To know me as I am today is in part to know a piece of my ancestry. By way of my paternal grandmother, I am six generations descended from James Gamble, a co-founder of the multinational consumer goods company Procter and Gamble. Though I no longer carry the Gamble name, and descendants have not been directly involved in management for generations, I have inherited wealth and a degree of power and status from this now-global corporation.
I do not want to give the impression that I regard P&G as a totem that must be revered and preserved. Nor do I mean to suggest that my connection to P&G has felt like a secret burden that I’ve hidden away all my life. But the company, and my family’s connection to it, has been an important part of the past few years of my life — and is part of what has led me to Annenberg.
In the fall of 2020, my sister and I learned that many paper and palm oil-derived P&G products — from Charmin to Dawn — are tied to human rights abuses and deforestation primarily in Canada and Southeast Asia. As we learned more about these supply chains and the ongoing campaigns by environmental organizations and directly impacted communities pushing P&G to change its practices, we agreed that as descendants of the founder we had a unique role to play in drawing attention to this issue.
In the three years since then, I have been on a crash-course in forest sustainability, corporate engagement, political organizing and media training. I’ve submitted op-eds, appeared on a segment of CBS Mornings with Gayle King and protested outside the company headquarters in Cincinnati. But perhaps one of the most rewarding projects I have contributed to is “The Issue with Tissue: a boreal love story” which is a documentary about the Canadian forest, the threats it faces from extractive industries, the indigenous people who live there and the ongoing struggle to protect it.
In fact, as the movie chronicles, there can be no meaningful response to the climate emergency without the boreal. Canada’s boreal forest is the largest intact forest in the world, and – alongside the Amazon – is one of the planet’s lungs. The forest stores more than 300 billion tons of carbon – two times the carbon held in the world’s oil reserves. But still, each year, driven by profit-obsessed companies like P&G, one million acres of boreal forest are clear-cut.
I often feel daunted by the scale not just of climate change, but the specific threats to the boreal. And I feel a sense of personal responsibility given my connection to one of the companies profiting from its destruction. But throughout this process, one fact has been a touchstone, a grounding anchor, that has kept me, my sister and the small group of fellow descendants we organized focused: Though Indigenous people represent just 5% of the world’s population, they protect as much as 80% of the world’s biodiversity. “The Issue with Tissue” centers these voices and tells not just a climate story, but story about contemporary eco-colonialism and the enduring wisdom of indigenous elders from across the boreal region.
I believe that leveraging whatever speck of influence the circumstances of my birth may have granted me is best spent by drawing attention to and supporting indigenous voices who are on the front lines of climate impact as well as protecting ecosystems. To that end, when three descendants managed to get a meeting with P&Gs CEO, they delivered a letter from a community in Indonesia impacted by the palm-oil industry. It’s also why I decided to be a very small part of this documentary.
The film, which premiered at Cinéfest Sudbury International Film Festival in Ontario, Canada last year is scheduled for a one-week run at Laemmle Theater NoHo 7 in North Hollywood. The evening shows will feature a Q&A with the director, Michael Zelniker, who is an award-winning Canadian actor who lives in L.A.
Though I have not seen the film in its entirety, the previews Zelniker shared with me throughout the process make me confident that this little-known, but vitally important, story is a must see.
Jules Feeney is a multimedia journalist with a focus on climate, international and investigative reporting. He came to USC after working four seasons on a commercial fishing boat in Bristol Bay, Alaska.