Wednesday, September 17, 2014

‘Tis Not Too Late to Seek a Newer World--the Tickells' PUMP Imagines a Petrol-Free Future

Note: This special guest review is written for TrustMovies 
by Beth Kelly, an environmentally-conscious, Chicago-based 
freelance writer and blogger who contacted me to ask if 
she might write about this film, assuring me that she had no 
personal nor business connection with the film itself nor with 
its creators. Her review seems, to my mind, on the mark 
and now has me most interested in viewing this documentary.

Kicking our foreign oil habit has been a topic of conversation since at least the early 1970’s, when U.S. drivers encountered the effects of two separate oil crises when they went to fill up at the pump. In 1973, members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) stopped shipping oil to the United States and other countries backing Israel in the Yom Kippur War - shocking a generation of Americans that believed oil resources would continue to be plentiful and cheap forever. The 1973 oil shock (below), combined with growing environmental concerns, resource scarcity and rising overseas tensions, elicited a serious questioning of our relationship with oil.

While these concerns linger, the world energy market today is not what it was 40 years ago. Since the crisis in the 1970’s, every national policy we’ve tried as a way to end our oil addiction has failed. In July 2008, when oil prices hit $147 a barrel, reverberations of our dependency on carbon-based resources echoed throughout the global economy. The oil- addicted American household, as it was imagined and invented in the 20th century, was orchestrating its own decline through an unwillingness to re-examine its foundational, oil- stemming weaknesses.

But as many Americans continue to struggle to pay for the gasoline that will transport them to school, work, or elsewhere, others have begun to look for a way to live a life free from fossil fuels. Joshua Tickell, and his wife, Rebecca Harrell Tickell, are such a pair. Fuel, the husband-and-wife team’s first documentary together, was lauded by critics and instrumental in raising awareness of the viability of biofuel alternatives. But the petroleum industry also had something to say about it, launching an impressive smear campaign against the nascent biofuel industry by attesting that ethanol and other non-oil alternatives contain less energy than is required to produce them. The Tickell’s most recent film, PUMP, provides illuminating information against the pervasive Big Oil doublespeak.

Suggesting that we never needed to be addicted to oil in the first place, the film traces the convoluted history behind the crippling of the electric mass transit system, the 70’s gas shock, and the dominant role oil played and continues to play in our foreign policy strategy. Featuring candid testimony from former Shell president John Hofmeister (at right), Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk (two photos below), Internal Combustion author Edwin Black, and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (just below), the Brazilian president responsible for shifting the country to biofuels, the film offers plenty of informed perspectives on the issue.

By making another film that shows replacement fuels in a positive light, Tickell endeavors to propel the biofuel resurgence. Prices at the pump have built a demand for natural gas vehicles, since larger domestic sources of that fuel source mean their availability is not as susceptible to tensions in the Middle East, Russia, or Asia. Natural gas prices and availability have fluctuated little over the past three years, while diesel and gasoline costs are comparatively volatile. PUMP advocates for two “monopoly busting fuels,” methanol and ethanol, and flex-fuel vehicles that will run on a combination of gasoline or any blend of up to 85% ethanol.

Without indicting the automobile itself, PUMP paints a picture of political leaders that are too spineless to stand up to special interests and an oil-reliant citizenry. It should be obvious that there isn’t enough oil on the planet to satisfy our immense thirst for fossil fuel forever, but to acknowledge this is only a fraction of the battle. In order to make the transition from an oil economy to an alternative plan, as a nation we will have to acknowledge some hard truths about our lifestyle, and may have to undertake some potentially uncomfortable changes to make the ultimate shift away from fossil fuels.

Peter Lehner, the Executive Director of the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), calls PUMP “a must see movie that jump-starts an impor-tant conversation about the crippling costs of our oil addiction,” and there’s no doubt that the issues it explores will make you think hard about the scope of this problem for our times and for future generations - while also suggesting some possible solutions. A documentary that champions the American spirit of innovation, PUMP promises that the same inimitable embrace of progress that got us into this mess will drive us to find a better solution.

Pump, running 88 minutes, opens in theaters this Friday, September 19. Here in New York City, you can see it at AMC's Empire 25 and the Cinema Village; in Los Angeles, look for it at Laemmle's Royal. To see where the film is playing near you, click here and then follow the instructions.

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