The year was 1997. I was about to embark on the journey of a lifetime—a cross-country trip in a van powered by french fry grease. Nobody—not rock stars and certainly not advocacy groups—had heard about running vehicles on vegetable oil.
I drove “The Veggie Van” 10,000 miles on fuel made from used cooking oil. The trip sparked my first book, From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank. The book sparked a global wave of experimentation with biodiesel, a fuel made from vegetable oil that works in diesel engines.
The biodiesel industry blossomed. I met my wife, Rebecca Harrell Tickell. We blended our love and our commitment to the environment with filmmaking. Together, we completed a star-studded Hollywood documentary about the ins and outs of biodiesel and green energy.
The film was called FUEL.
FUEL won the Sundance Film Festival, it was lauded by the New York Times and was shortlisted for an Oscar. Soon after President Obama entered office, FUEL was screened in the White House. FUEL was instrumental in creating the Algae Caucus and raising over $1 billion for the algae industry.
But FUEL also caught the attention of Big Oil. After the movie’s release in theaters, on the Internet, and on DVD, the petroleum industry launched an aggressive anti-spin campaign. Its target: biofuels.
Their campaign used the concerns of environmental groups—and even funded a few major NGOs—to manufacture and manipulate science. Suddenly, acute global issues that had been concerns for decades (namely deforestation and starvation) had a new raison de être. Many of the green groups that had advocated for biofuels soon turned against them and went back to fueling their cars, buses and boats with petroleum oil, while they protested—you guessed it—oil.
Around that same time, the American hemp movement was gaining steam and the biofuels industry was pushing hard to move to the next generation of fuels. (Imagine people growing hemp and making everything from food to fuel without petroleum!)
The co-opting of the environmental movement by the petroleum industry had a shattering effect. It crushed nascent biofuel businesses, killed research, cut off critical funding, stopped the building of new infrastructure, dissolved powerful alliances and seeded America with doubt over our ability to free ourselves from petroleum.
Today much of anti-biofuel “science”—including the false claim that biofuels need more energy to make than they contain—has been shown to be complete hogwash, bought and paid for by big oil. We can make most, if not all, of America’s fuel from alcohol, from bits of plants leftover after they are harvested, from the hundreds of millions of tons of municipal waste we produce, and the over 1 trillion gallons of sewage we produce.
I believe we will see a biofuels resurgence. While gas prices skyrocket and we continue to wage wars for oil, while spills, fracking, tar sands and the oil madness of our empire continue, people are waking up and realizing that you can’t be against petroleum and against fuels that come from nature. Bill McKibben and the thousands that surrounded the White House may have temporarily stopped the Keystone XL Pipeline. But to stop it for good, the movement has to stop using the one substance they are trying to transport in that pipe: oil. And the simplest way to do that is to switch to a different form of fuel.
Josh Tickell’s stirring, radical and multi-award-winning FUEL may be known by some as the “little energy documentary,” but in truth, it’s a powerful portrait of America’s overwhelming addiction to, and reliance on, oil. Born and raised in one of the USA’s most oil producing regions, he saw firsthand how the industry controls, deceives and damages the country, its people and the environment. After one too many people he knew became sick, Tickell couldn’t idly stand by any longer. He decided to make a film, focusing both on the knowledge and insight he discovered, but also giving hope that solutions are within reach. Just a “regular guy,” he spent eleven years making his film, showing himself—and others—that an individual can indeed make a difference.
Featuring: Barbara Boxer, Richard Branson, Sheryl Crow, Larry David, John Paul DeJoria, Larry Hagman, Woody Harrelson, Jim Hightower, Robert Kennedy, Jr., Willie Nelson, Julia Roberts, and Neil Young.
Now available from Cinema Libre Studio on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD platforms.
photos courtesy of FUEL/Cinema Libre Studio
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