A car’s high beams trace slow-motion lightning across the highway. An auto worker in suspenders strides the factory floor. These seductive images of the American automotive industry act as dreamy parentheses to Josh and Rebecca Tickell’s compelling and cogent documentary Pump, which examines why Americans are so lacking in options at the gas station, what that means about the future of transportation and environmental health, and why the oil-driven American Dream must die — why it is dying.
The core of Pump‘s argument comes from interviews with writers, activists, politicians, and current and former oil and auto industry executives, all of whom emphasize that the rate at which Americans consume oil is unsustainable, and that, ultimately, oil reserves will be exhausted; the only option is to change our fuel sources.
The Tickells complicate and ultimately underscore this argument by placing American practice and policy in conversation with other countries’ fuel habits. While fast-industrializing China once had streets full of bicyclists, the country’s new prosperity has brought with it a status-driven car culture; Brazil responded to fuel crises in the 1970s and ’80s by mandating that the cheaper — and arguably more sustainable — ethanol be offered at pumps alongside gasoline.
It’s no accident, the Tickells argue, that ethanol hasn’t caught on in the U.S. By carefully tracing the history of the oil companies’ legislative and consumer power and influence, the directors explore America’s issue of substance dependence, and indict the companies that act as enablers. If you’re not convinced we’re addicted, ask yourself if you could quit at any time.