In the midst of the climate crisis with record high temperatures and wildfires, Pedro, Maria and their two kids have been struggling to find livable housing in the desert.
“Unlivable Oasis” is a dystopian portrait of Thermal, a Southern California town that’s both a playground for the rich and home to immigrant farm workers who live in uninsulated, sun-baked trailers in some of the hottest farmland in the world. Excessive heat, arsenic-laced water and dust storms plague the immigrant family’s already dilapidated trailer, the only kind of housing they can afford with agricultural wages. Less than 30 miles northwest, more affluent residents cool themselves in shimmering pools and on lush, green golf courses.
This is what social scientists call the “climate gap”: “the sometimes hidden and often-unequal impact climate change will have on people of color and the poor.”
All over California — all over the United States — such gaps are increasingly evident. In Thermal, this climate gap is almost cartoonish. Even as Thermal residents desperately need basic infrastructure, such as potable water and electricity as well as better housing, the county board voted to approve the luxurious Thermal Beach Club, a man-made 20-acre surf lagoon with custom waves.
This Latino-directed film is a case study in how the growing climate environmental crisis magnifies inequality, and how it intersects with housing, the first line of defense against an increasingly inhospitable environment. Reporting and filming it presented a myriad of challenges, from getting the trust of the local community, to filming in the middle of sandstorms, to investigating responsibility at the local, regional and national levels.