The climate change documentary Time to Choose takes what often seems like an oblique approach to the subject of global warming. As an example, Washington Post reporter Michael O’Sullivan points to the section titled “Coal and Electricity” which devotes a ton of time and attention to mountaintop-removal coal mining. Mountaintop mining is a practice that results not only in flattened lunar-like landscapes where rolling hills and valleys used to be, but in a sludge-like waste product containing arsenic, barium, nickel, lead and other toxins that are stored in vast ponds called coal slurry impoundments. Although the focus of this section is on Boone County, West Virginia (WV), the implication is that these poisons can travel a long way — via waterways that affect the health and safety of people far from the source.
The emphasis on environmental degradation and pollution isn’t a distraction from the theme of rising temperatures; it is the main theme, O’Sullivan claims. Documentarian Charles Ferguson, who won an Academy Award in 2011 for “Inside Job” and a 2008 nomination for “No End in Sight,” knows exactly what he’s doing, which is zeroing in on highly specific local stories in order to make a broader point. Sections on “Oil and Cars” and “Land and Food” delve into problems in the Niger Delta oil industry and palm oil production in Indonesia, along with the successful implementation of Bus Rapid Transit in Curitiba, Brazil. But what do any of these things have to do with global warming?
As California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) puts it, our whole way of life “has to be sensitive to the requirements of nature,” necessitating an “integrated effort” that doesn’t just address one isolated problem but that recognizes the interconnectivity of diet, pollution, energy, agriculture, technology and urban planning.
But Brown sounds like a politician (albeit a progressive, tree-hugging one). In the film’s final chapter, Ferguson finds an even more eloquent spokesman for his message.
Traveling to a Sumatran sanctuary for orangutans that have been displaced from their homes by deforestation — a practice that not only affects whether these animals live but accelerates global warming — Ferguson introduces us to Ian Singleton, the director of the conservation program.
As Singleton puts it: “The battle to save the orangutan is not just the battle to save the orangutan. It’s the battle for climate change. It’s the battle for everything.”