After coming across Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s TED talk recently, and already being familiar with his stunning aerial photography, I was excited to see his film Home, about the Earth, and its dwellers. It is probably the most beautiful film I have ever seen. The BBCs Planet Earth is gorgeous, but Home is far better. Every scene is a piece of art, like his photography, but in motion. I would pay to see it in high definition. The first half hour or so is a kind of naturalistic creation myth: true, but poetic. The formation of the Earth. The rise of the cyanobacteria, and the oxygenation of our atmosphere. The eventual emergence of our own species and the journey we took from hunter-gatherers to pastoralists, to city dwelling, fossil fueled, rulers of the world.
But there it stumbles. While what it says is true, it is not enough. The truth alone is no longer sufficient. The film is blind, or nearly so, to the future that we need to see. It’s too easy, given the truth we have inherited, to envision a dark future. Vague assertions that the solutions are at hand are not enough. He exclaims, and rightly so, that “We don’t want to believe what we know.” For some reason, we are afraid to envision a bright future. Maybe it’s because throughout the 20th century, the bright futures we envisioned often turned dark. Social progress became World Wars and gulags. Technological progress became mustard gas, ICBMs and DDT. Economic progress became the Depression and the disingenuous promise of perpetual growth through the liquidation of our natural capital. I agree that we don’t have time to be pessimists, but fodder for pessimism seems to be almost the only content out there in the environmental sphere. And it’s getting old.