Hampton Roads is extremely vulnerable to the effects of rising sea levels, and filmmaker Roger Sorkin believes that is cause for sober recognition and collaboration.
In presenting his documentary “Tidewater” Tuesday night at ODU’s University Theater, Sorkin did not argue whether sea levels are rising— in our area, that is a daily fact of life— but instead issued a report on the ongoing challenges we face.
Sorkin’s documentary begins with an epigraph of Proverbs 22:3, and from there never stops its earnest appeal to disbelievers and skeptics. The entire film, which was produced by the American Resilience Project, is meant to be the most level-headed, unsentimental, bipartisan appeal to action possible, because it wants to bypass the usual barriers to conversation.
“There’s been a really positive response to the film, no vitriol at all,” Sorkin told the packed audience after the showing. “That might be surprising for a film dealing with climate change. That’s the first time you’ve heard those words tonight, by the way. The words ‘climate change’ are not even in the film.”
And he’s right; “Tidewater” covers many sea level-related problems, but it never mentions melting ice caps or sad polar bears or anything we usually associate with the words “climate change.” This film is entirely unobjectionable, because nothing it says can be contradicted. The damages to homes, industries, and military bases are easily observable, and no politician could possibly be stubborn enough to deny these things.
Our Commander-in-Chief earned only a few comments from the crowd, but only mild ones. Remember, Sorkin wanted to remain unobjectionable. Both the film and the panel afterwards did identify local politicians and agencies connected to the issues, all with the aim of suggesting possible courses of action for citizens. Local Democratic leaders attended, including State Senator Lynwood Lewis, candidate Joe Dillard, and Hampton Roads Planning District Commission Executive Director Bob Crum.
Sorkin reportedly reached out to every local Republican official; to his knowledge, none elected to attend the event.
The event was especially valuable for its panel of guests and Q&A session. Retired Air Force Colonel Dave Belote discussed ways in which coastal resilience initiatives serve as local job creators, and WHRO’s Cathy Lewis moderated the event. Rear Admiral Ann Phillips and Rear Admiral Kevin Slates, both retired, assessed the risks of sea level rises through their experiences in aquatic forces and at the Pentagon.
Perhaps the greatest takeaways from the event were the opportunities for citizens to advocate for improved policies. U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner and U.S. Representative Bobby Scott have just this week announced the BUILD Resilience Act, which would offer $1 billion a year to communities in need of infrastructure resilience development; constituents can call and offer input at their respective offices.
And Phillips specifically recommended citizens support local measures to combat sea level rise. “The Planning District Commission . . . has Working Groups that are open and meet every month,” she said. She indicated a few Norfolk council members to call, including Andria McClellan and Martin Thomas, though any council member in any city might deserve a call.
“Much of our growth, transport, and housing may go to ruin if we can’t fix these problems,” Phillips said. “If we can fix them, these other problems may fix themselves.”
The Sierra Club, Moms Clean Air Force, and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network sponsored this event. They will host another film showing on June 12, a documentary called “From the Ashes.” This event will take place at the ODU University Theater from 6-9 pm.