Fintan O’Toole: Disaster movie now playing on the big screen of Earth

Challenge for Cop26 is that humans have an in-built bias towards optimism

People wade through a waterlogged road in Chennai, India,  October 10th. Photograph:  Epa/Idrees Mohammed

People wade through a waterlogged road in Chennai, India, October 10th. Photograph: Epa/Idrees Mohammed

One of the first films ever made could be called an eco-disaster movie. In 1896, the Lumière brothers showed what they titled Oil Wells of Baku: A Close View. It is a very short sequence, shot with a stationary camera, showing vast flames leaping upwards and thick black smoke belching skywards from burning oil wells in Azerbaijan.  

It looks now like a warning – all that filthy carbon shooting up into the atmosphere, the monstrous scale of the disaster emphasised by a glimpse of a tiny human figure passing in front of it. It seems like a trailer, a century in advance, for Werner Herzog’s grim film of burning oil fields in Kuwait, Lessons of Darkness.

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