BNFF12 REVIEW: YERT: Your Environmental Road Trip [2011]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 113 minutes | Release Date: April 2nd, 2011 (USA)
Director(s): Ben Evans

“We’re driving the bed, right?”

With a goofy acronym for a name—YERT: Your Environmental Road Trip—and a tagline promising to be ‘An Environmental Documentary That’s NOT Depressing!’, you can imagine a lot of eye-rolling and trepidation when sitting down to see just how true a statement that marketing line could be. But then you meet Mark Dixon and Ben Evans, two guys living their lives with a yearning to do more as their world disintegrates around them. Quitting their jobs—the former leaving the comforts of his cubicle and the latter a career as a working actor—recruiting Ben’s wife Julie Dingman Evans, and deciding to put their money where their mouths were, the trio find themselves embarking on a 52-week journey across all 50 states to find and disseminate information about how the everyday American can help save the Earth.

Not only a cross-country trip to make a movie and earn some cash, these newfound activists mean business. Traveling in a van with a route mapped out to avoid any frigidly cold inclement weather, the three set up a basic rule to literally track their carbon footprint by not leaving any waste behind. Estimating they could get by with one shoebox-sized Tupperware container of garbage a month, the lofty goal is set to compost, recycle, and avoid any superfluous packaging by filling thermoses through drive-thru windows and receiving meals in supplied receptacles. So, when Julie’s craving for creature comforts see her absent-mindedly chugging a complimentary bottle of water by her bed, the empty carcass of plastic must stay with her until the opportunity to reuse it or recycle it presents itself.

Like any environmental documentary, the biggest issue as far as ‘going green’ is concerned deals with alternative energy sources. YERT is no different on this front except for its ability to educate with humor and real life implementation. What Ben, Mark, and Julie do in astonishing fashion is find enthusiastic people who practice what they preach. Whether it’s serendipitously finding the mayor of Centralia, PA sitting on his doorstep for an impromptu chat, talking to Bob Berkebile about rooftop green space in Chicago, learning from Texan Cliff Etheredge how Roscoe farmers can make enough money with windmills to sustain their ‘farm habits’, or Tom Szaky explaining the utility of his TerraCycle company to keep waste at a minimum, everything they experience is corroborated by physical evidence on behalf of the experts shown.

Our guides are regular people with a great sense of humor and an affable demeanor to draw us into the plight at hand. I’m by no means an environmentalist—I don’t even recycle—but there’s no way I wouldn’t want a self-sustaining home of my own after seeing the Carbon Zero housing of Michael Reynolds’ Earthship project. Ben and Mark goof around plenty, but the casual atmosphere only helps the facts sink in easier. Random interview questions on the street expose the surprisingly knowledgeable populace and open our eyes to the geographic-specific plights of states we forget while staying inside our hermetically sealed existences. We learn that composting toilets are real and a feasible option for citizens of Nevada where 90% of their water comes from depleting Colorado River reserves; Water Wars are on the horizon for states like Georgia caught in widespread drought; and Louisiana’s loss of an acre of coastline every 42-minutes.

For every stunning example of how our world is being destroyed, there’s an equally amazing way to stop the bleeding. Not everyone is going to be willing to let 92-year old Dugout Dick dig him a cave to live in cool temperatures three feet below the surface, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone seriously unwilling to do their part. With visionaries like Wes Jackson of The Land Institute turning annual crops into perennials to reinvigorate the ecosystem or Polyface Farms’ Joel Salatin using organic cow manure fertilizing via chickens and pigs to replenish his land without fossil fuel-powered machinery, one can easily imagine our nation fixing a century of destruction very quickly.

The fact Ben and Julie get pregnant during the trip drives home the realization that everything we do affects our children and generations to come. We must therefore look into new technologies and energy sources, but also accept some may not be as great as we’ve been led to believe. Maybe corn ethanol isn’t the way and using perennial grass as a substitute is cheaper and cleaner to manufacture; perhaps the existing infrastructure of electricity can replace oil and coal considering the former is disappearing and the latter leaves toxicity in its wake; and how great would it be to see our asphalt roads replaced by Solar Roadways with glass protected LED readouts? The future is now and outside-the-box thinking could be exactly what the doctor ordered.

At the end of the day, films like YERT share too much information and try to form guilt complexes we’d likely ignore before instilling change to our daily lives. This is where the comedy of our travelers sets them apart. Never preaching or expressly agreeing with their subjects, Mark, Ben, and Julie let the policies speak for themselves by giving audiences the freedom to believe or not. Whether a convert, willing to change, or staunch supporter that nothing is wrong, the film won’t be a waste of time where entertainment value is concerned. Watching Mark eat only corn while in Iowa, seeing the ironic junk mail asking to save the world as it increases their garbage output, or laughing as the trio chastises Washington, DC for not joining the Earth Hour movement makes up for any disconnect you may have to the mission they hope to accomplish.

There’s Worm Poop, Jevon’s Paradox, the Berkshares movement keeping local money local in Ithaca, NY, and former NBA player Will Allen’s new career as an urban farmer to discover as well while the magic of growing one’s own food is shown to be a catalyst for progress. YERT may not have made me want to go hug a tree, but it did provide me with two hours of intelligent discourse and lighthearted laughs—something Al Gore could look to mimic for his next quest to make money traveling the world on his private jet.

[1] Six months of garbage! — with Mark Dixon, Julie Dingman Evans and Ben Evans.
[2] What is that rock he’s holding? — with Ben Evans.
[3] Messing around in Houston. Trying to find out how many of the drivers know about peak oil. – with Mark Dixon and Ben Evans.
courtesy of the film’s Facebook:

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