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How to Blow Up a Pipeline

How to Blow Up a Pipeline

By Bradley Lane

In 2021 Andreas Malm released his climate change focused manifesto How to Blow Up a Pipeline. In it he criticized popular climate change activism in its exclusive pursuit of nonviolent protest, as well as climate change fatalism in exchange for an impassioned plea to normal people everywhere to destroy the means by which the ruling class are destroying the planet. He argues that the only way to make meaningful change against climate change is property destruction, to ultimately make fossil fuels unviable in the global marketplace. This means to Malm, normal everyday people should unite to disrupt supply chains, destroy coal mines, sabotage power plants, damage oil refineries, and of course, blow up pipelines in pursuit of a habitable environment for our future.

When it was announced that a fictionalized adaptation of Malm’s book was in the works, I was at once excited and very confused. Malm’s book had a profound effect on me when I read it last year and its film adaptation is just as powerful, but in a slightly different way. The film follows a group of young people; students, blue-collar workers, and disenfranchised minorities all living with terrifying and personal consequences of climate change and the fossil fuel industry’s constant expansion. Together over the course of two days they engage in a plot to strategically damage a pipeline in rural Texas to disrupt the oil industry.

The film follows a heist film format that will be familiar to anyone who has seen Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 film Ocean’s Eleven, making it immediately accessible to those unfamiliar with the source material. What makes it even more compelling than that film though, is that the characters are not motivated by greed in How to Blow Up a Pipeline, rather they are motivated by self-defense. Each character is in some way idealistic to set out on their high-minded goal but more than that, they are backed into a corner by the realities of late-stage capitalism and the destruction of the planet that those ideologies encourage. Delicately interwoven in the mechanics of their heist are flashbacks detailing the competing motivations of each character that brought them together.

Where the book’s strength lies in Malm’s lyrical and historically compelling arguments, the film utilizes its medium to full effect by making a damn exciting and entertaining story. The film has a pulsing score that, coupled with the rising stakes, creates an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride. Each step of their heist something goes wrong, and they need to think on their feet to avoid alerting the authorities and, of course, avoid blowing themselves up by accident in the process.

It is unavoidable that by releasing a commercial product like a feature film the filmmakers would have to sacrifice some of Malm’s radical politics to get the film made and make it entertain. However, that trade-off makes the film much more accessible to a wide audience and by effect, will get Malm’s rather niche messaging to a much larger audience. The finished product represents a deft combination of Malm’s urgent messaging and film’s power to entertain and emotionally affect its audience. How to Blow Up a Pipeline is currently showing exclusively in theaters. – 4.5/5 stars

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