Off the Cuff: David Orr
David Orr, Oberlin’s Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics, recently advised production of and provided commentary for The 11th Hour, a 91-minute documentary narrated and co-produced by Leonardo DiCaprio about the human relationship with the environment, impending crises and their possible solutions. The Review sat down to talk with Orr for a moment.
What was the nature and value of your input in the film?
I worked on this on a couple different levels. I was an initial advisor on the film in Los Angeles two or three years ago, and then I saw a preliminary version last summer. They sent a film crew out here to the [Adam Joseph] Lewis Center and the Living Machine. I’m kind of in the process from the start to the finish.
Does The 11th Hour accomplish something different than An Inconvenient Truth?
An Inconvenient Truth is very narrow — it’s a great film — but it does focus very much on climate change. What The 11th Hour does is a lot bigger; it is a panoramic view of human conditions and the environment. More than An Inconvenient Truth, it gets into a lot of solutions: rethinking biology, rethinking manufacturing, rethinking urban planning, rethinking building…It is the 11th hour, probably the 59th minute, and the College has the chance to do something really significant. It would be terrific if the College took its commitment to carbon neutrality, which Nancy Dye made last year, and brought the town with it.
You say in the trailer to the film that environmental crises are “not so much technical issues as they are issues of leadership.” In what way has Oberlin run up against its own problems with leadership hindering alleviation of environmental problems?
The students here are terrific. All kinds of students here are doing all sorts of things. At the level of the College, we’re seeing transition with Marvin Krislov. I think he’s going to be extremely exciting. The trick now is for [him] to help to coordinate, validate and facilitate lots of things going on. When word goes out that this is important to the College and to the town as well, I think anything can happen….This sounds to me like a major opportunity.
What are your hopes, or what do you imagine happening, under Marvin Krislov?
He’s indicated that these issues are important to him. And there’s so much energy at Oberlin. Oberlin has led on big issues before, and I don’t see why we can’t again. The biggest issues at this time are climate and energy issues, environmental issues. These converge to major issues of national security and economy. They are the kind of issues that if we get them right, we get a lot of things right, but if we get them wrong, we spiral downward.