Last week something rare and extraordinarily positive occurred on American television. Fortunately, through YouTube and 350.org, the rest of the world got to see it too.
“Something positive?” a critic questions. “If climate change is as bad as you tree-hugger people claim it is, how can anything about it be positive?”
The phenomenon tends to inspire either respect and fear or laughter and derision in the United States—when it isn’t simply being ignored. (Chart below shows Yale’s take on US believability statistics.) Fortunately, the rest of the world has a little more common sense than we do.
If you want to know how anyone could think a new cable TV series called “Years of Living Dangerously” could be positive, you need at least to check out the quick teaser for the show.
Last week, Derek Markham previewed the series for PlanetSave. As Derek said, the topic of the program—climate change, shown through intimate accounts of both triumph and tragedy—comes from sound science. Unfortunately, the topic has attracted the attention, and often the scorn, of vested-interest global warming deniers and those whom they manage to influence.
The first of nine installments aired last Sunday, initially on YouTube and 350.org, and later on SHOWTIME cable, which will broadcast every episode of the entire series on successive Sunday nights. If you or friends missed the premiere of this blockbuster, you can still check out the entire first episode on YouTube (link is below). Hundreds of thousands of people did tune in, and many more have seen the special on demand.
The producers intended this multi-episode made-for-TV special to open and educate our minds—if not blow them entirely. Cultural anthropologist and devout Christian Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Why Years Of Living Dangerously Stands Apart
It’s not a conference of sixty thousand people in Qatar or Rio. It’s not Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon making another speech from Geneva, New York, or Nairobi. It’s not a bunch of science geeks and loners tweeting their hearts out about how smart they are, and how smart you’re not. It’s not the Working Group III draft of the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (an outgrowth of the Framework Convention on Climate Change). Nor is it President Barack Obama’s state-of-the-world speeches one more time, or C-Span covering 30-some US senators who’re staying #Up4Climate inside the Capitol.
Nope. It’s respected journalists and thoughtful Hollywood celebrities traveling the globe to explore environmental and policy issues that are quickly making the 21st century into years of living dangerously. And as such, it’s factual, riveting, real-life drama more absorbing and longer lasting than March Madness or Dancing With The Stars.
Years of Living Dangerously executive producers James Cameron, Jerry Weintraub (with his golden retriever, Bet), David Gelber, Joel Bach, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, with images of devastation and destruction from their new Showtime series, about climate change, photographed by Jonas Fredwall Karlsson for Vanity Fair (two-page spread) at MBS Media Campus, in Manhattan Beach, California.
Some pretty big names are involved in this. First, the executive producers. There are a lot of them:
James Cameron, Canadian film director, deep-sea explorer, screenwriter, editor, multi-Oscar winner, and one of the most popular film producers in Hollywood, who directed the two biggest box office films of all time: Titanic and Avatar.
Jerry Weintraub, film producer, entertainment mogul, former chairman and CEO of United Artists, and cofounder of 60s vocal group The Doodletown Pipers (once beloved to this writer).
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Teutonic movie hunk, former husband of a Kennedy, California’s 38th governor, founder of the nonprofit R20: Regions of Climate Action, and recent star of Escape Plan and Sabotage.
Daniel Abbasi, leader on climate change issues, founder of GameChange Capital, author, appointee at the EPA (worked with White House in mid-1990s on first U.S. National Action Plan on Climate Change), former strategist for subsidiaries of Washington Post and Time Warner, and former Associate Dean at Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
Joel Bach, story producer at 60 Minutes for seven years, multi-Emmy awardwinner, colleague of Ed Bradley, Scott Pelley, Steve Kroft, and Lesley Stahl, veteran of ABC and NBC, and freelance producer/director of music videos, commercials, short films, and PSAs in California.
David Gelber, Ed Bradley’s producer at 60 Minutes for 25 years, winner of every major journalism award, including a Peabody, two DuPont Awards, and eight Emmy Awards, former executive producer of Peter Jennings Reporting at ABC News, winner of Best Investigative Story of 2010 Emmy with Scott Pelley on medical charlatans who peddle bogus stem cell therapy to patients dying of ALS.
Solly Granatstein, television producer formerly with 60 Minutes, NBC News, and ABC News, multiple award-winner, recent producer of “Inside Mexico’s Drug War,” “Blowout: The Deepwater Horizon Disaster,” and “Lost Children of Haiti.”
Maria Wilhelm, Executive Director of the Avatar Alliance Foundation, President & COO of CAMERON Companies, social advocate with a focus on climate change, with commercial initiatives in new technology integration and interests in China and elsewhere.
Second (although they often vie for first place), the stars of the show. Here are a few of these luminaries, all of whom showed up at the premiere:
Harrison Ford, Oscar-winning actor, environmentalist (Conservation International Board member from 1991, later Vice Chairman and Executive Committee; also involved with the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and others), Han Solo in the first “Star Wars” trilogy, Indiana Jones in four mega-hits starting with “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” recently in “42” and “Ender’s Game.”
Ian Somerhalder, actor (Boone Carlyle in “Lost,” Damon Salvatore in “The Vampire Diaries”), model from age 10-13, environmentalist (Ian Somerhalder Foundation, personal involvement in the cleanup after the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling disaster), conservationist, supporter of the
It Gets Better Project (GLBT teen suicide), and Millenial heart-throb.
Don Cheadle, actor (Boogie Nights, Ocean’s 11, 12, 13, Hotel Rwanda, Marty Kaan on “House of Lies”), producer, Golden Globe Award winner, co-founder of Not on Our Watch Project, U.N. Environment Program Goodwill Ambassador.
Also featured: Mark Bittman, Christopher Hayes, Lesley Stahl, Sanjayan Muttulingam, Thomas Friedman, Olivia Munn, America Ferrera, Matt Damon, Michael C. Hall, and Jessica Alba.
Lead producer James Cameron premiered Years of Living Dangerously at World Bank headquarters on April 10. Established by international treaty to restore stability during the last days of World War II, this organization now provides loans to developing countries for capital programs, aiming to put an end to poverty. Since 1989, the bank has also introduced sustainable preservation of the environment within the framework of development. The organization believes in Years of Living Dangerously. Its president, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, and Rachel Kyte, Vice President & Special Envoy for Climate Change, put it this way:
“Climate change is a human story. It is fundamentally about people.”
So far, the producers of the series and others have posted over 25 videos—trailers, clips, and bonus footage—on YouTube. A quarter-million people saw the preview released on April 6, 2014. The premiere is headed for half a million views on YouTube alone (not counting SHOWTIME, 350.org, or watch parties).
The Premiere Episode: Years of Living Dangerously
>>> WATCH Years of Living Dangerously Premiere (Full Episode #1) HERE! < <<
The program opens with footage of a military jet converted to a climate change mission. Harrison Ford, the show’s main narrator, boards the plane, and he and the pilot take off to start the video special. The video runs back and forth through three stories for the first episode.
Last Stand–Ford visits Indonesia and surveys explosive deforestation caused by the world’s shortsighted pursuit of palm oil.
Pray for Rain–Don Cheadle investigates the sudden death of Plainview, Texas, when Cargill abruptly closes its meat packing plant there because a three-year drought has devastated the cattle herds. Ten percent of the residents are now out of work. We see Plainview marching the four-mile perimeter of the plant praying for rain.
Climate Wars—New York Times writer Thomas Friedman takes us to Syria, starting in the years leading up to the recent civil war, and tracks the path from climate changes to the virtual collapse of civilized life within the country’s borders.
By the end of the episode, we begin to make some connections we’d never have thought of before watching the show. One of these is the frightening notion that what happened in Syria might be starting in Texas also, and for reasons like the bad environmental tradeoffs made in Indonesia. In fact, the whole world may be headed for similar breakdowns if we can’t redirect ourselves away from shortsighted self-destructiveness.
Another connection is sure to recur as a theme throughout the series: the surprising and enduring compatibility of science and religion, both acts of God. Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, an practical evangelical climate scientist from Texas Tech and member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Climate Science Panel, talks about how she reconciles God and science and how to speak about climate change science with people of faith. See Hayhoe in action here.
Google+ ONLINE HANGOUT after Episode #1
A fun “hangout” occurred at 8:30 ET, after the first episode aired online. Some of the producers, actor Ian Somerhalder, and leaders from the climate movement like 350.org founder Bill McKibben stuck around for a live video-chat to explain why they decided to do the series and give their takes on what viewers can get from it. Joe Romm of the Center for American Progress (and formerly Acting Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy) moderated it. Unfortunately, TV anchor Chris Hayes was not able to attend for that panel.
Individuals and groups viewed the TV special and panel hangout at prearranged “watch parties.” Wow—sharing popcorn, beverages, and consternation. In the heartland, Aerial Dance Chicago Studio hosted the video watch. There were hundreds of other mass showings all across the US (and elsewhere).
You can see the chat and some great clips of the show at www.350.org/years, a crusading environmental website that aims to keep the climate change adaptation/mitigation movement strong and growing. Among the questions submitted:
How do we make legislators, who refuse to accept science in any form, understand their role in climate change?
• How can a teenager help with this big job?
• Is the government refusing to take major action on the issue of global warming?
We heard many voices during the hangout, but the viewers directed about 90% of their questions to Ian Somerhalder. Love and respect for the dark, complex television vampire revealed the predominance of tender years and imagination tuning in.
The Best for Last
Derek Markham remarked in his preview that this television series might prove a catalyst for national (and international) conversations about one of the biggest issues facing the human race in the near future. You can follow the hashtag #YEARSofLIVING on twitter to hear the latest news about it, or “like” the Years page on Facebook, as well as tuning in to dozens of videos and online blogs.
The show is prompting many related international, regional, national, grassroots, and individual efforts. As well as adding a refreshing young adult faction to those who want to do something about climate change, Years of Living Dangerously has clued in a previously unaware group of average TV viewers to the hazards we may be in for if we don’t start rearranging some priorities.
So a lot more people in a lot more places are now getting it. Are you still asking what I can possibly find in the situation that’s positive? Here’s my take.
Years of Living Dangerously effectively counters the bluff and bluster of climate denialism. It lets facts take the sting away from fear of the unknown. It rejects the defeatism inherent in intellectuals and the cynicism of governments (for example, America’s State Department basing its energy predictions on the worst-case scenario of no climate change pushback at all). It echoes the IPCC Fifth Assessment’s tone of reason and caution in a context that allows hope for individual efforts and world-building. It promotes the knowledge that although something large is amiss and we cannot put a stop to it, we can at least face the problems, put the brakes on, and figure out ways to mitigate climate disaster.
Episode 2 on wildfires, featuring Ford again and Schwartzenegger, airs tonight on SHOWTIME at 10:00.
Here are some links that may be helpful to you in understanding the issues, questions, answers, and blank spots of living in a particularly vulnerable era.
Subscribe to the Years of Living Dangerously channel for more.
Check out the official site for the nine-part video production here.
Click here for a summary of all episodes of the program.
Subscribe to SHOWTIME on cable TV. Order now for $25 off.
Watch on SHOWTIME free with your paid subscription.
And if you think SHOWTIME is being just a little greedy by keeping episodes 2 through 9 exclusive to the cable- and satellite-viewing elite (when the network’s name and copyright appear everywhere in connection to the show anyway)—although the producers say they are still trying to find a way to block the premium giant’s stranglehold—do drop a line to the SHOWTIME subsidiary of CBS Corporation to let them know how much better off they’d look if they showed just a teensy sign of gratitude and goodwill and let everyone in on the picture at once. Maybe the vibes would spread out to those who pollute our only planet and (worse yet!) feel they have to lie about doing it.