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How to Blow Up a Pipeline—now an explosive high stakes thriller

Inspired by Andreas Malm’s book of the same name, the film How to Blow up a Pipeline pulls no punches on fossil capitalism and the state, says John Sinha
Issue 2850
A still from the film How to Blow Up a Pipeline shows a figure, his back to the viewer, standing in a snowy plane in front of a gas flare stack

How to Blow Up a Pipeline shows lives and landscapes blighted by polluting industry

How to Blow Up a Pipeline is a response, in dramatic form, to the dilemma faced by climate activists fighting catastrophic climate change. It is inspired by Andreas Malm’s book of the same title.

The recognition of the way that fossil capitalism affects each of the protagonists personally, and their responses form the basis of this gripping narrative. The heroes are the plotters and the enemy is fossil capitalism.

This film is bound to infuriate the right wing press and the government. It comes at a time when direct action—especially by climate activists—is regarded as close to terrorism and is treated as such by the Tories.

Through flashbacks we are introduced to the seven plotters, their motivations, and their back-stories as the plot unfolds.

Michael is a Native American from a reservation in North Dakota whose air is polluted by the flaring stacks which burn night and day. He is frustrated with the ineffective patience of his reservation elders in dealing with this environmental disaster.

Theo, from Long Beach in California, faces a struggle to keep alive under the private health care system. She is diagnosed with terminal Acute myeloid leukaemia. Her doctor informs her this is likely caused by the contamination of the air and water by the petrochemical works in her neighbourhood.

Xochitl is Hispanic, a college graduate, and childhood friend of Theo. One of the leading protagonists, she is disillusioned with her position in an environmental NGO whose gradualist approach she knows will cook the planet.

This film does not pull its punches when it comes to the state. Logan and Rowan, a Bonnie and Clyde pair of hedonistic crusties, and non-violent direct action activists from Portland, are on the run. The feds are on to them

As they meet and plot, strategy and tactics are at the forefront of their minds. They plan to hit the oil industry at what they consider its weakest point.

As they discuss tactics, they note who is, and who is not, labelled a terrorist is a political choice. “Were the Boston Tea Party terrorists?” One of them asks.

One central message is that fossil capitalism is prepared to kill us for profit. This film articulates the deep pain many climate activists feel. Their response to this situation is completely rational. As Theo remarks as she justifies her decision to her lover Alisha, “I’m going out with one big ‘fuck you!’ to the people who did this to me.”

That most of the protagonists are black and Hispanic is not accidental, but a recognition of the fact that those most affected by pollution in the US are non-white people.

But, as Logan says to Michael as he is thumbing through the pages of Malm’s book in the radical bookshop in Oregon, “He doesn’t tell you how to blow up a pipeline”. The dramatic tension is expressed in the very hazardous process of making an improvised bomb with barrel loads of fertilizer.

This film may not provide all the answers to the climate crisis but it certainly asks the right questions and does so in a way that grabs you both emotionally and intellectually. Go and watch it. This film is dynamite.

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