The Human Element is a 2019 documentary film that expands the ancient elements of earth, air, water, and fire to include humans—an element we can control. It has already won seven awards, including the Philadelphia Environmental Film Festival 2019 Best Feature Film. The film’s producers are known for their other awe-inspiring works—Racing Extinction, The Cove, and Chasing Ice.
Protagonist and environmental photographer James Balog (“BAY-log”) puts human faces on the reality of climate change by featuring firefighters, coal miners, and others affected by floods, fires, and erratic weather. Balog, who has been capturing human modification of nature for 40 years, challenges us to re-evaluate our relationship with the natural world.
That natural world is what CLEAN hopes to protect. Based in Tompkins County, CLEAN serves 40,000 people who depend on the lake for drinking water and many thousands more who use it for recreation. Cayuga’s waters, however, are threatened by nutrient-loading manure from large farms, contaminants that leach from several coal-ash landfills, industrial runoff, and brine associated with Cargill’s extensive salt mine under the lake.
CLEAN partners with Discover Cayuga Lake, the Cayuga Lake Watershed Network, and other local organizations. Two special interests are salt pollution and harmful algal blooms (HABS). Since its founding in April 2017, CLEAN has been monitoring the release of salt dust and brine from Cargill’s salt mine surface operations at Portland Point. CLEAN members collect and share data, educate residents, advocate for stronger lake protections, and press governmental officials to fulfill their responsibilities. Recently CLEAN and a coalition of four municipalities sued the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation for failing to require an environmental impact review of Cargill’s new mine shaft in Lansing and potential harm to local aquifers and the lake.