A thousand people watching a climate documentary on a coal plant: This Changes Everything

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Last Saturday, a thousand people and myself sat on a field accross Amsterdam’s infamous Nuon coal power plant and watched a premiere of This Changes Everything, a documentary inspired by Naomi Klein’s latest book. We don’t know yet if it changed anything, but it for sure was a very impressive feat, to be credited to the organizers, Greenpeace NL, Fossil Free NL and Milieudefensie.

The Facebook event to the screening, scoring 1700 attendees and up to 5800 invitees, had triggered my expectations. As I walked onto the field and looked at the mob, then up at the huge and perfect screen formed by the power plant against the dramatic backdrop of the nearby incinerator, I realized this was a massive success.

‘ This Changes Everything ‘ had nothing revolutionary, but was good enough for the (activating) purpose

In a work trail that span over 4 years, journalist-activist Naomi Klein and film director Avi Lewis followed community struggles against harmful business practices and governmental choices. In the documentary, we meet goat herders in Montana, indigenous activists in Canada, Indian villagers protecting their beloved wetland against the project of a coal plant, and Greek families in turmoil.

Not the most original in climate documentaries, these stories offer however some precious pieces. Thanks to the director’s taking time to follow these communities over several years, the spectator is able to witness the Indian wetland dwellers’ struggle take larger momentum and finally conquer the cancellation of the coal plant project. One might want to know more – for instance, understand how and why this particular battle was won, a thirst that will not be satisfied in the movie that offers mainly a high level overview of a carefully chosen stories.

Interesting elements of the film tackle less well-known aspects of the climate crisis. Director Avi Lewis takes us inside a conference of climate skeptics, exposing the roots of denial. Lewis also makes it a point to highlight the drastic anti-pollution measures taken by China, contradicting many of the common beliefs about China’s role in climate change.

« From my time filming in China, there was not debate about GDP. The number one subject in China is the cost of that growth, everyone is concerned by the very cost of the GDP! », he later emphasized.

An ode to organizing, the movie showcases the power of the people around one central argument : what if the climate crisis was not a curse, but a unique opportunity for the people to take power and change society and the economy ? During the live Q&A following the movie -with, yes, Klein and Lewis’s smiley faces still screened onto the coal plant (see pictures in this article’s header), the journalist emphasized the need to « connect the climate movement and the anti-austerity movement », to join forces towards a « coherent group », admiring the transforming potential of such a movement. Furthering her call to action, Klein showcased her Canadian « Leap Manifesto » pulled together with activists, and called for a massive citizen mobilization leading to the Paris Climate Summit.

« The leadership is outside the Summit and we need to showcase that! »

Building on this momentum, Greenpeace organizers swiftly moved to already turning the event into action

With a few quick instructions, a bright light and a good photographer, the screening was turned into a protest postcard, asking Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to take action against climate change.

"We are not going to stop, but climat change is!" reads the image - This Changes Everything movie screening action.

« We are not going to stop, but climat change is! » reads the image.

The event was also an opportunity for the three organizers, Greenpeace, Fossil Free and Milieudefensie, to exhort participants to join the « Climate Parade » on November 29 at Museumplein, the Amsterdam version of the global People’s Climate March, and to present other similar initiatives. We were invited to take part in a group bus trip to Paris to join demonstrations there at the Climate Summit in December. To our delight, we were also able to watch a teaser from the communications geniuses at the Climate Games, a refreshing initiative bringing civil disobedience back in fashion in a fun way – I am hoping to write about them soon.

Apart from the fun and slightly transgressive fact of watching This Changes Everything on a coal plant, this is a good opportunity for many to realize -or remember- that there is a coal plant in Amsterdam. The Netherlands is not all about bikes and windmills, far from it. Even though several will be closed in the coming years, a couple are opening,s o that in 2015 there are five active coal plants in Amsterdam. The Amsterdam harbour is the most important coal transportation platform in Europe. In 2012, renewable energies represented only 4,5% of energy consumption in the Netherlands (source), well below Germany or Spain’s share of renewables, while coal’share was approximately 10-13% (source), natural gas remaining the main energy source in the country. There are indeed many things to change, starting in the Netherlands.