19 May 2014

Last Call at the Oasis -- The Review

I watched this movie (IMDB and trailer) yesterday.* It covers "the end of abundance" in the US. Jessica Yu directed it based on Alex Prud'homme's book The Ripple Effect, which I haven't read.

The start of the film discusses water scarcity and then it moves to water quality problems. The film has excellent production values (helpful graphics and good video clips). The intercutting of news and facts with interviews with experts (Erin Brockovich, Jay Famiglietti, Peter Gleick, Robert Glennon, Tyrone Hayes, Paul Rozin, Sissy Sathre and Aaron Wolf) was really well done.

Pat Mulroy makes an appearance, with her familiar claim that "Vegas is gonna grow and we're gonna need water. Whaddya gonna do? Keep people from drinking?" I continue to cringe at her hopeless growth antics.

The best (original) part of the movie was a segment on how to name and market recycled water so that people would accept "toilet to tap" as a reasonable alternative to running out of water or relying on desalination. Here's a clip of Jack Black endorsing "Porcelain Springs" bottled water.

The worst scariest part of the movie involves water pollution in the midwest, where agribusiness is poisoning groundwater (the movie discusses atrazine, but there are many more chemicals). Another GREAT idea (born of Brockovich's frustration with mounting requests for help) is a crowdsourced "health map" for the US, which helps people see -- and add -- pins for issues in their area. If government won't do it, then citizens have to.

I have two criticisms (or suggestions) on how the movie could have been better. The first is that the movie -- by focussing on the US -- appears to support a view that these problems are unique to the US.** Yes, there is a segment on how "Australia today is the US in the future," but I think several points would have been strengthened by noting that US problems also show up in other parts of the world (often in scarier forms).

From this point, I'd also add that the movie is weak at diagnosing the source of problems and suggesting solutions. I would have blamed incentives and institutions over evil corporations, poor regulators, and psychological barriers. Both of my books focus on solutions so readers can see how different actions may address their concerns. The movie ended with a stay in touch link, but I would have ended with some examples of how higher prices to water users or polluters could reduce problems.

Bottom Line: I give this movie FOUR STARS. Watch it to learn about the problems. Read Living with Water Scarcity to learn how to solve them.

* I got a press release in 2011 but couldn't get a screener from the producers, so this review may be a few years late!

** I sent this article on crazy flooding in Bosnia/Serbia to a colleague in Hungary, who said those floods are the new normal. He was surprised to see the floods covered in a Florida paper, but I was not. Flooding is the new normal in Florida and many other places where the frequency of climate-change-compatible events is rising.

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