Thursday, September 24, 2009

"Earth Days": a kinder, gentler PBS-style documentary about the history of environmentalism

The historical documentary "Earth Days" (website ), directed by Robert Stone, distributed to theaters by Zeitgeist, turns out to be a PBS film made under the auspices of WGBH in Boston, for the “American Experience” series. The style in historical storytelling about the environmental movement is more relaxed than many documentaries, but the use of actual film footage mostly from the 50s and 60s is quite effective.

Stuart Udall, astronaut Rusty Schweikart (a character in Apollo 13) congressman Pete McCloskey, Paul Ehrlich, and Hunter Lovins appear frequently.

Early on, the film presents Rachel Carsons and the effect of her 1962 book “Silent Spring.” Politicians are shown making grim predictions about future global warming and pollution (although in 1979 there were also concerns about a new ice age).

The film discusses and shows (especially with ribbon cutting on interstate highways and fin cars) the materialism of the 1950s, but also suggests that people were turning to material things as social relationships and families got weaker, perhaps the result of industrialization. That’s a “pro-family” argument known from writers like Allan Carlson (“The Natural Family”).

But the 1968 book “The Population Bomb” by Robert Ehrlich focused attention on what at the time sounded like exponential population growth, leading to a mentality, especially among educated women (and then gay men), that there were better things to do with one’s life than have large families, setting up today’s culture wars.

The film has a few impressive shots of Earth as seen from the Moon.

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