Alexander Carnera is a Danish essayist and writer.
ECOLOGY: Have we lost nature?

Earth takes us on a journey to 7 different places around the world, where enormous swaths of land are transformed beyond recognition as a consequence of humanity’s relentless growth, consumption, our lifestyle, and affluence. We see this in the extraction of minerals for copper (Riotinho, Spain), coal for energy (Matra, Hungary), roads for transport (Brenner, Austria), marble for kitchens (Carrara, Italy), oil from tar sands (Ford McKay), or simply soil and bedrock transformed to make room for ever more people in ever-larger houses. To these ends, unfathomable resources and baffling technologies are employed, but it is also a painful story of the apparent helplessness of humans and a glaring absence of historical conscience.

Human imprints

Aerial shots of enormous areas being transformed immediately reveal the human imprint on the earth’s surface – roads, lines, and fractures like scars in an unknown soul. None of the participants leave any doubt with respect to the impacts of this extraction on the earth. Yet, they are all resigned when it comes to imagining alternatives. North of Sacramento, having removed hills and slopes in a valley, a worker explains: «City development begins with the removal of the soil. The population is growing, they need to live somewhere, what can we do?» This human sense of powerlessness is a constant theme in the film. Even the white marble mountain of Carrara is dismantled at breakneck speed: «Soon there will be no more, and we’ll have to search on Mars or on the moon.»

Powerlessness?

More nuanced remarks come from the worker in the mineral mines of Riothino, extracting copper for our increasingly technological lives: «The current rate of extraction is not sustainable. Either we have to balance our economy and consumption with the sustenance of nature, or we keep up our beliefs in the rational consumer, and this system won’t exist much longer.» There is a sense of powerlessness because we have given up our faith that things can be different. But we have also given up learning from history. People don’t learn from history, the employee says: «It is not just about the exploitation of the earth, but also of people exploiting other people.»

When the colonial powers entered Africa in 1949, Camus said: «They no longer have any faith that they can stop anything. This is the core of the problem.» People of our current era reject the power of the individual to understand and change themselves and others. It is as if we have lost our faith in the individual’s sphere of influence.

Earth-Erde-post-MTR
Earth, a fim by Nikolaus Geyrhalter#

In Brenner (Austria), a hydraulic cutting blade slices through a mountain in a literally trailblazing project. Because of the increasing transport of goods and cars, yet another multi-lane highway needs to be constructed. Here, the workers are blessed in a communal prayer for the local saint to guard the imminent tunnel boring! The expert proudly explains: «When we drill into nature’s rocks, millions of years old, we must respect it and hope that it cooperates.» Which sounds like a sanguine hope.

Something other than ourselves

In northern Hungary, by the Matra Mountains, brown coal is extracted for energy as, some years ago, a 5 million-year-old forest of swamp cypresses was discovered with fossils of tree trunks up to 6 meters tall.

At the national museum, we are told that dinosaurs dominated the planet for a time vastly greater than humans. They appeared 200 million years ago and died out 65 million years ago. The difference is that humanity is changing the conditions of the planet to a much greater extent than other species. The leader of the coalmine: «I no longer feel any connection to those trees that once were here. They are just obstacles that need to be removed.» But one of the workers tells the story of a glacier he visited on holiday, which has disappeared in just a hundred years, even if it has been there for millions. The sight left him deeply concerned. Only in the last 30 years, enormous changes have occurred, and coal mining is among the causes.

humanity is changing the conditions of the planet to a much greater extent than other species.

These comments made me think that what we call powerlessness might have to do with the fact that we have lost nature. In contrast to other periods, we no longer have an outside – we no longer live in close relation to the changing seasons, cycles, the rites of passage, and death as a horizon for life; the comfort of nature as a higher level of life and a greater organism – all this is something that we have lost.

The film ends with dismal images of Native Americans driving through the Canadian landscape around Fort McKay where oil has been extracted for decades from the tar sands. Along the roads and deep into the landscapes of trees and barren soil, everything is grey and dead.

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