In the Spring of 2016 I taught a course entitled Environmental Ethics at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, PA. One of the assignments was for the students to choose an environmental film and write a review in which they address the question of who or what is to be included in moral consideration, according to the film. They also needed to take and justify an ethical position on the environmental problem depicted in the film using the theological, ethical and philosophical vocabularies we covered in class. Finally, they were asked to explore the ambiguities and challenges of the problem and articulate what they would suggest a viewer do after watching the film.
I invited some of the students to share their reviews as a guest blog post. Here is one by:
Dr. Leah Schade
Film Review: Groundswell Rising
The film Groundswell Rising illustrates the atrocities being committed by large fracking companies and tells of the miseries faced by those whose lives have been affected by the drilling. “Fracking” is a process used to extract natural gas from the earth. In my analysis of fracking, I will look at the pros and cons of the process. I will discuss the impact it has on the lives of employees of fracking companies, residents who live in areas where fracking has taken over, children, and future children whose chances of being born with birth defects from genetic mutations are extremely high. In my address of these topics, I will refer to the ideas of Immanuel Kant as well as the concept of utilitarianism and consequentialism. Finally I will make suggestions as to what a viewer could do as a course of action against fracking following the viewing of the film.
The film followed the lives of a handful of people whose lives and those of their children are directly affected by fracking. Within the first five minutes of the film, a list of all the chemicals used in the fracking process scrolled through the screen. The “words” that followed appeared to be a different language. The list of chemicals contained a maximum of three words that I could pronounce. These chemicals pollute the water supply of the people in the surrounding area. They then drink the water and are forced to suffer the consequences. Parents in the fracking areas of Colorado created a coalition when they realized that their children were suffering from health problems that were caused by breathing in the gas released by the fracking sites. The ailments ranged from chronic nosebleeds to asthma to autoimmune disorders.
Children are not the only victims of the chemical pollution in the water. Sandra Steingraber was diagnosed with bladder cancer at an early age. Doctors attributed the cancer to poor quality of drinking water. Today she campaigns against fracking because of the negative effects the process has on water supplies.
Companies also have little regard for those that they employ to work in direct contact with all these chemicals. Later in the film, viewers are introduced to Randy Moyer who suffers from lesions on his skin, swelling of the lips, mouth, and tongue, as well as other symptoms which doctors have not been able to explain. Moyer was responsible for cleaning the condensation tanks, where the gas compressed into liquid form. “They didn’t tell ya what was in there. They just said ‘Get in there and clean it,’” he recalled.
Another idea to be considered is that by consuming the chemicals in the water there may be other side effects other than sickness. Chemicals have the ability to alter the genetic makeup of cells. These mutations are permanent and would then be passed from parents to offspring, meaning that the child would be born with birth defects, illnesses, ailments, etc. This means that the conversation over the morality of fracking includes the future children of people who live in areas where fracking occurs.
The next victim I will discuss does not drink contaminated water. She does not suffer from cancer or asthma. Rather, this victim is assaulted and raped just for profit. Mother Earth is drilled into, and subsequently filled with explosives. The detonations shake the Earth, causing miniature earthquakes. All of this is done just so that natural gas can be removed from the ground and sold. According to Mark Wallace, author of Green Christianity, “The earth is not dead matter, but a living being—in biblical terms, it is God’s ‘creation’—and, as such, it is deserving of our love and protection,” (Wallace 28). Wallace takes the position that just as we should “love thy neighbor,” we should “love thy earth,” as it is as much of a living being as we are.
This notion of a universal ethical command can be understood in terms of Immanuel Kant’s theory of the Categorical Imperative. The universal principle here is that a person should act in such a way that would be acceptable to all human beings. This idea is essentially the Golden Rule of treating others the way you want to be treated. Mother Nature needs to be included in this principle. To relate this to the film, executives of fracking companies may feel differently about the process if they were the ones suffering from the effects of nearby fracking. The theory can be connected to the earth by understanding that we should do everything in our power to make sure that the earth has everything it needs in order to flourish.
Ecofeminist theologian Ivone Gebara adds yet another level of understanding to the concept of the Golden Rule: “If we have excessive love for ourselves, we will fall into a sort of unlimited narcissism and the virtually implacable destruction of others,” (Gebara, in This Sacred Earth, 409). This quote implies the need for balance. The companies in this situation have “too much love for themselves” and are only interested in creating profit refusing to care about the people who are affected by their work.
There are challenges to the elimination of fracking, however. Obviously, creating a new business or expansion requires more work, which would create more jobs. Someone who needs to feed a family will likely not turn down an opportunity for work, regardless of the task. The other challenge I see is that extracting more oil appears to produce cheaper energy, which allows for struggling families to afford the energy that they need. But government subsidies for the fossil fuels industry obfuscate the true cost of the energy.
At the conclusion of the film, a list of milestones appears, citing numerous groups that one could be inclined to join. The groups campaign for the ban on fracking in numerous states. They have succeeded in the city of Pittsburgh as well as the entire state of New York. What this film conveys is that despite the benefits of fracking, a moral person cannot overlook the atrocities taking place against the earth and its people.
1. Gebara, Ivone. "The Trinity and the Problem of Evil." This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment. By Roger S. Gottlieb. New York: Routledge, 1996. N. pag. Print.
2. Wallace, Mark I. Green Christianity: Five Ways to a Sustainable Future. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2010. Print.