Sounding the Alarm about an impending Water Crisis
Last Call at the Oasis was very well-received at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. This is hardly surprising since Austin has a reputation as an environmentally conscience city and all of Texas has been suffering from a drought. The film is a very well-organized and sophisticated presentation about the problems around water both in the U.S. and internationally. In doing so the filmmakers (some of whom worked on the excellent film Food, Inc.) are drawing attention to a subject that is rarely discussed. They discuss a whole range of issues including the future shortage of fresh water, effects of climate change, environmental water pollution by industrial polluters, pollution caused by pesticides, and the privatization of water through the bottled water industry. They offer a number of solutions including conservation and behavioral change, water recycling, repairs to the water infrastructure, more efficient agriculture, and somewhat less enthusiastically desalinization. They use a wide range of footage from around the U.S., Australia, and the Middle East. The presentation between different issues and places flow together quite seamlessly. The film is a wake-up call on an issue that is often politically invisible. While solutions exist, they make clear that what is absent is the political will to address a serious long-term problem that hasn't penetrated the popular consciousness. Like so many other issues, politicians don't want to think about it if it doesn't have any immediate consequences for their next re-election.
The film is impressive and a bit terrifying. This is both a weakness and a strength. They are attempting to draw attention to an important issue that is being widely ignored, but at the same time they seem to fall into the alarmist tone of impending doom that is often – some would say too often - heard from the environmental movement. I've heard academic scholars (particularly those who study the Middle East) talk about future water wars and an impending water crisis for more than 20 years and somehow the crisis never quite arrives. Sometimes creating a little fear is necessary to promote political and behavioral change, but it can also lead to despair, anger, and frustration. This approach can also undermine the credibility of the doom-sayers if they appear to be crying wolf about a crisis that never arrives. Either way, Last Call at the Oasis is a valuable and informative presentation that many Americans need to hear about since this issue isn't even on most of our political radar screens yet.
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