The fight to combat global warming and energy dependence was a key domestic issue ingrained in the American psyche roughly a year ago as President Barack Obama and John McCain journeyed on the campaign trail, preaching the importance of sustainability and decreasing America’s dependence on foreign oil. Just as the environmental political platform began to pick up popularity, the financial crisis and global economic woes blew the steam out of environmental issues, making them mere afterthoughts in comparison to the economy.
Yet, just as the importance of energy sustainability seems to be slipping away, there is a documentary that serves as a reminder to keep the environment near the top of our priority list. That documentary is Josh Tickell’s 11-years-in the-making and Sundance-winning “Fuel,” which takes an in-depth look at America’s addiction to oil and emphasizes the need to switch to alternative energy in order to be energy-independent and sustainable.
The film was screened at University Town Center 6 theater with Tickell present to introduce the film, “Fuel” begins with Tickell, a sustainability major in college, as a youth in a part of Louisiana known as “cancer alley,” an area sidelined along the Mississippi River, which is populated with a plethora of petrochemical plants that have destroyed the local environment and led to many complicated health problems for local residents. Angered by having seen an area go into ruin due to corporations taking advantage of oil-rich Louisiana, Tickell embarked on a mission to promote environmentally-friendly, sustainable fuels, traveling the country in his “Veggie Van,” fueled by used vegetable oil from fast-food chains. Through this, he gained a following by demonstrating biodiesel’s mileage efficiency and decrease in greenhouse emissions.
While advocating biodiesel, Tickell thoroughly explains the historical and political factors of America’s dependence on oil, criticizing oil companies and the U.S. government for ensuring that Americans remain addicted to fuel so that the corporations could continue to make windfall profits. Tickell points to the motivations behind the Iraq war and the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina that should alone demonstrate why America needs to turn to alternative fuels such as biodiesel, created from processes involving algae, a process that could be limitless.
In this regard, the documentary presents a detailed analysis of how America has grown to become so dependent on oil and that unless America changes its attitude soon, the long-term consequences could be quite costly to the citizens and the environment.
In addition to Tickell’s own efforts to promote biodiesel, the documentary contains interviews from actors and musicians supporting alternative energy, such as Woody Harrelson and Willie Nelson, as well as Virgin mogul Richard Branson, who has introduced biofuels for Virgin Atlantic’s planes. This support from major figures gives “Fuel” a beam of optimism and the potential to change rather than simply present a pessimistic situation of doom and gloom.
Having “shot more footage than ‘Apocalypse Now’ ” according to Tickell, “Fuel’s” more than 500 hours of footage cut down to an approximate two-hour running time give the documentary a lean, cohesive structure that doesn’t drag, allowing it to remain highly informative without sounding too scientific or complex. Also, the graphic visuals showing the destructiveness of petrochemicals or how certain biofuels work provide clear explanations that make the documentary easy to follow for viewers. In essence, “Fuel” explains the situation so that someone without any knowledge on alternative energy could easily understand it.
Following the film and an enthusiastic reception from the audience, Tickell participated in a question and answer session with the audience.
“The perspective we need to take is that every technology can be sustainable at a community level,” Tickell said.
Regarding how the environment has taken a bit of a backseat in the wake of the economic downturn, Tickell explained that Americans musn’t view the environment as a luxury. “People don’t see a connection between the environment and economy, yet the foundation of our economy is the environment,” Tickell said.
Tickell further stressed that Americans need to follow in the footsteps of Europe, who have been quicker to switch to alternative fuels and energy.
“We will have to modify our behavior and become more like Europe,” Tickell said.
While “Fuel” is still in its early stages of release, Tickell has high hopes for the film and hopes to take it to the nation’s capital so that it can have an impact on the current administration.
All in all, the main purpose of the film is to bring about greater awareness concerning the need to get away from oil dependence and move toward sustainability. “We are trying to catalyze a green movement,” Tickell said.
“Fuel” is currently playing at University Town Center 6. For more information, visit www.thefuelfilm.com.