'Being the Change: A New Kind of Climate Documentary' (Review)

Screen capture. Vimeo/New Society Publishers (used with permission)

A follow-up to the book by the same name, this intriguing film shows how one American family has weaned itself off fossil fuels.

A year ago, I read Peter Kalmus' inspiring book, "Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution" (New Society Publishers, 2017). The book explains how Peter, his wife Sharon, and two kids reduced their carbon emissions by more than a factor of ten between 2010 and 2014, going from emitting an estimated 20 tonnes annually to 2 tonnes. They did so by riding bikes, driving an old waste vegetable oil-powered car, ditching air travel, growing their own food, becoming vegetarian, and more.

Now the book has been turned into an hour-long documentary film, titled "Being the Change: A New Kind of Climate Documentary." Directed by Mary Grandelis and Dave Davis, the film re-tells Kalmus' story through film, allowing viewers to see exactly what Kalmus does on a daily basis to reduce his carbon footprint.

Being the Change documentary

© New Society Publishers (used with permission)

The film shows Peter at home, sorting food he has sourced from dumpster dives and fruit picked from local trees. It shows him caring for backyard chickens, repairing broken devices, leading group meditation, and tending to his 'humanure' toilet. He's seen driving his ancient car Maeby (cleverly named by Sharon for "maybe we'll get there, maybe we won't"), collecting waste vegetable oil to power its engine, and commuting to work on a bicycle.

All of these things are discussed in great detail in the book, but seeing them somehow makes them more real and doable in one's own life. Similar to the book, the film is full of Peter's own thoughtful observations about the world. He doesn't shy away from awkward discussions about air travel and population control, topics that many people dread confronting. He explains, simply and logically, why he does not fly anymore:

"If you decide not to fly, and the plane goes with an empty seat, it is true, it is almost the same amount of emissions. If 300 people decide not to fly, then they fly one less plane, and there's less emissions. If 3,000 people decide not to fly, then they fly 10 fewer planes and there's much less emissions."
Peter meditating on a mountaintop

© New Society Publishers (used with permission) -- Peter meditates on a mountaintop

Similarly (and this was something I appreciated in his book), he challenges our culture's obsession with technology and our assumption that it will save us.

"There's this desire that we have in our society to just solve all of our problems with technology. But I think there are some situations where more technology isn't the best option. The burning of fossil fuels has really fuelled this myth of progress, this myth that we can do anything with technology. And now it's gotten us in a bit of trouble with global warming."

Instead, he advocates a more traditional, less tech-driven approach to reducing one's impact. This method, he explains, saves him money, whereas he has acquaintances who choose more expensive ways, such as installing solar panels and solar water heaters, building LEED-certified homes and driving electric cars. He doesn't criticize this approach, but rather shows through personal experience that one does not need to be rich in order to make a difference.

The film is an excellent accompaniment to the book, but I think it would be somewhat confusing to watch as a stand-alone film. There is little explanation given up front as to who Peter is, what he's doing, and why his project should be of interest to the average person. (It gets explained much later on.)

So, read the book first, and then follow it up with this film to see Peter's aspirational life in action. It will push you to make real changes in your own life; and even if these seem like just a tiny drop in the bucket, as Peter's friend Rob Greenfield says, "Individual action is every bit as important as collective action." Together, we can be the change and make a difference. Then go out and tell the world about it:

"If you reduce your emissions, that's good. But [you need to] let the world know you're doing that. If you're an artist, make art about it. If you're a musician, make music about it. If you're a writer, write about it. However you can, get the word out."

Order "Being the Change" DVD here: $14.99