Years of Living Dangerously,
Showtime’s ambitious new series, Years of Living Dangerously strives to warn us about the possible devastation that global warming might bring about if it remains unchecked. It also surveys what it has already done to our planet and what will occur if we do not work harder to alleviate it. This nine-episode series is meant to bring attention to the problem by featuring some of 20th century’s hottest commodities, celebrities and notable faces as reporters, correspondents, and as hosts.
Arnold S living dangerouslyA-Listers appearing on the show include some of the world’s most famous names and faces, such as environmentally-conscious actors Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Jessica Alba, Olivia Munn, Ugly Betty’s America Ferrera, Dexter’s Michael C. Hall, Vampire Diaries’ Ian Sommerhalder plus broadcast journalist Lesley Stahl, New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent and author, Thomas L. Friedman, MSNBC host Chris Haynes and global conservation scientist M. Sanjayan, plus many more. They act as correspondents, and also travel to far-flung locales, as well as to small American towns that have become victims or culprits in the release of huge amounts of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere.
Life imitates art for many of these actors, who are also active in their own causes or organizations in real life. Matt Damon is the co-founder of Water.org., (an international organization that delivers water and sanitation facilities to under-developed parts of Haiti, India, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopa and Bangladesh). Harrison Ford (a Conservation International board member), Don Cheadle (UN Environmental Program Ambassador), and Arnold Schwarzenegger (former Governor of California and founder of Regions of Climate Change aka R20) have all been strongly involved with environmental causes for years.
Vampire Diaries’ heart-throb Ian Somerhalder’s main charities, including his namesake organization, Ian Somerhalder Foundation (national youth groups involved in eco projects) and the United Nations Environment Program are all green projects. He’s also been the recipient of a number of awards for his environmental and humane work.
“We were very selective about the celebrities and the journalists we approached for this subject,” says series executive producer Daniel Abbasi. “We didn’t want famous people doing cameos – we wanted people who had an authentic commitment to the environment, who could bring their own insights to help us tell the story. Then we gave them an opportunity to do something that most of them hadn’t done before, which was go into the field as correspondents.”
For the curious, it is most interesting to see Don Cheadle in the middle of a small West Texas town called Plainview, driving an economy rental car and knocking on the door of a woman who worked at a local plant that was recently closed because of a massive drought.
Living DangerouslyOr imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger in the smoky hills of Pocatello, Idaho with a team of specially-trained firemen, attempting to put out forest fires. And Harrison “Indiana Jones” Ford trying to get to the bottom of the mystery of deforestation in Indonesia.
Or Times’ correspondent Thomas Friedman on the Syrian border listening intently to would-be farmers discussing how drought and inability to increase the economy may have lead to the frustrations that started a war.
Of course the regular people in the series are prepared and they all have more worries than how they appear to Hollywood actors (or even prize-winning journalists). In fact everyone does, from the looks of things in ‘Dangerously’.
Forest FireProduced by Abbasi, David Gelber and Joel Bach, former 60 Minutes producers, and Hollywood heavyweights Jerry Weintrab, James Cameron and Schwarzenegger, the idea of doing this series was as a result of a few proposed 60 Minutes segments. “We were producing a number of climate pieces and the more we reported on the issue, the more we knew it was a story that desperately needed to be told,” says Gelber. “We met over a series of lunches and came up with this idea of making a big documentary film, but featuring Hollywood A-list actors as correspondents, with the goal of attracting a large audience to shed light on the issue.”
But it was just an idea until they were able to get a meeting with Weintraub. “He signed on as executive producer and suggested we do a TV series to maximize viewers,” says Bach. “Once Jerry signed on, we connected with James Cameron, who had been thinking of doing a television series on climate change. Once Jim agreed to join Jerry as executive producer, we knew we had a chance to do something special.”
Underwater The producers immediately created a sizzle reel (aka sample reel) to generate excitement for the project, and then took a meeting with Schwarzenegger, who also signed on immediately.
Work on the project began in Spring, 2011. It included researching areas that were currently most devastated by the impacts of global warming, doing interviews with climate scientists, developing sources and leads, and hiring advisers.
The result is interesting. For example, Harrison Ford (and potential viewers) learn that Indonesia exports more palm oil than any other country. And guess what? The demand is high as it goes into a lot of thing’s we use and eat everyday, including Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. But the downside of this activity is unhealthy, as the palm tree crops are grown, burned and grown again, emitting large amounts of carbon into the air.
Forest FireAt one point in the film, Ford becomes enraged during his interview with Indonesia’s Minister of Forestry, the irony being that the scene was so passionate and revealing, it could very easily have come straight out of one of his movies. According to him, “the idea appears to be, if not now, then when? You’ve got to bring to people’s hearts and minds an understanding of what’s going on out there, and the dramatic rate of change, or it’s all going to be done. And we’ll have no place to live. Our kids will have no place to live.”
As for that 47-year-old female former factory worker interviewed by Don Cheadle, she asks him sadly who is going to hire her now? Cheadle remains a sympathetic bystander throughout this exchange, as well as when members of the small town explain their feelings about climate change based on their religious beliefs.
Cheadle’s message appears to be that he is not there to judge. “I’m doing this because I’m interested in the subject matter of climate change, and I believe it’s real. I believe that the impacts are significant and that we need to do something about it and try to get in front of the issue. I’m hoping we can learn about building a bridge, and figure out how to speak to people whose ideologies are divergent, so it’s not them against us, but it’s really us against an issue.”
And for those that are still debating the issue? “The climate changes when it is forced to change, and now humans are forcing it to change far more rapidly than ever before,” says Joe Romm, Ph.D., and an adviser for the series. “Past climate change reveals that our climate is very sensitive to carbon dioxide. Levels in the air have increased 40% over the past 150 years, mainly from the burning of fossil fuels, which warmed the planet more than it has in thousands of years.”
If these percentages are accurate, can getting the message out in a series shown only on cable really reach the numbers of people that it is intending to reach, or needed to effect that change?
And are warnings and fear (even if offered by knowledgeable celebrities and journalists) the best way to deliver that message? Could there be a more engaging way to get people involved?
David Gelber offers this, “The goal of ‘Years’ is to galvanize a national conversation on the realities of climate change and inspire people to share their own stories, and empower them to get involved in solutions. We’re also implementing an engagement campaign that will extend this effort beyond the broadcast, to encourage our global leaders in politics, business and religion, as well as concerned citizens, to state where they stand on key climate issues and take action.”
And don’t forget, dear readers, that this film wants you, begs you, to be inspired to take action in small ways and big ones, to ensure that all of us of any species who consider this planet our home, take care to preserve it for ourselves, and for generations to come
Years of Living Dangerously debuts on Showtime Sunday April 13 at 10PM, ET/PT.