The DC Environmental Film Festival, which took place from March 17 to March 29, 2015, was a roaring success. Documentaries about a variety of environmental, energy, and climate issues from around the world were shown at a variety of venues throughout Washington D.C. EESI was able to speak with Hal Weiner, the director behind the documentary Extreme Realities: The Link Between Severe Weather, Climate Change, and Our National Security. Extreme Realities is the latest documentary in a series called Journey to Planet Earth, hosted and narrated by Matt Damon, which looks at the relationship between human interactions and the environment. Extreme Realities focuses on the link between climate change and international security. The documentary investigates several cases where climate and weather-related events have contributed to conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, the Arab world, and belligerent actions in the Arctic Circle over natural resources.

Weiner said the idea for this documentary stemmed from an experience he and his wife, Marilyn, had while filming another documentary on cholera in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The pair had a free day to explore the city and it turned out the following day was going to be the Bengali New Year festival, Pohela Boishakh. As journalists, the Weiners were allowed to scout the venue reserved for the media, where they would be best situated to capture the festivities on film. The day of the event, over 100,000 people arrived to partake in the celebrations. As Hal and Marilyn made their way to the place reserved for media personnel, Marilyn had a bad feeling about it, and said they should not go. Instead, they moved onto an overpass overlooking the park and the festival. About a minute later the first bomb went off, and another detonated 30 seconds later. Weiner recounted in our interview:

Suicide bombers killed 10 of our colleagues and about 20 others in all the locations where journalists were. So instead of filming festivities, we were filming body parts and dead bodies. But for us, that raised the question of why? Why was there a terrorist event where there shouldn’t have been [one]? The more we delved into it, the more we understood there were a number of environmental pressures, coupled with political pressures, coupled with other pressures and that’s when we started looking at the link and 10 years later we did Extreme Realities.

The notion that climate change plays into national security has been gaining traction since 2012, when the Department of Defense (DOD) first included climate change as ‘threat multiplier’ in its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). The DOD states in the QDR that climate change “effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.” Extreme Realities discusses several stories about how irregular weather patterns, exacerbated by climate change, have indeed led to environments rife for civil unrest. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has also been examining climate change as a national security threat and earlier this year, President Obama included climate change in his 2015 National Security Strategy. Despite the military’s claim this is a pressing issue which must be examined and actively planned for, members of Congress have proposed legislation to strip these agencies of funding for climate change activities. Weiner says Extreme Realities grapples with this issue, but goes further to say:

Climate change has become an ideological issue, not an issue of science. Climate deniers do not deny climate change because of the science, or because of their religious beliefs or anything like that, they deny it because of ideological reasons, which is primarily money, that’s an issue . . . it’s a serious problem when you have corporations like the Koch brothers and oil companies spending huge amounts of money and giving huge amounts of money. Politicians will not try to promote answers to the climate change problem because of money, it’s all about money.

Regardless of your views about climate change, Extreme Realities is an excellent narrative of how climate and weather patterns have affected international security in the past and is certainly deserving of our attention. Watch Extreme Realities here.


Author: Samuel Beirne