The climate documentary we’ve been waiting for?

“Years of Living Dangerously” is a documentary series created to depict how humans have made a dramatic impact on our climate. The series airs on Showtime and is produced by Hollywood heavyweights such as James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger. We got our first look at how the series- fueled by celebrity guest appearances and billed as “a searching look at the human toll of climate change” last Sunday night. The show has been attacked already (not always fairly), but I think it’s worth watching and offer this short review to tell you why.

The set-up of each episode shows a few stories narrated by famous celebrity ‘correspondents’. In the premiere episode we are presented with three unique stories told by actors, Don Cheadle and Harrison Ford, and New York Times journalist, Thomas Friedman. Each depicting how humans are the cause of global climate change and how it is affecting people all around the world.

Rather than follow one actor or story from beginning to end show switches from one story to the next. The segues and cuts are clear, and the intention is to heighten drama and suspense — a tough thing to do when covering slow-moving news like a drought or deforestation.

The storylines, though very different in nature, progress together and always end with a realization moment. Throughout the stories we are introduced to first hand reports of the people affected by climate change: a laid off employee in Texas due to drought; a former Syrian soldier who is now a refugee; and finally the story of two men’s fight to save a rainforest.

Each of the stories is backed up with plenty of Al-Gore style science and narration. In Cheadle’s story of Texas we have an acclaimed climate scientist and devout christian  tell a suspicious audience that humans cause climate change. Her name is Katherine Hayhoe and she patiently explains that the world should actually be cooling if we look at all the natural culprits to climate change. When we move to Indonesia for Ford’s narrative, we begin with a long exposition on NASA’s studies of the world’s deforestation and the immense carbon emission it causes — which might be a pretext to put Harrison Ford in a fighter jet and make us all remember his earlier films like Air Force One.

When Ford and his associates visit Indonesia to stop the deforestation they discuss how the peat in the forest floor has enough carbon to contribute at least 2% of the entire carbon emissions in Earth’s atmosphere. Ford’s story is pitched as a fight the corrupt Indonesian government to put remaining forest lands under protection from palm oil plantations.

The last story is of Friedman’s journey to the Syrian border and the causes of the civil war there. At first it’s presented as a straightforward documentary about the war. But as we follow Freidman deeper, we see that a climate-fueled drought has caused many people to become refugees and forced them into poverty.

These people asked the government to help, but when nothing happened they felt betrayed and this betrayal was fomented into a revolution. I found this story the most powerful in this episode.

Friedman uses all his Pulitzer prize winning skills to bring attention to how our future may look if nothing is done about climate change. It is a glimpse of a world where water becomes scarce, and wars become common. This story enriches the that people are the cause to global warming and it is people, along with the planet, that will suffer if we fail to act.

Displaying the direct impacts of climate change on the human race and emphasizing how people cause these terrible effects is eye-opening. It is a call to action and an excellent way to make the global issues seem local as well. This series will continue with more stories and more issues next week, and I’ll be tuning in.

Watch it on Showtime Thursdays at 8pm.

Leave a Reply