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Documentary asks the big questions at local climate change forum

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SEA LEVELS rising. Glaciers melting. Rampant wildfires, lingering droughts, widespread flooding. Ten straight years of record-breaking temperatures, and it’s only getting hotter.

If anyone still has any doubts about climate change, they’re willfully ignoring the hard proof. The planet’s seasonal cycles have been seriously disrupted, and the dependence of six billion humans on fossil fuels is most certainly the problem.

More than 70 countries have agreed to reduce their carbon emissions under the Paris Agreement, which launched full force last week in an urgent attempt to stave off the worst effects.

Yet most Americans don’t equate the sweltering weather with energy usage, and the topic of climate change was barely touched during the presidential debates.

That, says environmental activist David Kyler, is inexcusable.

“When it comes to adaptation and resilience, there wasn’t a single discussion about reducing the amount of greenhouse gases by regular consumers,” laments Kyler, who is the founder and executive director of Center for A Sustainable Coast.

“Agencies and public officials act as if adapting to climate change is an act of God. Instead, what they should be doing is actively reducing emissions and leading by example.”

Holding local, regional and national leaders accountable for climate change and inspiring meaningful action is the mission of CFCS, which is headquartered on St. Simons Island and tackles environmental issues at the state level. To help Savannahians understand what’s at stake and what can be done, the group will host “Climate Change and the Future of Georgia’s Coast,” a free forum on Friday, Nov. 11 at the Coastal Georgia Center.

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Kyler believes counteracting the flooding and hotter summers already plaguing coastal areas must begin at home. While not everyone can switch to a hybrid vehicle or install solar panels, small acts like using less electricity and buying local produce reduce greenhouse gases.

“Energy efficiency is an effort anyone can make, and it adds up, when others do it, too. It’s like compounding interest,” he says.

“A modest reduction in one household might not do much. But multiplied by several million, that becomes significant.”

While personal actions and the EPA’s Clean Power Plan can help slow the amount of carbon spewing into the atmosphere, Kyler admonishes the government for continuing to support the oil and gas industries while underfunding the development of solar, wind and other alternative energy sources.

“What we really need is consistent federal policy. The U.S. still has lavish subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, something like $50 billion in tax credits and write offs,” he says, adding that fracking for “clean burning” natural gas has just as dire an effect on the environment as burning coal with the added risk of poisoning the water supply.

“That’s more than six times what’s being subsidized for clean energy efforts.”

As elected officials drag their heels, activists say it’s necessary to hold our own feet to the fire. Corporate greed and its wanton destruction present formidable challenges, but they’re not irreversible—if citizens can overcome apathy and mobilize.

To inspire such momentum, Friday’s forum will screen The Wisdom to Survive: Climate Change, Capitalism & Community, an award-winning documentary that examines what keeps us from acting in the best interest of ourselves, the planet and the future.

Heralded as a “stirring call to arms,” The Wisdom to Survive first screened in 2013 and has grown long legs in the documentary film world as the data gets more disturbing.

The NOAA recently released a report that methane emissions from gas and oil production are as much as 60 percent higher than previously thought and now estimates that mid-century sea level rise may double its earlier predictions.

“Turning this around is going to take fast action by people who are aware of the urgency of the matter and are willing to take radical steps,” says the film’s co-director John Ankele.

What we’ve discovered in screenings around the country is that the same question is raised over and over: what can people who aren’t in positions of power do?”

The film clearly presents climate change as the crisis that it is, but its popularity has been in the empowerment of grassroots groups to tap into a global momentum while addressing the issue at the local level—and across agendas.

“There is movement building around the world, what you’re seeing is the movements are connecting,” explains one of the film’s interviewees.

“The environmental movement is connecting to the sustainable food justice movement. The food justice movement is connecting to the women’s movement. The women’s movement is connecting to the LGBTQ movement. So we cannot just simply look at these problems in silos.”

The common thread for all of these groups is the survival of humanity on a planet where large swathes of coastal areas will become inhabitable over the next century. Collaboration is not only possible, but necessary.

“One of the things the film does is show how the pieces can come together to focus that power to make policy, or at least push policymakers to make climate change a priority concern,” reiterates Ankele.

The 55-minute doc follows longtime climate change activists including journalist Bill McKibben, author Joanna Macy and biologist Roger Payne as they tirelessly educate and advocate while maintaining an unflagging hope for the future.

“One of the things about this film that I feel is impressive is that all of these people are not giving up,” says Ankele.

“When you hear these strong voices together, you realize there’s a lot being done—and that there’s a place for everyone, wherever you interests and energies lie.”

That place can be found at Friday’s forum, where Kyler, environmental activist Steve Willis and others will explore possible long range strategies for Savannah, Brunswick and other coastal communities. While South Carolina and Florida have outlined policies, Georgia’s elected leaders, including Rep. Buddy Carter, continue to deny climate change as a factor in future economic growth and infrastructure projects.

“Thirty-four states—and almost all coastal states—have a climate change action plan—but not Georgia,” says Kyler with disbelief.

“We’re trying to make up for that lack of initiative at the state government level by doing it in the private sector.”

In addition to rallying residents and consumers, local activists hope to bring insight and opportunity to the area’s business community about the flooding and other effects coming to the coast sooner or later.

“We may not be able to stop climate change, but we’ve got to do as much as we can to find out,” declares Kyler.

“Doing nothing isn’t really an option.”

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