The First Great Action Movie About Climate Justice?

Winford Hunter

Few recent books on the climate movement have so flustered audiences like Andreas Malm’s How to Blow Up a Pipeline. Since its publication in 2021, the left commentariat has spilled much ink weighing the potential benefits and costs of Malm’s call to sabotage fossil-fuel infrastructure because—to echo the IPCC’s bleak annual reports on climate change—we’re running out of time. But in other corners of opinion, a familiar blend of fascination and disdain emerged. “The problem with violence,” The New York Times noted in its initial review, “is that ultimately it’s impossible to control.” David Remnick of The New Yorker fretted that the property damage might “backfire and damage the movement.” Later, on her SiriusXM talk show, Megyn Kelly smirked at the book’s title and said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

For decades, the popular image of the climate activist in the media has jounced somewhere between out-of-touch tree-hugger and deranged supervillain, either too docile to meaningfully challenge their opponents or too crazy to be trusted with power. But Daniel Goldhaber’s film adaptation of How to Blow Up a Pipeline does away with that paradigm. The film—written by Goldhaber and his friends Ariela Barer and Jordan Sjol—boils down Malm’s book into a tightly wound thriller, in which eight lead characters who live hundreds of miles away from one another come together in heist-movie fashion to do exactly what the title states: destroy a major pipeline near Odessa, Tex.

While each character labors over the construction and placement of their homemade explosives, the film explores their motivations. Goldhaber, the son of climate scientists, toys with the climate-activist archetype, playing up the suspense in whether such a project could ever actually succeed. In other, more dismissive hands, Goldhaber’s white punks out of Portland could never have hoped to bridge the divide between themselves and a West Texas local, never mind the poor Black, brown, and Indigenous people whose neighborhoods have been more immediately affected by heat waves and cancer-causing pollutants. But Goldhaber’s film infuses these real tensions with an energizing sense of optimism. If Malm’s manifesto is the philosophical framework for why we should blow up a pipeline, Goldhaber’s film broaches the what if’s. What if a small team of people could utilize sabotage in such a way that their tactic becomes popular across the country? What if, despite each crew member’s varying needs and interests, their plan to topple fossil-fuel capital could actually work?

I spoke recently with Goldhaber about the challenges of making the film, the differences between cultural production and real climate activism, and state involvement in the film industry. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

—Sam Russek

Sam Russek: It took just 19 months to go from the conception of the idea for this movie to its premiere in Toronto last year, right?

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