Climate Change is No Fish Story

Syracuse International Film Festival to show impactful documentary on the environment

Sven Huseby’s grandson, Elias, was 5 when he became a central character in the 2009 documentary A Sea Change. The film by Barbara Ettinger, Huseby’s wife, tackles the complicated-sounding concept “ocean acidification” through Huseby’s letters and conversations with his grandson. He asks a simple question: “What if there were no fish?”

Elias is now 13, Huseby said in a telephone interview. “He’s forever telling his family they have to reduce their carbon footprint,” Huseby said. “He is the family monitor making sure no one is flushing too often or taking long showers. He does not feel the world is going to shut down. He’s part of the generation that can figure it out.”

A Sea Change will be one of several cinematic components at this week’s Syracuse International Film Festival. It will be screened Friday, Oct. 16, 6:45 p.m., at Eastwood’s Palace Theater, 2384 James St.

Huseby and his wife started the film after learning how climate change damages the sea. This is especially alarming for Huseby, who grew up in Norway eating fish six days a week. Excess carbon dioxide has increased acidification in oceans 30 percent since the Industrial Revolution. Ocean acidification threatens sea life with a calcium-based exoskeleton: coral reefs, shellfish and tiny animals at the bottom of the food chain, Huseby’s beloved pteropods.

Climate change is on the international agenda. The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris this December is considered the “make or break” chance to avert dangerous climate change. The goal is to move to zero carbon emissions by 2050. The United States has pledged to cut 2005 emission levels about 28 percent by 2025.

The effort is getting a boost from Pope Francis, the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics. During his recent U.S. visit, the pope addressed climate change several times. The issue was also at the heart of Laudato Si, a recent letter he addressed to “every person living on this planet.”

At the United Nations, the pope talked about the connection between capitalism and environmental damage and the inequitable effect on the poor – positions sure to irritate many conservatives. “A selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged,” he said. “The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses.”

A Sea Change has won numerous awards, including Best Environmental Documentary at the 2010 Ventura Film Festival and Best World Documentary at the Sedona International Film Festival.

The film has spurred criticism, too. The Washington Post in 2009 praised it as a “handsome, rigorously researched documentary” with “a welcome lack of jargon and preaching.” The review also slams the film’s “faint air of insularity,” where “Huseby’s world, whether in New York or California or Norway, is one of virtually unalloyed privilege” and “the face of ecological virtue is uniformly white and well off.”

Huseby, a retired educator who will attend the U.N. climate meeting in Paris, will have a chance to respond to that charge during a panel discussion following the Palace screening. Also on the panel are Ettinger and Bruce Monger, who teaches a popular Cornell University oceanography course that combines research and activism.

The event is organized by Central New York volunteers Climate Change Awareness & Action, in association with the Syracuse International Film Festival. Sponsors include GreeningUSA and the Sierra Club. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors $8, and $6 per person for a family rate, including adults and children under age 19. Food trucks, an electric and hybrid car display, and vendors will also be part of the event. For advance tickets and information, visit

As the Syracuse New Times was interviewing Huseby, unprecedented rain was flooding South Carolina’s coast. As of press time, 21 people were reported dead as a result of the storm.

“The increase in extreme weather is causing people to ask if something is changing,” Huseby said. “We can’t stop this on a dime. But we can adapt in the short term and try to mitigate in the long term.”

For him, that meant buying a Prius and installing solar panels. “They paid for themselves in five years,” he said. “I hope I don’t just feel smug, but I sure feel good when I look out and see those solar panels.”

Header photo: Thinkstock image
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