As a documentary, A Sea Change provides its audience with a simple, relatable journey of a grandfather who needs to provide a safe environment for his grandson to grow up into. As an allegory, however, it displays much more poignant and powerful ideas relating to love and loss, of both innocence and tradition through the potential destruction of the environment. The relationship between the storyteller, Huseby, and his grandson, Elias, provides the means for director Barbara Ettinger to explore these themes and use them to convince the audience that in the end, something must change.
Huseby begins his journey as a hunt for information, and as he travels the country learning about the increasing pH of the ocean, his motivation clearly follows him as images and talks with his grandson are brought to the forefront. The audience at this point seems to be parents of any kind, who share the same fears of leaving their children a less than ideal world. The film never really dives deep into the science behind ocean acidification, and this further shows that its intended audience is one less concerned with the physical effects of this environmental shift, and more with the potential moral and ethical effects.
The deeper meanings within this film are present in all of the interactions between Huseby and his grandson. Scenes with Elias portray him as an eager, enthusiastic young child, eager to learn and grow. Huseby shows his desire to facilitate this growth through traditions he learned as a child, but finds that in many cases he is unable to due to changes within the ocean. Huseby’s childhood was centered around the ocean, growing up in both Norway and Alaska, and as he finds these places greatly altered due to changes in ocean chemistry, he experiences a loss of both Elias’ and his own childhood innocence.
This theme of a loss of innocence and tradition is further expounded through more figurative devices in the documentary. Again, the interaction between Huseby and Elias facilitates this theme, and as both are swimming in a pool, Huseby compares Elias to “a fish”. This relates to a point earlier in the film, where an expert on salmon, when talking about why they jump out of the water, wonders whether they might be “just happy”. By comparing children to fish, and giving fish human-like traits, the two become interlocked. What this allegory serves to show is that a negative change in the make up of the ocean could mean much more than an economic downturn or a change in human nutrition; it could uproot the innocence and traditions that have held humans together throughout history.
Perhaps due to the fact that I had barely even heard of “ocean acidification” prior to signing up for this course, I found Barbara Ettinger’s “A Sea Change” to be both thoroughly informative as well as effective in conveying its main message. The film, which does not waste any time, jumps straight to the point with main character/narrator Sven Huseby saying “Imagine a world without fish…”. These first words themselves set the tone of the entire film: uncertainty, worriedness, and even desperation. These same feelings are further relayed at later occasions in the film, one example being when Sven attends a conference regarding the topic of ocean acidification. At the conference, a few of the scientists present are interviewed for the film, and at one point one scientist is asked “Are we screwed?” to which he replies, without hesitation, “Yes.” Additionally, when Sven first explains his attempts to learn as much as he can about ocean acidification in order to teach his grandson Elias about it, he states that he feels sorry for Elias, since he has been born so late relative to the beginning of earth. He claims that it is sad to be born so late in a world that is already degraded. Thus, by showcasing such pessimistic and almost tragically apocalyptic dialogue, the filmmaker is able to get the general audience to realize that ocean acidification is a serious problem and that something must be done about it.
Somewhat contrasting to the underlying tone of urgency and desperation, the filmmaker also makes sure to portray hope and optimism in regards to the solution for lessening ocean acidification. First, the use of children (primarily Sven’s grandson Elias) throughout the film is meant to appeal to the general audience’s emotions, so that they will be more inspired to take action against the ocean acidification problem. The filmmaker also uses children to represent the potential hope and possibility of overcoming this obstacle. Sven blatantly states that his main objective with regards to ocean acidification is to acquire as much information as he can about it and then teach all of it to his grandson, in hopes that Elias and the rest of his generation will be empowered to take action towards ending or lessening ocean acidification. This hopeful tone falls under the category of comic apocalypse since it is promoting the notion that humans have some control over and ability to influence the overall global warming issue. In addition to the portrayal of children as the new generation capable of fixing what older generations have “destroyed,” the filmmaker also makes sure to end the movie on a further positive note by showing Sven speaking with various scientists about wind-powered and solar-powered machines and buildings, that have the potential to significantly reduce the emission of carbon dioxide. Thus, Ettinger, in her film “A Sea Change,” is able to achieve her goal by 1) making sure the audience is aware how serious of a problem ocean acidification and how desperate we are for a solution and 2) highlighting a means of recovery by entrusting children with this task and shedding light on upcoming innovative ideas.
Please read Chapter 6 in the NRC book and two brief articles – an editorial from the scholarly journal Nature called “Over the Limit” and a column from Nature called “Getting it Across.” These articles are in the Readings folder on Blackboard. Please come to class prepared to discuss these readings.
No writing is due, but I strongly encourage you to begin work on MP1. I’ll welcome any questions you have about the planning and drafting processes. I’ll also talk about these three Writing Studio handouts in class: handout_argument, developing_claim, argument
I would like to focus on the scene in which Sven Huseby converses with Dr. Ken Calderia, a climate scientist from the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University. The scene starts from about the 37th minute, but at first I would like to speak a little about the preceding 3 minutes, in order to emphasize on how well the filmmaker sets the ambience for supporting the following conversation. The scene depicts Sven and his grandson, Elias, having quality grandfather-grandson time at the sea-beach. It shows how happily they are bonding over the subjects of sea, beach, sand-castle, marine species and several other beautiful treasures of the surrounding marine ecosystem. Carefreely singing together, sometimes getting amused and amazed by dolphins and whales, sometimes holding cute conversations, they take the audience down a lane, where the latter are nostalgic, pleasantly emotionally affected and definitely uncritical. The audience members feel happy and feel very connected to the blissful scene. In such manners, the filmmaker makes the audience emotionally inclined; hence making them strictly critical of anything that harms the appealing scene, especially the main element- the ocean. Then she gradually probes into the well-exposed conscience of the audience. Using the scene of Sven pondering and talking to himself, she questions whether we actually have the will and the unity to rescue the oceans, and eventually our society, from the impending doom.
By incorporating Dr.Ken from Stanford University, the filmmaker prepares the audience’s mindset for hearing from a very reliable source. Dr.Ken starts by bringing up a similar chapter of ocean acidification from history and the audience naturally accepts this as a very valid trailer of what can happen. His emphatic descriptions of the disappearance of several species and how it took thousands of years to repopulate the oceans convince the audience of the dreadful consequences. Although he says that the absence of humans at that time frame makes it a mystery how badly higher-life forms can be affected, he sarcastically adds that we are willingly proceeding towards carrying this experiment using this present world of ours. He even tells to Sven to wait for only a few decades to experience the answer! This level of confidence in his declaration is sure to make the audience realize the proximity of serious repercussions. This is a clear message that we urgently need to pay serious attention to the issue of ocean acidification.
He then creates a scenario inquiring how badly we would have suffered and responded if the Romans had used up all the fossil fuels, emitted infinite volumes of CO2 and made unrestorable damage to the planet. The purpose of this part is to evoke our conscience and make us realize how badly our descendants would tag our generation as selfish, disgraceful, disrespectful and short-sighted, for not only exhausting the world’s finite reserves of fossil fuels but also having no regard for the sustenance of this world that has given us so much.
Finally, he points out how contributing only 2% of the total economic activity can stop the problem of CO2 emissions. Such assertions are used by the filmmaker to raise feelings of embarrassment, frustration and agitation in the audience, so that they feel a strong urge and obligation to make the politicians and decision makers do something about this as soon as possible. Dr.Ken further breaks down the statistics to more lay-man terms by stating that we are willing to damage the ocean for millions of years rather than paying an extra 2 cent while making a 1 dollar purchase. Some may argue that such claims are overly simplistic and highly misleading ethical fallacies, since 2% of GDP actually equals to something as huge as 320 billion dollars! However, I would say that there is no harm in such a strategy as it only adds to motivate the people to strongly pursue a government, which can afford to spend about 5% of its GDP on military (http://washingtonindependent.com/75451/defense-spending-almost-5-percent-of-gdp) and above 17% on Health Care(http://www.bnet.com/blog/healthcare-business/health-spending-hits-173-percent-of-gdp-in-largest-annual-jump/1117), to rescue the many different species, safeguard humans from threats of unprecedented magnitudes and consequently sustain the life of this planet.
I felt one of the main intentions of the filmmaker was to appeal, inspire and encourage the audience, primarily the young generation, to be sensible enough to seriously pay attention to the issue of ocean acidification and try their best to influence the governments and authorities to take prompt and big steps in working towards solutions. Hence, as explained in the above paragraphs, the referenced scene does a brilliant work of reinforcing the filmmaker’s goals.
The film A Sea Change depicts an eager man’s, Sven Huseby, travels as he learns more about ocean acidification. After numerous interviews from researchers as far as Ny-Alesnd, Norway, Sven learns of the decreasing ocean pH levels and the potential effects of a continuous decrease. Though the film’s aim is to present an environmental issue that needs to be addressed, the film’s presentation of ocean acidification is sometimes dramatized. This can be seen through rhetorical analysis of a scene where Sven meets with Dr. Jeff Scott.
In this scene, Scott compares the issue at hand to the nuclear war of this time. Undoubtedly a faulty analogy, Scott compares a time in history where politics wagered the survival of a nation, the lives of those people, to a period where consumer practices are affecting sea life, the lives of sea organisms. This logical fallacy makes a rash comparison between two things to illustrate simply to show how large of an issue ocean acidification is, and demonstrates a moment where the issue is presented in a more dramatic way. In this same scene, Sven tells how ocean acidification is a matter which he “does not want to hide from [his grandson].” Saying this gives the audience the feeling that the issue is something scary and shocking, yet should not be kept away from the young generation. How Sven says he does not want “hide” the issue adds to the scare tactic indirectly being used here.
However, it is not to say that dramatizing some aspects of the film are not effecting in Sven’s goals. The use of emotional fallacy may leave a mark on some audience members, and may give them the feeling that the information they have been given by the film should be relayed to their family members and friends. It is as if as sense of fear is put in their hearts and a moral obligation is set upon them where they hold an expectation to tell those who are unaware of an issue that requires immediate action and attention.
The way Dr. Scott uses his analogy can also be said to be effective from his perspective. As a scientist, the only way to present a finding or phenomena which the general public may not be able to comprehend fully is through the use of an analogy. Similar to how we cannot easily explain the concept of atoms and orbitals without the use of ball-and-stick models, Dr. Scott may feel that the magnitude of ocean acidification cannot be explained, because of its impacts and environmental effects, without comparing to an event that a large majority of the audience was familiar with: nuclear war.
The ocean is beautiful, powerful and full of some of the most incredible forms of life that exist on our planet. However, anthropogenic emissions are causing huge problems for the underwater world, as every post in this blog will inform you. Recently, we watched a film entitled ‘A Sea Change’ which was concerned with one problem in particular –ocean acidification- but unfortunately, I think this film will not help to raise appropriate awareness for this issue.
There are several things which I disliked about the film; a) Sven was not a scientist, and so therefore the science behind the problems was greatly downplayed b) Sven insisted on including emotional scenes between himself and his grandson and c) the only solutions given were to do with the mass production of ‘green’ energy. This film was clearly aimed at a scientifically ‘layman’ audience and therefore had no problem interpreting ‘scientific fact’ and ‘experiments’ in slightly creative ways. The most frustrating point, from my personal point of view, is that these was no need to use such techniques as the acidification of the ocean has been clearly proven in proper research and there is no need to simplify the process down to the point where the ‘experiments’ being shown are somewhat misleading.
Using the scene where the acidity of carbonic acid is demonstrated by testing the pH of coca-cola and then carbonated (fizzy) water, as an example, it is not hard to identify the blatant hyperbole. The pH is found to be 2 and 4 respectively; what is not explained, however, until later in the documentary is that the pH of the sea is no-where near this low. The film gives the impression that the ocean will soon be acidic enough to dissolve teeth in! It is also not explained that the pH scale is logarithmic; so when the pH of the ocean is eventually revealed to be 8.1, down from 8.2, it sounds like far less of a problem that it actually is, as 0.1 on the pH scale is actually an increase in the concentration of Hydrogen Ions present in the ocean by about 30%!
Playing on people’s emotions is a risky tactic when dealing with ‘duty’ (to be a good citizen, to look after the planet, etc). ‘A Sea Change’ has more than enough scenes intended to play on one’s emotional side, and unfortunately the effect wears off after the first few to leave the viewer very aware to what the film is attempting to do, and unamused as a result. The continual scenes between Sven and his grandson may start off as sweet, especially as Sven is carrying out his ‘research’ because he wants his grandson to be able to enjoy the sea as he himself has, but as these scenes progress they halt the flow of the plot and get increasingly irrelevant. For example, there is a scene of between one and two minutes where nothing is said, and we are shown Sven and his grandson swimming together. This scene might have had a more positive effect at the start of the film, but by the time we actually watch it we have seen so many clips of similar significance that any sense of guilt –derived from creating carbon dioxide emissions which are ruining the world for this little boy – has entirely worn off and is replaced by a feeling of being manipulated. If you are trying to glean knowledge about the state of the ocean from this film all of these detours and pauses in the flow of knowledge are very noticeable, and detract considerably from any academic feel the film might otherwise have.
Despite its weaknesses, the film does contain some interesting information and a few good ideas about how to reduce carbon emissions; it is just unfortunate that they are not very supported and few and far between.
In her 2009 documentary, A Sea Change, Barbara Ettinger utilizes a number of rhetoric strategies in order to illustrate the extensive impact of a not entirely well known global issue; ocean acidification. Among these rhetoric strategies are a central focus on the children/ future generations; especially the main character Sven’s grandson, a relation of the current situation to one in the past, and a metaphor involving pterapods.
Perhaps the greatest rhetorical strategy that Ettinger employs is an emotional appeal to the audience through children. The main source of this appeal comes from Sven’s numerous interactions and references to his grandson Elias. The constant interactions with his grandson; be it through letter, face to face, or over the phone; build up a palpable and heart touching relationship that anybody in the viewing audience with family can relate to. A particularly striking scene is when Sven is writing a letter to Elias that he does not intend for Elias to read for many years. Within this letter, Sven tells of problems he fears will arise as a result of ocean acidification and how it will be affecting Elias’s generation. He fears that the world will lack much of the beauty and wildlife that it once contained, and worse, that there is nothing that Elias’s generation could have done about it. Although some viewers may view this as having all of the blame of ocean acidification placed on this generation, but to most it will instill a heart wrenching connection to how current actions will affect their children and grandchildren.
During the documentary, Sven visits a fishing town in Alaska that was directly affected by the tragic Exxon-Valdeez spill of 1989. By talking with many of the residents of this town the documentary team uncovers the fact that the effects of the Exxon-Valdeez not only initially decimated the Alaskan ecosystems and local economies, but that the effects of the spill are still being felt by towns on and around Prince William Sound today. Many people who view this film know of the terrible consequences the Exxon Valdeez spill caused, or have heard and learned about it. Images of workers spraying oil off rocks and cleaning birds and other animals covered in oil are the first things that come to mind. What many do not think of are foreclosed factories and a significantly lowered pH in the sound. The fact that this concentrated event is still being felt so far in the future does not bode well for the large scale issue of ocean acidification if it continues unchecked.
One more significant scene in the documentary occurs as Sven researches and converses with others about the pterapods. He makes quite a poignant metaphor when he says that when he sees pictures of pterapods the first thing that comes to mind is an angel. This metaphor strikes a specific chord with the religious and beyond as these creatures are now being made out to be near perfect and innocent beings. Nobody wants to be responsible for the killing of angels.
The film “A Sea Change” has a noble goal, I will admit that. Barbara Ettinger should be applauded for attempting to raise awareness and spread knowledge about ocean acidification through an easily accessible medium. Ocean acidification has yet to penetrate the public consciousness as deeply as global warming has, and Ettinger aims to bring attention to the fact that ocean acidification deserves more of our thought and efforts.
And I think this is fantastic. I wholeheartedly agree that this issue is important and needs to be addressed, swiftly and effectively. However, the methods used to convince the watcher that ocean acidification is a pressing problem left a sour taste in my mouth. Granted, I’m not exactly a member of Ettinger’s target audience. Going into the movie, I already knew a substantial amount about ocean acidification—enough that I didn’t really glean any new information from the film. Because of this, instead of needing to absorb the facts that were being explained, I could focus mainly on the methods Ettinger uses to put those facts and her message across to the audience.
Much of the film is centered on Sven Huseby’s relationship with Elias, his grandson. Sven begins his journey because he is concerned about the world that his grandson will inherit, and periodically narrates letters that he addresses to an older Elias. Presumably, Ettinger chose this central narrative as a way to connect with her audience personally—most people can probably relate to the relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild more easily than they could a pteropod’s relationship with the pH of the oceans. In an effort to make hard science more appealing to the general public, Ettinger uses people instead of the ocean and its inhabitants as the main players.
It was well-meant, but for me this emotional appeal completely backfired. Maybe it’s because I’m a cynic, but the continued use of children throughout the film to tug at the audience’s heartstrings and to highlight the potential of youth seemed borderline exploitative. There were barely fifteen continuous minutes during the film that were free of shots of children or mentions of children or references to children. A pteropod researcher brought her daughter into the lab so that Sven could talk to her about how pretty the “water angels” were, we see a baby tooth being dissolved in carbonated water, and there are countless shots of Elias bonding with his grandfather. As sweet as it was to see Sven splashing around in a pool with his little grandson, or the two going whale-watching together, after a point, scenes involving children seemed unnatural and staged as it became increasingly obvious that they were being used as devices to sway the audience into caring about ocean acidification.
Overall, as much as I appreciated the sentiment behind “A Sea Change,” I think it could have benefited from focusing more on the science rather than using children as a ploy to take advantage the audience’s emotions. While I don’t doubt that the relationship between Sven and Elias is genuine, I think it distracted from the truly pressing issue that is ocean acidification— an issue that deserves more screen time than it got.
A Sea Change, a documentary directed by Barbara Ettinger, features Sven, an older man, on a journey to learn more about ocean acidification. Focused on sending a message to the public on the dangers that ocean acidification will have on our planet, Ettinger tries to achieve this by scaring us by possible doom. This is evident by the second line in the title: Imagine a World Without Fish. A highly alarmist title, it sets the pace for the entire documentary and puts the audience on edge.
This movie takes the approach of having Sven, a grandfather, write to his grandson, Elias, about his journey as he learns more about the effects of ocean acidification. A new and interesting approach, it impacts the audience with the implications that ocean acidification may not directly affect them personally but it will mean disaster for future generations to come. For some this may have had its desired effect. It may have alienated others; however, as it is being transparently manipulative of the audience’s ethos.
While partially alarmist, this documentary does not take the apocalyptic tone that other media outlets have depended on to grasp the public’s attention to this pressing issue. Instead, Sven travels around the world to places such as Seattle and the Arctic Circle to interview leading researchers in the area of ocean acidification. As a result, the documentary presents and addresses multiple viewpoints on the ways to deal with ocean acidification. While they all give different predictions of how ocean acidification will affect us, these researchers also all converge on the idea that it is occurring at an alarming rate and that we need to act fast if it isn’t too late already to stop the current rates of carbon emission.
The intended audience of this documentary is the general public as is evidenced by the informal and non-academic tone of this documentary. While it steers clear of confusing technical jargon and scientific data it also fails to support the claims made by some of the researchers and interviewees. For example, a scientist asserts in the film that the cost to solve the problem of carbon emission would only be 1 to 2 percent of the total GDP of the United States. However, he fails to back up his claim with any more evidence and expects the audience to naïvely accept it. The documentary also fails in other ways to describe the actual process of ocean acidification simply opting to describe its dangers and possible implication. One of this documentary’s strengths; however, is that it ends on an almost positive note by giving the audience hope for change by explaining developing green technologies to decrease our carbon footprint. Regardless of its technique, A Sea Change calls the audience to action and is a step forward for increased public awareness of ocean acidification.
Climate change could have devastating effects on our world. At this point, that goes without saying. It is deeply saddening, then, that so many people appear apathetic to global warming, and particularly, to ocean acidification. Advocates of global-warming awareness and prevention use myriad strategies to galvanize the populace. Among those is the use of emotional fallacies. The film A Sea Change is one such medium of climate change advocacy to use emotional fallacies to touch its viewers.
In one of narrator Sven Huseby’s various stops on his journey to learn about ocean acidification, he speaks to a scientist that appeals to his and, by extension, our, sense of morality and even religion. The scientist utters the provocative statement and emotional fallacy that “by ignoring climate change, you’re killing 50 million people.” He prefaces this bold assertion by delving into religion and ethics. He claims that if you kill someone and die, that upon reaching heaven, God will think less of you than of someone who did not commit such a sin. His intent is to suggest that by remaining idle in the fight against global warming, you are doing the same thing but on a much grander scale.
The proposition is one that could easily polarize the film’s audience. Bringing even the faintest hint of religion into a scientific matter is enough to infuriate some intense atheist or empirical audience members. This section could be perceived as highly pretentious.
If not a bit preachy, the quote is certainly stimulating. The premise of indirectly killing millions of people invokes feelings of guilt. It hits closer to home than the potential to destroy coral reefs or diatoms. People see murder as the ultimate crime, so if viewers can make a connection between global-warming indifference and murder, then those people may have found all they need to take action. This scene is probably highly effective with the religiously observant.
Fortunately, the documentary does a good job of providing many different incentives to act on the problems it presents and, above all, hope. It would be foolish to shun the entire film’s message solely because one person in it brought religion into the discussion. While it is a controversial direction to go in, it is only mentioned for a single scene. For those that are turned off by the idea presented by this scientist, much can still be gleaned from the documentary. And for those that react positively to this scene, the film is doing its job of raising awareness.