Island Earth, a documentary film by Cyrus Sutton
A rich and complex tale of a young indigenous scientist’s journey through the corn fields of GMO companies and loi patches of traditional Hawaiian elders reveals modern truths and ancient values that can save our food future.
To feed all the humans on the planet, we are going to have to grow as much food in the next 35 years as we have grown since the beginning of civilization.
So, how are we going to feed the world without destroying the planet we live on?
Our conventional agricultural practices are depleting the earth’s natural resources faster than we are replenishing them. Not to mention that the pros and cons of most attempts at modern chemical solutions (pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, GMOs) continue to be heavily debated by scientists, policy makers, industrial heavyweights, and community activists.
Island Earth brings this question to life by taking us on the ground to Hawaii, the “ground zero” where all of these issues collide in sharp relief. Less than two centuries ago, native Hawaiians fed their large population through some of the most historically sustainable agricultural practices ever documented. Yet modern-day Hawaii now imports 80-90% of their food supply from elsewhere in the world, due to a complex web of public policy and private interests. Within two generations, the Hawaiians have become canaries in the coal mine for food issues that are affecting the entire planet.
This film captures our moment in time, where two separate paths are being forged at once: one that builds upon the past in the name of progress, and the other that rejects the past in the name of progress. It bears witness to the choices that we are making today that will affect our future no matter what.
By Cyrus Sutton
Growing up amongst Southern California’s endless strip malls, trips to Hawaii symbolized what the world could be—lush, fragrant, and vital. Beyond the beautiful surf was a culture that taught me a different definition of wealth, where clean water and verdant landscapes held everything that we needed to thrive. A few years ago, I heard that this paradise was being poisoned by chemical companies testing their GMO crops. Shocked by the lack of the media coverage and the misleading information, I decided to do something.
In the past three years, I’ve been working on a film, Island Earth, that seeks to tell this story. I’ve had the opportunity to talk with some of America’s leading scientists, doctors, and journalists to learn firsthand about the complex systems that produce our food. A study published by Cornell University in 2006 reveals that our current farming practicesare accelerating the erosion of 37,000 square miles of farmland each year. Without fungal and plant root webs, soil becomes structureless dirt that can be easily swept away by wind and rain.
Although GMOs have been touted by many as an answer to feeding the world, the vast majority of GMOs today are used to sell more herbicides. As UC Berkeley professor Tyrone Hayes asserts, 90% of the world’s seeds are owned by a handful of the world’s largest chemical companies. In fact, a recent New York Times article shows that the use of herbicides has risen a whopping 21% since the introduction of GMO herbicide resistant seeds twenty years ago. This is the heart of the GMO issue: I believe it’s not necessarily the technology itself, but the way the technology is being used.
To transform our food systems into resilient ecosystems that support human health and nurture our environment takes creativity and passion. I’ve partnered with my good friends at The Ecology Center, a leading ecological education center, to put together a manual to inspire each one of us to dig our hands into the soil and become part of the solution. Growing food, celebrating with loved ones, and supporting local organic agriculture is our path forward. Today, we offer a simple and practical guide to co-creating a better world. Dig in.
To learn more about the film, click here.