The film started with history. The history of rocks. The history of life. The history of humanity. The history of the world. Escarpment is a documentary from first-time director and longtime scientist Dr. Roger Kuhns. The film discusses the history of the Niagara escarpment, a key geological feature that stretches from Wisconsin to upstate New York.
The escarpment forms a ridge visible at over 150 feet in height in Door County, along the northern coast of Lakes Michigan and Huron and then continuing along the southern coast of Lake Ontario before ending east of Niagara Falls, New York. The ridge was formed by ancient equatorial seas that covered the entire region, laying down sedimentary rock that did not erode as quickly as the surrounding stone during a glacial period, thus forming the ridge by leaving only the stronger stone intact.
Following the screening of Escarpment in the Warch Campus Center Cinema on Jan. 18, Kuhns held a question and answer session with the public and Lawrence’s Environmental Studies and Geology departments, who co-sponsored the event. The later part of the film focuses particularly on sustainability and the hard science behind not only the natural geologic processes that shaped the planet we see today, but also key issues and threats to the ecosystems that call the escarpment home. Two of the top threats covered by the film are groundwater pollution and climate change.
Part of the geology of the escarpment is a soluble rock called dolomite which forms cracks and crevices in the rock. These cracks are essential for surface water such as rain and snowmelt to return to the ground water and also to the wetland habitats at the base of the escarpment. Many areas that possess such fissures in the bedrock are used for agriculture and industry, which can lead to waste products leeching into the groundwater by way of the cracks, thus contaminating ground water that is used for drinking for many miles around the source of contamination.
Climate change, which, as Dr. Kuhns emphasized, is very real, could also be a threat to the ecosystems that call the Niagara Escarpment home. One of the biggest impacts of climate change could be population increases in the surrounding area.
“Southern Wisconsin is going to be hot,” he said, adding that it may even be too warm to produce corn, one of the state’s largest crops with over four million acres in production in 2016. He said that this could make northeast Wisconsin a quality of life destination for people escaping the building heat and rising sea levels of the southern and coastal areas as a result of climate change.
“We have to prepare for this,” he said, re-emphasizing a line from the film, “Just as all things in nature are connected, so too are all things human.”
Dr. Kuhns emphasized that we need to do something to fix climate change because we know about the Earth and our impact in ways that previous generations did not. “The crime now is that we know what’s happening,” he said.
Kuhns emphasized that even small changes in behavior matter, like buying locally produced food and cutting down on consuming goods from other parts of the world. “We have to go from our super-consumer society to ‘What can we do in the Fox Valley?’” he said, adding, “What you do here has a global impact every day.”
Among other positions, Kuhns works with the Citizen’s Climate Lobby towards comprehensive climate change legislation. He said the documentary was intended to fill the gap between most other documentaries, which usually simplify the underlying science, and the information needed by legislative staff to actually make policy. “If you put people in office who recognize science it can be a guide to good policy,” he said.
The main goal of this documentary and Dr. Kuhns’s work with the Citizen’s Climate Lobby is to put a price on carbon with a Carbon Fee and Dividend bill. Such a bill would charge a per-ton tax on corporations that produce carbon dioxide as part of their business practices. “The point is to make it uneconomical [to continue using fossil fuels],” he said.
The revenues from that tax would then be given back to the American people, minus the administrative cost of the program as a dividend check. “It pays for itself,” Kuhns said.
Overall, the screening of Escarpment was an informative event full of information about how climate change affects our surroundings and leaves a permanent impact on the world.