Making the Grades
“Bubblin’ crude, oil that is, black gold, Texas tea.” For a 1960’s television family known as the Beverly Hillbillies, the discovery of oil on their land propelled them from a bleak backwoods existence to the lap of luxury in the swanky California neighborhood. And they weren’t the first or the last to line their pockets with the proceeds of an oil strike.
Unfortunately, much of the charm of that TV program has been lost in light of the soaring environmental impact of oil production including pollution, large-scale spills and cancer alleys that result from toxic fallout around refineries. As well, much of the world’s supply of black gold lies outside the borders of the United States and that, according to filmmaker Josh Tickell’s documentary, contributes heavily to current war initiatives.
Disturbed by what he saw around him, Tickell became an advocate for alternative fuel sources, most notably biofuels. His film is the culmination of over 10 years of research dedicated to weaning Americans from their oil addiction. Taking a cross-country tour to promote his dream, Tickell speaks with all kinds of groups while refueling his "Veggie Van" with used fry oil from fast food joints across the nation. He interviews scientists, environmentalists, businessmen (Richard Branson), musicians (Sheryl Crow, Neil Young), politicians (Jay Inslee, Barbara Boxer, Frank Lautenberg) and a slew of celebrities such as Woody Harrelson, Julia Roberts and Larry Hagman. (Unfortunately more famous faces are quoted in this film than hardcore researchers.) He also speaks with common working people who are making alternative fuel-related choices in their professions.
However his life’s work takes a nosedive when opponents challenge the concept of corn for fuel and promising strides in the area of ethanol use falter when the public fears soaring food prices. Though initially deflated, Tickell rebounds like a good crop of dandelions and hits the road again looking for interested partners who share his vision of an oil free future.
The movie covers a wide variety of subjects, some seemingly a distant cousin to the oil industry. Yet Tickell finds a connection for them all: the 9-11 attacks, human reproduction problems in Louisiana, the historic rivalry between Rudolph Diesel, Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller, rising unemployment and toxic fumes inside school buses.
Tickell’s ambitious proposals go well beyond gas stations, purporting biofuels and other alternatives may contribute to better health, the reduction of unemployment and the revitalization of America. While that may be overly optimistic, this young environmentalist isnt waiting for government leaders to put the country in rehab. In the film’s final moments, he offers ideas for individuals who are ready to enter detox and reduce their own consumption of this vanishing resource.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Fuel.
Tickell says that the only ways to get rid of the toxic byproducts of oil is to burn them, dump them on the land or dump them in the water. Which of these three do you think would be the least harmful to the environment? What are the drawbacks of each of these alternatives?
The documentary suggests that current world conflicts are the result of war for oil not war on terrorism. Do you agree or not? What evidence do you have to support your theory?
How does society’s rampant consumerism contribute to the problems discussed in this production? What individual changes would you be willing to make?