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Renewable energy sources like wind and solar have long been seen as the key to reversing climate change. But a new documentary from Toronto-based environmentalist and filmmaker Julia Barnes challenges that notion. In Bright Green Lies, Barnes’ second film based on a forthcoming book of the same name, the award-winning filmmaker highlights the environmental costs that come with building out renewable infrastructure – from the harms of mining for metals to create batteries and wind turbines to the adverse impact of dams on waterways and wildlife. The film argues the need for a radical reduction in how we consume energy, calling on Canadians to rethink how our society functions.

Here, Barnes talks about the process of making the film and the challenges her team faced.


What led you to the decision to make a documentary on this subject?

Julia Barnes (JB): I spent three years working on a documentary about the ocean, Sea of Life, and the big issues that are facing it, and the last person I ended up interviewing for the film was Derrick Jensen. We spent a long time talking about the ocean, but I asked him about renewables and whether they were going to be the solution that everyone thinks they are. He told me he was working on a book all about this issue, called Bright Green Lies.

He started listing off statistics that blew my mind, and I thought, ‘This is the most important issue that nobody is really talking about. This is what I have to make my next documentary about.’

What were some of the most challenging parts of making this documentary?

JB: I guess the most challenging thing was figuring out what to include and what not to include. There’s so much that’s covered in the book that not all of it can go into a movie. But I really wanted to focus on a key mindset and philosophy that underlies the view of renewables as saviours despite the environmental harm they can cause.

I think if we’re really going to turn these issues around, we need to be more biocentric. We need to think, ‘What does the world really need?’ and not, ‘How can we keep extracting from it?’

We need to stop solving for the wrong variable and stop taking this high energy way of living as a given.

Julia Barnes, Toronto-based environmentalist and documentary filmmaker

What do you want the average viewer, or the average environmentalist, to take away from this film?

JB: I hope that we can start to reclaim the environmental movement and make it once again about protecting the natural world and not about how we’re going to keep fueling this system that is destroying the natural world. I hope that people realize there is a divide, and not all environmentalists support these so-called renewable technologies. We need to reclaim that side of environmentalism and make that what’s prominent again.

We need to understand that there is no green form of industrial energy production. We need to stop solving for the wrong variable and stop taking this high energy way of living as a given.

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That’s one of the main messages of the movie: radically changing the way we consume energy. What can Canadians do to start?

JB: I think we need to stop asking what we can do as individuals and start asking, “What does the planet really need?” It’s important to get involved with a group or an organization – probably small-scale, grassroots organizations. Being more than just one person gives you a lot more power.

What was your most shocking discovery while making the film?

JB: The most surprising thing was finding out what the “green” tech industry’s impact could be on the ocean. There are plans to mine the deep sea for materials that are used in batteries for electric cars and grid energy storage for solar and wind. The ocean could become a sacrifice zone in the name of consumption, including for green technology. We’ve got to wake up and realize there’s nothing green about destroying the world.


Bright Green Lies will premiere virtually on April 22, Earth Day. The premiere will include a Q&A session with Barnes and the three authors of the book Bright Green Lies, Max Wilbert, Derrick Jensen and Lierre Keith. Visit brightgreenlies.com to get tickets.


Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with Julia Barnes. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.