The Netflix Wall, the Netflix Fall

Netflix is the latest in a long list of motion picture technologies, but while sweeping the globe what exactly do these technologies portend for a changing climate?

As far as such things go, March 24th, 2015, marked a momentous day in the annals of film & television in Kiwi land and the land Down Under. As was conveyed to me the day before the occasion by a flabbergasted Canadian I (vaguely) know, "Oh my God! It's coming? I had no idea! Ugh, they've only got, like, six channels here. Kiwis have no idea what they're missing!"

Astoundingly, no. To their credit, Kiwis apparently don't have any idea what they've been missing out on.

When showing to Kiwis the image of the logo I (ahem) created above, not only did I not get a single chuckle, but all I got was blank stares and disinterest. It didn't register in the slightest, as apparently nobody was aware of the inherent reference. But that's most certainly all about to change. Why is that? Netflix has arrived in New Zealand and Australia.

For those non-North Americans who have apparently been living under Ayers rock or something, Netflix is the latest in a relatively long list of motion picture technologies: flip books, magic lanterns, film, television, VHS and BETA, laser discs, DVDs, YouTube, Blu-ray, and now, Netflix. It might be said that Netflix is the ultimate culmination of all the aforementioned, what with laptops, tablets, and smartphones now making motive pictures available when you want them, where you want them.

But as phantasmagorically breath-taking as that may all be, for those aware of climate change and not prone to bouts of cognitive dissonance, a simple question that might pop in one's head is, "wait a second – does Netflix run on pixie dust, or is it burning up yet more fossil fuels and pumping yet more CO2 into the atmosphere?" With the ever-increasing proliferation of HD televisions, tablets, outdoor big screens, YouTube, DVD and Blu-ray players, and now Netflix, one seriously has to wonder: How sincere are we about this climate change thing? Sure, this blog post and the website it's on also contribute to escalating emissions, but it's one thing to try and be part of the solution in a frugal manner, and it's an entirely different thing to be peddling Netflix, 99.9% of which is about as worthwhile to watch as all those trending Internet videos depicting human procreation practices.

As of yet there is very little evidence that as a whole (and even individually) we're all that interested in giving up much – if any – of the creature comforts that temporarily allow us to maintain our lifestyles amongst what we call modernity (which would more accurately be called "the fossil fuel era"). In a New York Times article written last year by columnist Mark Bittman, not only was it stated that "we can devise and build flood barriers," but that "many barriers must be built" (emphasis added).

To take the New York Times as the authority on the subject here (and that's seriously stretching it), are we saying that we're pretty much consigned to burning up all the fossil fuels and erecting a bunch of (Swiss cheese?) flood barriers? Sure, Bittman did also point out that "much coal [must be] left unburned and methane unpiped, many cattle unborn," but if all the movie reviews, advertisements, and other artistic bouts of narcissism that adorn the New York Times can be taken as any indication, then Bittman's words are nothing more than mere lip service. Since Bittman himself stated at The Land Institute's 2013 Prairie Festival that he is a firm believer in "great cities," and since "great cities" are based on massive resource usage (if not resource theft) from surrounding areas, we might as well then be getting on with the business of erecting those flood barriers, while for good measure slapping on some good ol' advertising exemplifying what places like New York City stand for and essentially come down to.

Snatching a selfie in front of the Netflix Wall while it's still in its pristine, Bansky-free state

Similarly, when we see actors speaking before the United Nations in New York City about climate change, not only can one feel sympathy for those that think the U.N. is a complete farce, but also for climate change deniers who see climate change as a conspiracy being pulled off by a supposed New World Order. That is, how seriously can we take the pronouncements of those whose very livelihoods are based on industries which are uber-dependent on not a small amount, but rather massive amounts, of energy – fossil fuels – for their very existence? Just to make it clear, all those cameras, lights, monitors, microphones, editing systems, movie screens, hordes and hordes of television sets, advertising campaigns, movie tie-ins, promotional tours, and so on, are not powered with "renewable" energy, nor will they ever be, for the simple fact that no combination of "renewable" energies can replace the 90 million or so barrels of oil, plus all the rest of the fossil fuels, that the world burns up every day.

Granted, the U.S. did also have an actor as president for eight years (photo by United Nations Photo)

To then see pictures of hundreds of thousands of protesters gamboling down New York City streets in a People's Climate March is to throw absurdity upon absurdity. To be as polite as possible here, the inherent naïveté can be best explained through a few words seen on many of the protest signs: #CLEANENERGY IS HERE (and you can follow the link that the placards display,, for an example of the utter cluelessness at play here – race cars powered by "renewable" energy?).

With a phalanx of actors being given an outsized share of the media's attention at the People's Climate March, what is essentially being said by these voracious consumers and their acolytes (those who patronize them by watching film and/or television) is, "you'd better enact some cuddly new laws to usher in all the wonder-tech that the big, bad oil industry is suppressing, so that that way we don't actually have to change anything about the way we live our lives" – besides, of course, making a few token eco-purchases at Trade Aid Shops and such which look good amongst one's chosen social circles.

People's Climate March, New York City: "We, the undersigned Netflix-ers and narcissists, hereby want to have our planet and eat it too"

To risk belabouring the point, what many of us are currently under is the mass delusion that windmills and solar panels and whatever other cutesy technologies can maintain our voraciously consumptive 21st century lives. Although solar panels and such can be useful in the small scale, contrary to what Film & Television's messenger declared unto the United Nations, there is no chance that "by 2050 clean, renewable energy could supply 100% of the world's energy needs," unless the non-referenced "new research" he mentioned cherry picks the scientific evidence. Although this isn't the place to elaborate on this discussion (at the very least another post would be required, although Ted Trainer's rather textbook-ish Renewable Energy Cannot Sustain a Consumer Society is a good alternative), suffice it to say that "renewable" energies require fossil fuels for their construction, and when they inevitably break down, not only are "renewable" energies unable to meet our voracious 21st century energy requirements in the first place, but on top of that, they certainly don't also have the energy output to power all the repairs and "renew" themselves.

Having said all that, since we're about to go over the far side of Hubbert's peak (the decline of oil supplies due to peak oil), a fair question to ask is, How much longer are the film & television industries going to be financially viable? Or in other words, how much longer will it be until escalating costs (due to increasing oil prices) and decreasing influxes of cash (due to shrinking levels of disposable incomes) take their toll on the film & television industries and lead to increasing layoffs and bankruptcies spreading throughout "the biz," eventually resulting in film & television going the way of the dodo bird? Five Years? Ten years? Twenty years? I really haven't the slightest clue, although Netflix's chief executive Reed Hastings did state the other day that in "10 or 20 years... most viewing in most countries will be over the Internet." However, if the rampant layoffs currently occurring in the fracking industry due to oil in the $50 range (and with fracking being the only thing keeping the world from taking a nosedive off the far side of Hubbert's peak) can be taken as an indication of what is soon to come, then to think that Netflix has a shelf life of ten years, never mind twenty years, may prove to be wildly optimistic. (Regardless of when it occurs, it's what I've nicknamed the Netflix Fall.)

If I haven't been blunt enough already, then let me try to be so now: film is going kaput; television is going kaput; Netflix is going kaput. Titanic part II, featuring the stunning return of everybody's favourite People's Climate March attendee and United Nations Messenger of Peace, is not coming to a theatre near you, a TV near you, or even a Netflix feed near you. Titanic part II is coming to a civilization near you.

No doubt that quitting film & television out of fear-based reactions to the onset of peak oil and the collapse of industrial civilization is not the ideal motivator. I quit both a career in film & television as well as watching the stuff about a decade ago (one year before I'd heard of peak oil), partially because I wanted a more fulfilling life as well as a less superficial livelihood. But the luxury of quitting for such reasons is disappearing as the days go by, getting replaced with the crude motivator of sheer survival.

The sooner we ditch the TVs, evacuate the movie theatres, and rid ourselves of the mind-numbing violence, pornography, vapid advertising, and just plain idiocy – in other words, metaphorically decapitating the Dicaprios of the world – the better position(s) we and our communities will be in in order to deal with the coming (and already occurring) calamities due to climate change, peak oil, and the ensuing collapse of industrial civilization.

Although I'd say that these are issues that need to be widely addressed, our cush jobs and comfortable lifestyles probably aren't going to last very long if we try speaking of such things in front of the U.N. or in places like the New York Times. Not even as an April Fool's joke. In other words, expect to find these discussions in alternate venues.

So next time you sit down with a loved one or line up with a friend, and before you hit the power button on the clicker or buy those tickets, try turning to your companion and saying, "hey, have you heard of that peak oil thing that the New York Times and United Nations avoid talking about? Did you know that industrial civilization has begun its collapse?"

A former filmmaker, now jawboning on the collapse of industrial civili­s­a­tion and the renewal of culture. .