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Showtime's 'Years of Living Dangerously' Combines Climate Change Science with Drama

The gripping new Showtime docu-series Years of Living Dangerously tackles climate change with a combination of Hollywood star power, heavyweight scientists and frontline reporting. Sending big name such as Harrison Ford, Thomas Friedman, Lesley Stahl and Jessica Alba into the field as correspondents to document the human impact of climate change, the series conveys the issue’s urgency with drama and facts. The nine episodes cover topics such as Hurricane Sandy, rising sea levels, upheaval from the droughts in Syria and Texas, deforestation and palm oil in Indonesia, religious beliefs, and renewable energy. An underlying theme is the desire to convince skeptics of the need to act now.

I had a chance to talk with one of the series’ film editors, Alison Amron, to get her perspective on this ambitious series.

Q. How can bringing Hollywood stars to an issue that is usually discussed with charts and graphs succeed where other climate-change communication efforts have failed?

A. We all know that climate change is responsible for things like the melting ice cap but many of us don’t realize that there is a lot more going on all over the world. The droughts in the southwest and in California are more intense than they might have been because the climate is changing. Forest fire season is longer because it is hotter and drier. In Bangladesh and on the US East Coast, there is more flooding because sea levels are rising. We see all of this through the eyes of our correspondents. And since they aren’t experts, they ask the questions that you and I would ask. Also, by using big stars as correspondents, we can talk to people who might not want to talk to a reporter. I don’t know if the forestry minister in Indonesia would have talked to a journalist, but I think anyone would talk to Harrison Ford. I know I’d answer the door if he knocked!

By the way, all of our correspondents are passionate about this series. Many, such as Matt Damon, have their own environmental foundations and all are committed to making the world more sustainable.

Q. Does the series help explain why climate skeptics cling so tenaciously to their beliefs?

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A. The series does not pose the question: “Is climate change happening?” There is no debate; it is a fact. That being said, we do talk to some skeptics. One story is about a young woman who works for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in North Carolina. Her father is an evangelical preacher who does not believe in climate change. Ian Somerhalder goes with her on a journey to try to convince her father that climate change is indeed human-caused. I won’t tell you how it turns out.

Q. What story lines did you find most compelling?

A. Of the stories I edited, I loved the journey of the preacher’s daughter. But for me, the most compelling story was the one that followed three business students who spent the summer working as fellows in the Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Corps program. EDF embeds students in companies across the country to find ways for them to save money by becoming more energy efficient. One of the students was looking to save energy in Las Vegas, of all places. Nothing like going to the capitol of excess and making it more efficient! And they have saved companies millions! So much for people who say energy regulations will be bad for business. It really is a win-win situation.

Q. What did you learn about climate change that most surprised you?

A. Actually, I was really surprised to learn how deadly heat waves are - especially since we will have so many more of them in the future. Matt Damon looked into this for us in Los Angeles and what he found was pretty shocking.

Q. How did immersing yourself in climate change issues for 13 months affect you personally?

A. My problem now is that I can’t go anywhere and not do my own energy audit. Since I’m a freelancer, I work at many different offices; where I was working this week, I saw a ton of wasted energy. Everything from computers and monitors being left on all night to lights on in an area where sunlight pours in all day long. I walk around turning off lights all the time. I have become an amateur energy auditor!

Q. What has been the viewer reaction so far?

A. So far, viewer reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. The first episode is still available to stream free on YouTube and as of April 24th, we’ve had 445,000 views. Amazing for a one-hour documentary.

Watch episode one here. Episodes 1-4 of Years of Living Dangerously are available on Showtime, Sundays at 10PM ET; episodes 5-9 will air on Mondays through June 9.

This post first appeared on the Pure Strategies blog on April 25, 2014.


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