Green Film Reviews: “Normal is Over 1.1”

Normal is Over 1.1 (directed and create by Renee Scheltema) is an award winning film packed with ideas about tackling ecological crisis. Most valuable are the different experts who speak about new approaches and inspiring ideas. This focus on individuals springs from Ian McCallum, director of the Wilderness Foundation, who suggests that human beings are not a keystone species – the world would happily survive without us – but there are keystone individuals who do incredible things to help the environment and effect change. At the heart of the film are questions about currency and resources, especially: is money destroying our planet? 

The film begins highlighting that economic growth is eventually going to outstrip resources. Australian environmentalist Paul Gilding talks about how our future shows not that earth is going to be less hospitable, but that the earth will be full, and economic growth is dead. One thing that I would have liked to have seen flagged up more however are the problematic and racist ways that arguments about population growth are used. 

In “Is the way we think about overpopulation racist?,” Fred Pearce articulates this racism very well, explaining it is not that there is a “population bomb” but there is a “consumption bomb”. Many of the arguments used in fascist eugenics are only a heartbeat away from the arguments used by some environmentalists about population. The dogwhistle subtext blames poor, non-white communities in the developing world for climate catastrophe. In ‘Why We Should Be Wary Of Blaming “Overpopulation” For the Climate Crisis,’ Heather Alberro warns of this danger:

In reality, the global human population is not increasing exponentially, but is in fact slowing and predicted to stabilise at around 11 billion by 2100. More importantly, focusing on human numbers obscures the true driver of many of our ecological woes. That is, the waste and inequality generated by modern capitalism and its focus on endless growth and profit accumulation.

(cf. Blaney 2020).

In fairness, endless growth and profit accumulation are the main focus of the film, and this is extremely valuable.

There are a few odd moments however: there is footage of what seemed to be a white climate activist dressed in a Native American head-dress, and a few shots of the white film-maker (and presumably her daughter) giving money to people of color in developing countries, which centers the white film-maker in a peculiar way. I am also not comfortable with Paul Gilding’s comments about economic growth and developing countries. He tells how that “now it’s their turn to grow” and that this is “morally justified but irrelevant” and “not physically possible.” He goes on to say that “Sometimes it’s just not fair,” though he notes that developed countries need to cut back growth more. I wonder why – if this view was necessary – it was not an expert in the developing world who was consulted. I don’t think that those in the developed world can comment on this issue without it being dubious. Similarly when China’s economy is being discussed, Lester Brown is the expert turned to rather than someone currently based in China.  

But to get back to the experts included, the film provides many very valuable ideas, and Lester Brown’s ideas are in fact very intriguing. With the prospect of potentially hundreds of millions of climate refugees, Brown thinks that the principle threats to state security are not armed conflict or war but climate change, population growth, water, and failing states. Brown’s Plan B recommends:

  1. cutting carbon,  
  2. access to family planning,
  3. the eradication of poverty,
  4. restoring ecosystems.

Brown gives some specific examples for cutting carbon, for example letting gas prices reflect its true cost (costs of ill health effects, environmental effects would make it more like $12 per gallon) and so wind power would become competitive with the full picture of costs and benefits. But wouldn’t this then impact the poorest people and allow the richest to carry on? There are some problems – money being the ultimate culprit. 

Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, had some interesting things to say about systems of money. He described it as a game of musical chairs with continual competition for never-enough money. Debt drives the conversion of everything into money, and perpetuates inequality. Poor countries end up spending 80% of income on food, and are driven off the land so they can’t grow their own.

If technology could save us it would have saved us already according to Eisenstein. He decries as myth the idea that hunter gatherer humans, the origins of human society, had to kill animals, had to outcompete other creatures. He suggests the that hunter gatherers’ lives were relatively easeful with leisure for rituals, talk, and lovemaking. In contrast, modern society and its technological advances have not brought us leisure: we consume more rather than work less. 

Vandana Shiva is impressive in talking about food production and making arguments against pesticides. Her local community farmers have no debt when using native crops and organic soil. She suggests that it is a lie that organic food more expensive. It’s only that in the West and elsewhere, non-organic food is cheaper because it is subsidized. She recommends restructuring the agricultural system. 

Another thought-provoking interview was with Kate Raworth, author of Donut Economics who recommends a  cyclical economic system based on recycling, sharing, and remanufacturing. She points out that we need to have ecosystems of plastic for example that can be remade into new things. Her recommendation for change is to point out corruption and vested interests in production, but also to go ahead and start to create networks of remanufacturing to show that it works. 

Bernhard Lieber who helped to create the Euro currency system has some ideas about changing the system. He suggests that we could use different kinds of currency to change how the economy works. For example, he describes creating a currency in Belgium to motivate people to use less electricity. What if when you put money in the bank it decayed rather than gaining interest? Would that motivate people to stop hoarding? 

But how realistic are all these projects? Lester Brown calls on the example of Roosevelt who set staggering production goals for aircraft and military equipment during World War Two. He took control of the automobile industry and banned them from owning private automobiles so they would work on the military quotas etc. In the end, they exceeded their production goals. Brown suggests that this is what we can do if we become convinced of a need to do it. But how do we convince people? 

Overall, the film is very rich in the variety of ideas that it presents, and it it definitely helpful in understanding how economics, our systems of currency, and money are worsening, even directly guiding us towards climate catastrophe. It also seems to stress that the individual actions of keystone human beings can have huge effects – that the small ripple in the pond can eventually make big waves.

Some of the other projects and people that the film highlights are:

-Misha Teasdale at Greenpop – tree planting. 

-Vava Suresh, snake expert and rescuer.  

-Young activist and singer, songwriter Ta’Kaiya Blaney

-Natalie Issacs at 1 Million Women – preparing women to be leaders in climate change. 

-Happy Fish Harvest aquaponics – recycling waste and creating a circle of production and reuse. 

-Jason Drew’s work using flies to dispose of animal waste, 

Cradle to Cradle from up cycler  Michael Braugart – created edible fabric, completely nontoxic to humans. 

Dominic Palumbo – Moon in the Pond Farm – a farm with its own currency and cooperative. 

-Berkshare – Alice Maggio – a currency that can only be spent in the local area.