Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Unleash the Toxic Avenger on climate change

The year 1984 may be famous -- especially amongst high-schoolers -- for the angst of Winston Smith. He's the guy trying to cope with illegal daydreams of individual freedom in the repressed collective created by George Orwell.

But 1984 also brought "The Toxic Avenger," a low-rent cinematic romp with environmental themes. Described as an action comedy horror film, it broke new ground by being surprisingly entertaining and launched the B movie careers of directors Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz.

Mitch Cohen, who later appeared as a bit player in Kevin Smith's incomparable "Clerks," stars in Toxic as Melvin, the Tromaville Health Club mop boy. Cohen's Melvin "inadvertently and naively trusts the hedonistic, contemptuous and vain health club members, to the point of accidentally ending up in a vat of toxic waste," says Cinema Fan on imdb.com.

For the good of the people

Rather than becoming a mindless monster, as would normally be the case in this genre, the "transmogrification effect" turns Melvin into the Toxic Avenger, royally irritated by "corruption, thuggish bullies and indifference."

Imagine then Melvin's response to climate change. Truly pissed.

Climate change has emerged as a summer blockbuster this year with more than half the United States experiencing drought. Still a far cry from the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s, the phenomena is increasing popular awareness of the fragility of the environment. And rising average temperatures appear all but a certainty at this point, giving credence to predictions of future difficulties.

Nate Seltenrich of the East Bay Express writes about how sea level rise, brought on by climate change, would affect the San Francisco Bay region. He says the toxic legacy of polluted old industrial sites ringing the bay could unleash some particularly bad news for residents.

"Water could wear away at existing caps, barriers, and other containment measures, increasing the mobility of buried materials," Seltenrich says. "It could also carry metals, chemicals, and oils directly into groundwater and the bay, where they would harm human health and plant and animal life."

Up, up and away

In a another piece, Molly Samuel of kqed.org's Climate Watch, says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists eight superfund sites near the bay. There are 1,304 superfund sites across the country, according to the EPA.

Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard is one of those sites.

Hunter's Point covers 493 acres on land and another 443 underwater and was established in 1869 as the first dry dock on the Pacific Coast. The Navy arrived in 1940 and used it as a shipbuilding and repair facility. Submarines nosed in after World War II and continued to hang around until the 1970s, when some of the land was leased to a private ship repair company. The EPA says tests in 1987 confirmed the area was rife with "polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), trichloroethylene and other solvents, pesticides, petroleum hydrocarbons, and metals including lead."

In 1991, the Department of Defense closed the shipyard.

My mom the activist avenger

I have a personal connection. My mother the activist has been trying to clean up Hunter's Point using local labor for decades. She's a longtime resident of the Hunter's Point Bay View neighborhood and is fixated on bringing the land back to health. That means birds, wetlands and people.

Sea level rise there wouldn't be pretty. Nor would it in the nearby Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, where rising waters threaten the complex network of levees and channels that provide the source of water for two of three people in the state. Fresh water from the Sierra Mountains is sent by way of a massive aqueduct and a sophisticated and energy-intensive network of pumps down through the San Joaquin Valley and up over the Grapevine pass to Los Angeles.

Visualize the superfund toxic mixture mingling with that precious fresh-water system. Ugh.

And here's the connection to the Toxic Avenger, or at least my attempt to make one. Melvin just wouldn't stand for such pollution. Of course, he might explode trying to right the wrongs. There are so many. Too much for one really ugly dude.

There may be room for a sequel, however. Cohen came back for "Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV." Maybe he could do another and call it "Superfunds of San Francisco" or something.

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