When Troubled Waters premiered at the U I missed it (it sold out!), so I was excited to see it available online. Nevertheless, I didn't get around to watching it until yesterday when I decided to use it for an extra credit blog post. I'm glad I finally watched it. The film centers around issues that I already know a bit about generally, but not so much specifically (as in, I knew agriculture polluted waterways, but I hadn't learned about any specific stories).
The focus of the film was industrial agriculture and how runoff from farmlands damages bodies of water; the Mississippi River, Lake Pepin, and the gulf coast were discussed primarily. Essentially, modern agriculture uses immense amounts of synthetic fertilizer, which ends up in local waterways. The fertilizer travels downstream, polluting as it goes, and ends up in the gulf coast, contributing to a massive "dead zone." Dead zones are places where marine life can no longer exist - sediment with fertilizer leads to algal blooms, which die and deplete the area of oxygen. This has had an impact not only on the organisms who used to call the area home, but also on the lives of locals who relied on fishing to make a living. Additionally, the film discussed erosion, depletion of soil fertility, and various, more sustainable alternatives.
As fascinating as the film is by content alone, its release was controversial; for a while the U contemplated not releasing it at all. You can read the full story here. The official reason for pulling the film was that it needed further "scientific review" to ensure its objectivity and scientific accuracy. However, the film had already been reviewed by a number of scientists the previous year. The fact that the person who pulled the film is married to someone in big agriculture further throws that claim into doubt (although they have both denied that claim).
The entire debacle brings up issues of power. I watched the film keeping this in mind and on the lookout for bias. As far as I could tell, however, it was objective and scientific. It didn't name names even when it clearly could have, and it stuck to facts. It didn't even pander to our emotions, as many recent environmentalist films have. It was political, however, as it was critical of the Farm Bill and governmental support of monocropping. This issue of power (we have to ask, who has the ability to restrict something like this, and what are their motives?) is reminiscent of both the "epistemologies of ignorance" article and the unit on democratic science. More and more people are becoming aware of problems within modern agriculture, but many people still do not understand fully its disastrous outcomes. I really liked the final segment, in which possible solutions are given. Farmers who are commit to more sustainable farming by doing things like planting perennial grasses, rotating crops and bringing animals back to the fields are wonderful, inspiring examples of fair, democratic science. Monocropping generates profits, but it destroys the environment. Farmers should not have to choose between profit and ethics, so we really cannot blame farmers who plant those much discussed endless miles of corn. We need to ask why certain practices, like monocropping, are rewarded and we need to think about how to change that.
The film ends optimistically with "we all breathe the same air and drink the same water," so we all have a stake in how farming is performed. Our aim should be to "leave a better planet," and, in this case, that means questioning the way we farm and figuring out how to do it better.