Takach's new book blends eco research and art

Geo Takach's new book, Scripting the Environment

In his new book, Scripting the Environment: Oil, Democracy and the Sands of Time and Space (Palgrave Macmillan), Geo Takach of the School of Communication and Culture continues his crusade to engage audiences within and particularly beyond the academy in research on environmental issues through arts-based forms. 

The book begins with the premise observed by David Suzuki et al. that environmentalists’ traditional appeals to reason and science have largely failed to make a difference. It takes up the rallying cry of American environmentalist Bill McKibben for more works of art to engage audiences and “register in our gut” to precipitate social change on ecological concerns like climate change, as in the case of AIDS over the last generation.

Geo’s work builds on a multi-pronged, multimedia case study of three of his scripts for documentary film, audio-visual and stage formats. The focus is on how the identity of a place is constructed and contested in the face of environmental concerns around fossil-fuel extraction in a globalized, visual society. Geo’s methods combine critical theory and political economy with arts-based research, aided by narrative inquiry, critical visual discourse analysis and visual framing analysis—leavened by generous infusions of satire. 

The three scripts explore the rising, international public-relations war over our neighbouring Alberta’s stewardship of the bituminous sands, commonly called ‘tar’ or ‘oil’ sands but neutrally coined by Geo as ‘bit-sands’. The documentary film is set as a CBC-TV talk show; the AV film features a verbal and visual volley among independent documentary filmmakers contesting Alberta’s stewardship of the bit-sands, and government and oil-industry PR professionals defending it; and the stage play advances a new genre that Geo dubs the ‘musical eco-comedy’. Between them, these projects were supported generously by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, and Grant MacEwan University. 

Each script is followed by discussion of authorial choices of initiating idea, research sources, format, voices, world of the story, structure and visual style, with notes on the convergence of synthesis, analysis and (re)presentation in the script. Included are lively analysis and commentary on screenwriting and playwriting theory, the creation and dissemination of the scripts, and reflections.

The book concludes with a comprehensive, proposed framework for writing eco-themed scripts for screen, audio-visual and stage formats.

Scripting the Environment is seven years in the making. The study culminating in the documentary-film script won a first prize from the International Center for Qualitative Inquiry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The book’s first endorsers are Patricia Leavy and Phaedra Pezzullo (leading scholars in arts-based research and in environmental communication, respectively) and Bill McKibben himself, all personal heroes of the author.

Up next for Geo is his next book, Tar-Wars: Oil, Environment and Alberta’s Image, to be published imminently by the University of Alberta Press. That effort will conclude the trilogy that began with his multi-pronged project, Will the Real Alberta Please Stand Up?, which was released as an international award-winning book (also published by the University of Alberta Press), a documentary film (aired on City TV stations across Canada), and a continuing migraine (for the author).