What is a Sustainable Community?

Blue Planet United is dedicated to promoting an agenda for sustainable living and sustainable communities.  But what do we mean by sustainability?

The term is often defined as having an equal balance of the three Es: Environmental quality, Economic vitality, and social Equity.  Building sustainable communities requires careful integration of environmental, social and economic strategies. If we can focus on all three – not just one – these strategies create a sense of place, personal responsibility, and social well-being that together foster improvements in quality of life.

Sustainable communities are healthy communities where natural resources are preserved, jobs are available, sprawl is contained, neighborhoods are secure, education is lifelong, health care is affordable and all citizens have opportunities to improve the quality of their lives. Who doesn’t want to live in a place like that? Who doesn’t want clean air and clean water and tasty local food and safe playgrounds for children? We can achieve those goals by changing our focus and our behavior.

To sustain is to support without collapse. As the 21st century lurches forward, sustainable communities will be the ones that become more resilient. Pandemics and the climate crisis will require rethinking how we live. For example, in order to avoid pandemics, the world needs to shut down wild animal markets, which are cruel and unsustainable anyway. To avoid worsening climate disasters, we need to transition away from fossil fuels as soon as possible, fossil fuels that are not good for our health in any case.

In this respect, the current pandemic has produced some unexpected and thought-provoking consequences.

  • People have noticed and appreciated bluer skies and cleaner air as a result of the declining use of fossil fuels. Waterways are cleaner too!  The shift to renewable sources of energy, such as solar and wind, has accelerated, supported by changing public attitudes.  
  • People have seen that disadvantaged communities, minorities, marginalized groups and low-wage industries have been disproportionately affected in the pandemic, highlighting the increasing inequality of the social order that has attracted widespread attention.  It is a reminder that a sustainable community is also a just community that guarantees the right to equal treatment and equal opportunities for everyone.
  • People have experienced a dramatic change in the relationship between work and home life, raising questions about the emergence of new and better ways of living and working.   

If nothing else, we have learned that people can make substantial daily lifestyle changes very quickly when required to do so.  To live sustainably we must endeavor to be civic minded, to treat ourselves and others with respect, and to create innovative solutions to our current problems. 

To be sure, the problems we face are complex, systemic and multifaceted.  But to get started, individuals can take steps on their own, such as:

  • Get to know the place where you live as a bioregion, not just as a political jurisdiction. Get to know native plants and animals. Appreciate the roles they play in your health and well-being.
  • If your income rises, instead of buying more, bigger, or fancier things, reward yourself with less stuff and a simpler life that allows you more freedom and more time for family, friends and community.
  • Engage in social discourse that explores complex issues, avoids stereotyping and extremism, and searches for creative solutions.  

As we work together to make a more sustainable world, we must be kind to ourselves and others, and creative in envisioning solutions for a better future.  

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In Memoriam: Lamont C. Hempel

It is with deep shock and sadness that we share the news that Dr. Lamont (Monty) Hempel, founder of Blue Planet Films, passed away on December 4th, following a brief illness. He was 69 years old.

Monty was a documentary filmmaker. He made more than 25 films, specializing in works about coral ecosystems, sustainability, wilderness preservation, and biodiversity.

In addition to his filmmaking, he was the University of Redlands Hedco Chair in Environmental Studies and the Director of the Center for Environmental Studies, 

Monty truly believed that people would join together, build sustainable communitites, and create a better world. May he and his work for environmental justice live on in our lives as the best way to memorialize Monty and perpetuate his passion and purpose.

One colleague reflected: “We have lost a pillar of the environmental community, a towering intellect, and a kind and gentle friend. My heart grieves with you all.”

Monty joined the Redlands College of Arts and Sciences faculty in 1999 and, as the Hedco Chair, directed the transformative growth of environmental programs at the University, including creating the Department of Environmental Studies, curriculum development in the former Whitehead College, and the Redlands Institute. Monty also chaired the Sustainability Council of the University.

Each year for the last 19 years, he took students to the tiny island nation of Palau, to study sustainability in action in a place known for its beautiful fragile coral reefs and traditional culture trying to withstand the ravages of modern society. He was devoted to young people and believed they were the promise for the future. 

Monty’s films and teaching focused on environmental science and policy, with particular emphasis on issues of climate disruption, marine environmental protection, and international environmental governance. His professional work, strongly interdisciplinary, was guided by the goal of pragmatic idealism.

Dr. Lamont C. (Monty) Hempel

Dr. Lamont C. (Monty) Hempel, 1950-2019

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In memory of Marilee Scaff

(1915-2019), board member of Blue Planet United and star of BPU’s award-winning film, SPIRIT OF PLACE (2010)*.  A longtime community activist, teacher, and naturalist, Dr. Scaff was a passionate advocate for social and environmental causes and an important donor to Blue Planet United.  Until her death in March 2019, Marilee was the nation’s oldest living girl scout and an accomplished author who wrote her best known book, Strength for the Journey, at age 102. A survivor of a POW/internment camp in the Philippines during World War II, Scaff went on to have a distinguished career as an educator in public schools and universities.

Marilee Scaff in Spirit of Place

In order to celebrate and to promote her legacy, Blue Planet United is re-releasing SPIRIT OF PLACE, making it freely available on this and other web sites.  The 29-minute film addresses the importance of wildness in a technologically transformed and urbanizing world. Featuring Marilee Scaff’s observations about a life lived close to nature, the film celebrates the powerful sense of wonder that springs from human encounters with wildlife and spectacular scenery. The purpose of the film is to remind nature lovers everywhere of the inspiring places that add meaning to their lives. It aims to encourage young people, especially, to discover the true wealth hidden in wild landscapes and seascapes. The film builds slowly to an emotional climax that explores human spirituality and mortality at its most profound level, inviting both secular and religious interpretations of our changing relationship with Nature.

Spirit of Place

Written, directed and produced by Monty Hempel

     *Winner of the John Muir Award,  Yosemite International Film Festival, 2011

Click on play button below to view film





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Exploring the Anthropocene

Blue Planet United announces plans for a new on-line video masterclass series, Exploring the Anthropocene, which began production in early 2018 and is scheduled for completion in 2019-2020. The series will be hosted by BPU President, Dr. Monty Hempel, who is writing, directing, and producing the ten-part series.

The Anthropocene is the name proposed by scientists to describe the current geological epoch of planet earth, in which human activities have become a major driving force in altering and often disrupting climate and other global environmental systems. The film series will examine the resulting changes in life and interdependence on a human-dominated planet.

Although presented in the format of a video masterclass, the series will draw heavily on dramatic storytelling, spectacular visuals of nature and wildlife, and a strong blend of science-based learning and poignant appeals for emotional intelligence.  The entire series will be provided free on-line for students in high school, college, and life-long learners, everywhere.


Dr. Monty Hempel, environmental scientist, filmmaker and president of Blue Planet United

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Eye to Eye with Whales

Blue Planet United’s co-founder, Monty Hempel, offers a personal account of an underwater close encounter with whales that profoundly altered his worldview twenty years ago. In an article and accompanying short film (see the film trailer below), Hempel recounts two hours of close engagement with seven dwarf minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) in an area known as the Ribbon Reefs, south of Australia’s Lizard Island National Park.

As a result of the encounter, Hempel began to investigate the ways in which the human brain and the cetacean brain process knowledge about their worlds and about each other. Meeting eye-to-eye, 60 feet below the ocean surface, their worlds come together in a riveting experience of natural wonder and intense curiosity. What humans can learn from this fleeting experience may rival a lifetime of learning from classrooms and books!

Link to the article: Eye to Eye with Whales: Environmental Thought in a Divided Brain: Eye-to-Eye with Whales (Hempel Article)

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Alternate Science

A satirical look at climate science under the Trump administration. This 3-minute film examines the fictitious Trump Coal Coalition and the associated theories of Dr. Theodore Droop, the alternate scientist who discovered thermal erectile dysfunction (TED).  Rated best U.S. short film and runner-up internationally in the 2017 Climate Comedy Video Competition:  “Inside the Greenhouse” (University of Colorado, Boulder).

Like other sustainability organizations that have been disrupted by the election of Donald Trump, Blue Planet United is departing from its usually serious (and hopeful) treatment of the human condition in order to enjoy a little levity.  We remain fully committed to science and reason, while acknowledging the legitimate concerns of some Trump supporters. We wish only that President Trump would focus on those legitimate concerns and spend more time uniting, rather than dividing, the people of this fragile blue planet.

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Prochlorococcus Day

Blue Planet United is calling for a day of special observance of one tiny cyanobacterium’s  contribution to human welfare.  Prochlorococcus, which lives in the ocean, produces approximately 20% of the global oxygen that humans and other lifeforms need to live.  A form of what scientists call photosynthetic picoplankton, it is among the smallest photosynthesizing organisms on Earth, yet one of the most productive.  In fact, Prochlorococcus is considered to be the most abundant primary producer alive, when measured by species.  It alone provides for about one of every five breaths we take.  With that in mind, Blue Planet United is proposing that humanity recognize this microbe’s vital ecological service to our planet.  Since it provides about one-fifth of our yearly oxygen requirement, we suggest that it’s contribution be recognized annually on the date of March 14th (the 73rd day or first fifth of the year).

If you breathe, if you love the ocean, if you feel thankful for all the free services Nature provides, or if you feel that it is high time we recognize the invisible things that keep us alive, please join us in celebrating our interdependence with marine cyanobacteria.



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BLOOD & CORAL Now Available on DVD

Blood & Coral Poster (SMALL)This feature documentary examines the health of the ocean, focusing on coral reefs and their vulnerability to climate disruption, overfishing, pollution, and ocean acidification. Using the spectacular reefs and islands of Palau, the film celebrates the stunning beauty and diversity of wild coral, while calling attention to its growing fragility and rapid decline.

Palau’s battle of Peleliu island, one of World War II’s most savage conflicts, provides the film with a striking analogy for the environmental battle now taking place on the reefs offshore, where bombs have been replaced by greenhouse gases, fishing fleets perform the role of naval artillery, and super typhoons succeed armies as invading forces.

Blood & Coral tells the story of an island paradise that was utterly destroyed by war and slowly restored by Nature in one of Earth’s most incredible feats of redemption. In that powerful regenerative process lies the hope that people and Nature will act in concert to restore and sustain coral reefs, everywhere.

From the director: “Blood & Coral is an environmental elegy that weaves together awe-inspiring scenes of nature’s beauty and fury with searing images of war and human conquest. Unlike an elegy, however, it has the upbeat look of a tropical travel film, complete with scenic landscapes, underwater adventure, and amazing wildlife. By emphasizing both the beauty and fragility of coral ecosystems, the film is intended to engage viewers intellectually and emotionally in the urgent struggle to save wild coral. Preserving coral reefs is ultimately about preserving our humanity.”

Go to our store – “Films” (click on the menu at the top of this page) – to order your copy.  You can also download and stream the video on Amazon.com.


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“EROSION OF LIFE” – A new film coming in 2017 from Blue Planet United

We humans like to define ourselves by what we build, invent or create, but our signature trait is manifest most clearly by what we destroy.  Nothing reveals this unflattering trait better than our devastating impact on the animals and plants with which we share this planet.

Only one species, ours, seems poised to dominate everything:  every ecosystem, every watershed, every major food system, every climate zone, every geographic region, every type of habitat, every market, zipcode, biological community, and individual animal — from the Arctic polar bear to the Antarctic penguin and the millions of species in between.

Today’s humans are architects of the most advanced civilization yet achieved and at the same time we are the leading executioners of nonhuman life, presiding over the first mass extinction since the death of the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago. While the current era marks humanity’s first global assault on biodiversity, it is the planet’s sixth major extinction event in the 3.7 billion-year history of life. Scientists warn that in the 21st century alone, the world may lose half of all living species, largely as a result of poorly planned human development and rapid growth in population and per capita consumption. At the individual level, nearly half of global wildlife have been lost in just the past 40 years. This film examines the causes of this “erosion of life” and the steps humanity can take to slow and reverse this race to extinction.

Filmed, directed, and produced by Monty Hempel, the film will present a hopeful but unflinching view of the biodiversity challenge we face in the twenty-first century.  See the official trailer, below, for a preview of the film’s fascinating images, subjects, and themes.

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The Eighth Billion

Enjoy a new short film about population growth and the future of wilderness created by Blue Planet United.  The film combines the efforts of writer, producer and director, Monty Hempel, and population expert and film consultant, Marilyn Hempel.  Marilyn is Blue Planet United’s executive director; Monty is the organization’s president.


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