"Years of Living Dangerously," a nine-part documentary
beginning Sunday on CBS Corp's premium cable network Showtime,
chronicles the human impact on the global climate and the
consequences for humans of climate change.
From the disappearing forests of Indonesia to the increasing
frequency of California's wildfires and the crippling Texas
drought, the documentary wants to put the focus back on an issue
that has lost visibility since the days of the 2006
Oscar-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth."
"This is such a critical time," said James Cameron, best known
as director of blockbuster films "Titanic" and "Avatar" and an
executive producer on "Years of Living Dangerously."
"The devastation to the planet that we'll be experiencing in the
next century is really, I think, pretty unfathomable for most
people, and I think that what the series can do is to bring it
home and make it real, make it real in people terms."
To do that, Cameron appealed to well-known Hollywood actors to
act as correspondents, including Harrison Ford, Matt Damon, Don
Cheadle, Jessica Alba, Michael C. Hall and Arnold
Schwarzenegger, also an executive producer on the documentary.
In the first episode, "Praying for Rain," Cheadle travels to
Plainview, Texas, where residents face economic hardship due to
the severe drought in the region that forced the closure last
year of the meat-packing plant owned by Cargill Inc, the town's
Cheadle meets a former employee who has fallen on hard times
since Cargill's closure and believes the drought is "biblical."
But Cheadle also finds the scientist Katharine Hayhoe, an
evangelical Christian and professor at Texas Tech University,
who has made it her mission to explain to people the science
behind the drought — notably that warmer temperatures are making
droughts more severe, affecting jobs, food and health.
A combination of legislative gridlock in the United States and
economic malaise in the wake of the 2008 recession have pushed
climate change policies, aimed at stemming greenhouse gas
production, onto the back burner.
The latest report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC) in March said the effects of warming are
being felt everywhere, fuelling potential food shortages,
natural disasters and raising the risk of wars.
Cameron believes that progress can only come from legislative
"I think the U.S. is trailing the pack. I think the U.S.,
instead of showing the kind of moral leadership that it should,
is being shamed by almost every other country in the world
that's actually taking action," the director said.
"If we're going to have change in this country, it's got to come
from the grassroots up. It's got to be the average citizen realizing
that their lives and well-being are in jeopardy."
[to top of second column]
FAME FOSTERS ACCESS
Bringing Hollywood voices to the issue has its advantages, as Ford
shows in the first two episodes of "Years of Living Dangerously."
The "Indiana Jones" actor traveled to Indonesia to see the impact of
deforestation, and demanded answers from both the forestry minister
and Indonesian president in meetings that attracted international
"If people are watching people whom they associate with escapist
fiction, laying bare some sobering facts, it may lend a resonance
they wouldn't otherwise have," said Hall, who traveled to
Bangladesh, a nation threatened by the rising sea levels.
As one of Hollywood's most successful directors, the 59-year-old
Cameron and has used his medium to get people thinking about the
impact of climate change. His 2009 sci-fi 3D epic "Avatar," about an
alien species who come under threat when humans mine precious
minerals from their planet, was a prime example.
With "Avatar" sequels planned in 2016 and 2017, Cameron said the
films will be "about our connection to nature and our connection to
Joining the documentary's celebrities are the scientists, a group of
nine advisors who aid the stars in making the scientific case about
But the documentary also acknowledges the climate change skeptics,
from the Texans who believe droughts are brought on by the hand of
God, to the scientists who believe global warming is part of the
planet's natural process.
Even the experts can be skeptical. An author for the U.N.'s IPCC
report in March pulled out of the writing team saying the report was
"alarmist" about the threat of climate change.
But Cameron makes clear he is skeptical of the skeptics.
"I think it's important to analyze each of the skeptics' arguments
very carefully and when you analyze them, they fall apart; they fall
apart in the light of science."
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Lisa Shumaker)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.