Review of ‘Arctic Circle’

On May 31 in the evening about two dozen gathered in the assembly room of the public library to watch the two-part NFB film ‘Arctic Circle‘. The first part shows the decrease of wildlife, especially polar bears. The second part shows the increase of oil and natural gas drilling in the Arctic, especially by Norwegian effort–a technological marvel but an ecological nightmare.

Meanwhile I am reading Mike Bell’s call for a life-centred justice based on the work of Thomas Berry. He calls this ‘Earth Jurisprudence’ (‘the concept that the planet and all of its species have rights’), which is contrary to the anthropomorphic notion of human-only justice in, for example, the U.S. Bill of Rights. He offers hope which the film lacks.

That the Arctic–and each of us–needs such a life-centred justice is graphically evident in the film, especially watching the starved bears, who are the top predators of a delicately balanced food chain. Recent human exploration and drilling is upsetting that balance. Drilling contributes to climate change, which melts the ice on which the bears live most of the year. More drilling, less ice; less ice, less bears.

While the film raises many questions (such as, What are humans doing there?) a question not asked is Do we have time to mend our ways before it is too late? Bell believes that eventually:

our consciousness level will increase. For periods of time there will be two parallel jurisprudences existing together, running side by side, one of them a human jurisprudence, the other, an alternative system–an Earth Jurisprudence. Periodically they may fly further apart; at other times they may come closer together. There will be “moments of grace” when a sort of integration takes place and the rights of the other than human species begin to be recognized within the human jurisprudence systems.

He notes that this will not happen until ‘the situation on our planet becomes more desperate.’ Such desperation was evident in the film. Though beautifully shot and narrated, the film grimly makes clear the risks and hardships of extracting fossil fuels north of sixty. Nevertheless, Bell writes, ‘the process [of developing an Earth Jurisprudence] will continue as it always has–becoming more complex, continuing to differentiate, grow in consciousness and self identity, and enter into new relationships–part of the on-going cycle of life.’ Like a tale of two cities, it is the worst of times, it is the best of times.

The next film, ‘Be The Change’, is on Wednesday, June 20, and promises to be more uplifting. The evening combines the film, the AGM, and a dinner. Please RSVP. The event starts at 6:00 pm.

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