetic and social circumstances and factors which surround the desirability and value of property and which also affect the quality of people’s life. The environment therefore is not restricted to the natural world of plants and animals but also the social interactions between humans as it relates to culture, arts, traditions and religion as well as the interactions between man and the ecosystem. The exploitation and exploration of the natural resources to satisfy the numerous needs of man produces and exposes man to dangerous unhealthy elements. Thus, it is this interaction between man and his environment that produces environmental health challenges. Environmental health disasters exist in virtually all countries and continents of the world including Africa.
Industrialisation, pollution, human need and greed are the sources of environmental health disasters in the world. Since the dawn of industrialisation, economic indices have been regarded as the primary principle for measuring success and progress. As a result, the environment is punitively exploited by humans everywhere.
Granted, we have benefited from industrialisation and technological advances. But these technological and industrial developments have been accompanied by an increasing negative impact on the environment in terms of its pollution and degradation. Industrialisation bears the seeds of environmental damage aided and abetted by both need and greed of man. Activities such as manufacturing, processing, transportation and consumption not only deplete the stock of natural resources but also add stress to the environmental system by accumulating the stock of wastes. The productivity of the industries, however, depends on the supply and quality of natural and environmental resources.
While water, soil, air, forest and fishery resources are productive assets, the pollution of water, air, atmosphere and noise are the by-products of economic development, particularly industrialisation and urbanisation. “Green house effects”, “global warming” and “acid precipitation” are cases in point. Pollution is an “external cost” (sometimes called a “spill-over cost” or a “neighbourhood cost”). Untreated or improperly treated waste becomes pollution, increasing not only private costs but also social costs.
Environmental degradation often tends to become irreversible and imposes damaging costs on the economy resulting in output and human losses, loss of labour productivity from ill- health and loss of crop output. The ecological and social costs of such unrestrained pollution and degradation have put a big question mark on the perceived notion of industrialisation as a way of economic development. Industrialisation is on the increase which is undoubtedly necessary for civilisation, but so is the pollution due to emission of waste generated from these industries.
The industrial pollution due to its nature has the potential to cause irreversible reactions in the environment and hence is posing a major threat to our very existence. Since the carrying capacity of the environment is not unlimited and some areas or ecosystems are more susceptible to adverse environmental impacts than others, unplanned and haphazard industrialisation has substantially increased the risk to the environment. A number of studies have shown that air and water pollution are taking a heavy toll of human life, particularly, in the developing countries through ill-health and premature mortality. Pollution control thus, assumes greater significance in the context of ensuring sustainable development through planned industrialisation. Within the social and cultural milieu, certain esteemed indigenous cultural practises like female genital mutilation encourage environmental health problems which in turn bring about maternal and child mortality. They continue up till this day because of long practice and acceptance as part of socialisation and cultural heritage by communities.
In cognizance of the several sociological and natural adverse effects of environmental health risks and disasters emanating from cultural practises, pollution and degradation engendered by industrialisation, several international conferences have been held starting in 1972 to protect the earth’s resources and humans at large. Several measures and agreements have also being ratified but as we have seen over the years, lip service have been paid to these standards of practise as agreed internationally to the detriment of the greater percentage of humanity and the fragile environment.
To this end, a dynamic, integrated and holistic approach needs to be employed for greater awareness and abatement of these monumental challenges.
Art is as old as humanity itself and has been used to propagate human ideas, experiences, ideologies, feelings, hopes and expectations. From literary to the performative genre, art has played a central role in diagnosing and proffering solutions to several human needs as they occur at any stage of development. The theatre and its various media have been particularly exceptional in transforming and preserving human experiences, nature, failings, triumphs and aspirations into memorable and scintillating performances entertaining as well as educating. Having seen that the problem of environmental health risks or its symptoms cannot be solved by science alone, this project seeks to highlight how film and specifically, ecocinema as an artistic medium can be independently and corroboratively deployed in bringing succour and relief to a hurting world. For the purpose of this discourse, the films Erin Brockovich and Moolaadé will be examined carefully to buttress the objectives of this study.
PROJECT TOPIC- ECOCINEMA AND ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH ADVOCACY: A STUDY OF ERIN BROCKOVICH AND MOOLAADÉ
1.1 Statement of the Problem
Over four decades, Nigeria has been drilling oil from the Niger Delta making huge returns locally and internationally from the sale of crude and other oil related products. In fact, Nigeria’s economy is built around oil than any agriculture or any other mineral. The 2006 UNDP Niger Delta Human Development Report states that:
Local people in the delta are acutely aware of how much wealth oil can produce. Oil and gas alone have generated 40 per cent of Nigeria’s national GDP over recent decades. Between 2000 and 2004, oil accounted for about 79.5 per cent of total government revenues and about 97 per cent of foreign exchange revenues.
But this has scarcely impacted the lives of ordinary citizens in the area as the report further explains, “the Niger Delta produces the oil wealth that accounts for the bulk of Nigeria’s foreign earnings. Paradoxically, however, these vast revenues from an international industry have barely touched the Niger Delta’s own pervasive local poverty. This has spurred formidable challenges to sustainable human development in the region…” (14). Instead it has caused them more harm than good. Oil exploration and production comes with several environmental health hazards and death as we learn from a study conducted by Jon Gay, Olivia Shepherd, Mike Thyden and Matt Whitman who note that oil contamination from drilling processes creates problems that destroy the lives of people living in close proximity to oil camps, wells, pumping stations, and pipelines.
People living on oil-rich sites around the world are subjected to contamination of drinking water, top soil, and livestock due to toxic pollution that can result from the oil extraction process” (2). In the Niger Delta, pipelines, flow stations crisscross people’s homes and communities. The area is known for farming and fishing; but due to oil drilling and monotonous spillage, the farmlands have become infertile, the fishes and other aquatic life have been wiped out setting up a huge socio-economic gap in the area. Loss of lives as a result of fire accidents from blow out in oil wells and flow stations
are well documented, environmental health hazards in the area though not well documented is unavoidably monumental. There are several cases of cancer, kidney failures, respiratory and heart problems, damage to liver, lung, and pancreas are well represented environmental health hazards directly linked to oil contamination in the region.
In view of the various human, social and environmental injustice and violations of local and international standards by the oil companies including Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Agip and others, the Niger Deltans have resorted to all kinds of means to seek redress for the atrocities committed in their communities since the discovery of oil in the early 1960s. Several local and international advocacy, human rights and environmental justice groups, like Friends of the Earth, Social Economic Rights Centre (SERC), Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) among others have risen to draw attention to the region to bring Shell and other multinational companies to justice to the extent of carrying weapons, almost to no avail.
This project aims to find a broad and inclusive solution to the problem in the Niger Delta. The researcher discovered that most of the efforts of the diverse advocacy and environmental justice groups and movements are largely based on individual gains, selfish interests, ethnic and tribal bias. Some of the groups are mere political fronts. Also, a number of the activists are poorly equipped, lack understanding of the demographics of the area; others have been threatened, assaulted or killed and hence are treading with caution. Consequentially, the struggle for the emancipation of the Niger Delta environmental and health crises have largely failed.
This dissertation proposes that what is lacking in this communities and among the oil producing states is collective action. The Niger Delta people are divided along personal, ethnic and political lines not to mention the magnitude of illiteracy, ignorance, pride, and fetish thinking among majority of the people. According to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/collective_action, the term “is traditionally defined as any action aiming to improve the group’s conditions (such as status or power), which is enacted by a representative of the group.”
Thus, except the Niger Delta people agree on all issues relating oil extraction and the justice system it will be far from realising its dream of a environmentally healthy and wealthy status for which it is capable of.
There is power in critical mass; the process has to begin from the grassroots. Environmental health advocates, human rights agencies, civil liberties organisation within and without must work together via re-orientation, seminars, workshops on civil rights and privileges, timely and effective access to information, critical consciousness and education which can be achieved through ecocinema or in conjunction with ecocinema. Once the majority of the people buys into the dream, a positive revolution that will reverse the current status quo like it did in Brazil when Paul Freire developed and applied a method and concept of critical consciousness which ended the culture of silence and inaction that helped the socially dispossessed extricate themselves of internalising negative images of themselves created and propagated by the oppressor (in this case the Federal government and multinational companies) in situations of extreme poverty.
By teaching and empowering the people of Niger Delta to read and write literally and read the world around them (politically, socially, intellectually, spiritually, economically and otherwise) to understand and take their appropriate place as a people, the “enviro-socio-health” injustices will be stamped out drastically. The process however will take time but will eventually as it did in Brazil work out great changes.
The same denominator of lack of collective action that faces oil producing Niger Delta faces the struggle against female genital mutilation around the world. Many African and Asian countries attach myths, taboos and other unconfirmed consequences for girls who refuse to be initiated into womanhood through female genital mutilation. Around the world, female genital mutilation or FGM is a common practice that derogates and devalues the girl-child and women generally. WHO fact sheet published recently on its website notes that, “more than 140 girls and women are currently living with the consequences of FGM” which include painful and/or irregular menstruation, pains during intercourse, complications in child bearing, cancer of the cervix and critically maternal and child mortality.
Advocates have tried to convince different groups of the health dangers of FGM, many hang on to their ancestral, religious inclinations and convictions on why it must not be stopped. Even scholars argue that the dangers notwithstanding, FGM should be encouraged. These school of thought even go as far as naming the practice by other names such as female genital surgery, female circumcision, female genital cutting and so on. However, we shall stick with the term FGM. Another school of thought argue against the practice citing the above environmental health disasters as their basis. Consequent upon the clash of interest, the problem associated with FGM continue spread wide and deep among women around the globe especially in Africa.
The government and especially women should realise that the issue of FGM is particularly dangerous to their future as married women and their children and thus take a common step to end the practice. Again, collective action is the way forward. It is not easy a decision to take. Advocates, human rights organisations and other such related and interested bodies must agree and work closely together to end this barbaric practice and the symptoms that mediate it. Collective action can be taught using the films Erin Brockovich and Moolaade and the result will be outstanding. These two films depicts how collective action
works in rural and urban setting achieving the environmental justice for an oppressed population.
1.2 Objectives of Study
Environmental health challenges are pervasive in our societies today. They permeate domestic life, industries and every area of human endeavour. Human needs, industrial technologies and greed carry the fermenting seeds of degradation. People in developing countries like Nigeria are unaware of the environmental health disasters they court as a consequence of their carefree attitudes towards the environment. The Microsoft Encarta Encyclopaedia asserts that “with almost 80 percent of the planet covered by oceans, people have long acted as if those bodies of water could serve as limitless dumping ground for wastes.”
For instance, Adati Ayuba Kadafa states in his article Oil Exploration and Spillage in the Niger Delta at http://www.iiste.org/ Journals /index.php/CER/article/download/1789/1868&sa.pdf that “An estimated 9 million- 13 million (1.5 million tons) of oil has been spilled in to the Niger Delta ecosystem over the past 50 years; 50 times the estimated volume spilled in Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska 1989.” The thrust of the project is to raise awareness on the causes of environmental health risks, to orient people on the dangers of pollution and environmental degradation, to empower individuals and communities to unite and change their attitudes to their environment instead of waiting for and blaming the government, to use ecocinema as tool for seeking redress for environmental injustices meted out to communities by governments and the corporate world.
The researcher believes that ecocinema can be used a potent weapon to combat the spread of environmental health risks. Alachi submits that film, a media of theatre has been recognized as a unique and powerful “form of communication that upholds social expressions and education as a means of fighting social evils and also stimulating development and communal consciousness among the lower classes” (162). Also relating the significance of film in problem solving, Chris Brooks is of the view that:
We must put in our hands the theatre as a gun, as a weapon…I think any weapon is good for defending oneself. But between m.45 and an m.50 (guns) I prefer the m.50. The problem consists of how to make our theatre a weapon potent and effective, with greater fire power (7).
This project is aimed at using ecocinema as a tool for advocacy to address the challenges facing these communities. A plethora of studies carried out have tended to blame government and the manufacturing sector for their corruption and negligence of the environment. The position of this project is that the people aid the system to disenfranchising them by selfishness of individuals, ethnic bias, illiteracy and compromise that brings distrust and disunity.
Hence this dissertation projects a paradigm shift from the name calling and sees community participatory development and collective action as a way out of this problem. Although it analyses other films to substantiate its argument, this project is limited to the study of two films Erin Brockovich and Moolaadé and guided by the theories of Paul Friere and Augusto Boal. This project maintains that except there is a change in attitude from the government, the corporations, and individual communities, environmental health risks and injustice will continue to limit the potentials of these communities.
1.2 Significance of the Study
In recent times, academic research has gone from unilateral disciplinary approach to interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, intercultural, multicultural and multidimensional quality in order to produce a balanced and holistic approach to problem solving. This thesis seeks such quality by introducing film an artistic or cultural construct as a panacea for medical and sociological catastrophe. The issues treated herein like industrial pollution, environmental injustice and gender discrimination cuts across continents, race, language, age and sex.
These are contemporary environmental health issues that need urgent attention in this age where nature is on the verge of near collapse as human induced degradation rages on without any signs of abating.
Most times, the victims of these problems are helpless because the institutions that perpetrate these evil are the elites in government, and wealthy national and multinational private firms indifferent to the plight of the common man whose lives and source of livelihoods are eroded. Channels of communication and redemption are often inaccessible to them and for this very reason, illness, untold suffering and mortality increases.
This project is significant and relevant to the point where it encourages individuals and communities to look inwards, unite and forge collective action as a way of seeking justice and accountability from the relevant institutions that perpetuate this act of environmental degradation and injustice rather than being indifferent. It promotes the instrumentality of entertainment education in this case ecocinema as a potent weapon to combat environmental health risks and environmental injustice an area that has not been paid attention to in the academia.
The value of the content of this work to researchers, human rights activists, health workers, academicians, students and lecturers within and outside the art spectrum is monumental as this will help forge greater dynamics and comprehensive problem-solving paradigm with reference to the Millennium Development Goals as well as the agenda of the Federal Government to make Nigeria one of the top economies by 2020.
Filmmakers, directors, theatre artists, students through this project will recognize new frontiers to channel their research and creative faculties as new themes, new methods and concepts are available to them for interpretation and re-interpretation. It is hoped that their horizons will be enriched and enlarged by this research work.