This was only supposed to be my review of climate change documentary “Years of Living Dangerously”, however, I would like to start with something else. I recently finished reading a very interesting book – “The Bicycle Diaries: My 21,000-Mile Ride for the Climate” by David Kroodsma. It’s pretty clear from the title what the book is about: in 2006-07 David biked (mostly alone) from his home at the time in Palo Alto, California to the very tip of South America, Terra del Fuego, all the while trying to communicate about the issue of climate change. The trip lasted 17 months, during which he crossed 16 countries. Apart from the boat trip upstream Amazon’s tributaries, some hitchhiking mainly in Venezuela and hiking the high mountain pass in Peru, Kroodsma covered the 21,000 miles (nearly 34,000 kilometers) all on his trusty bike, nicknamed del Fuego.
It’s a very intimate read, in a sense that it’s a personal and open account of such an arduous, exhausting (in all senses of the word) and sometimes dangerous trip. Kroodsma is also very honest (or so it seems) about his changing perspective on climate change in the light of great poverty, inequality and lack of opportunities he witnessed in Central and South America (though people’s generosity to a complete stranger is also overwhelming and beautiful). “Why focus on climate change if there are bigger threats to humanity? Why focus on climate change if there are bigger drivers of poverty and conflict?”, he writes (p. 130). These are good and important questions, especially for us on the frontlines of climate science, campaigning and reporting. However, they are not necessarily discouraging, as they seemed to be for David at times, but also inspiring: to look even deeper into this issue, to show even clearer what connections are between human health, well-being, political situation in the country etc. and climate change. It’s definitely an interesting and thought-provoking book to read for a professional.
For someone less familiar with climate change it is still a great read. I might have skimmed through most of the parts that were explaining the key concepts and components of this global problem (only because I know them so well), but I nonetheless enjoyed the smooth transitions to a particular climate-related topic. These explanations were mostly very naturally prompted by the certain places David visited or the stories the local people had told him. The fact that it was also a book about an epic adventure, self-discovery, the foreign and exotic lands just made it that much more interesting and nowhere near as preachy or depressing as books (or other media forms, see below) on the climate change can be.
I should probably mention that I got the book for free as sometime ago there was a promotion on Amazon about which I found out through Twitter. However, this did not influence my opinion on the book in any way and I wrote the above short review on my own accord. And I highly recommend buying the book! More information about 21,000 mile trip and other bicycle journeys and climate outreach can be found on David’s website.
Now, as mentioned in the beginning, I actually wanted to write my opinion on “Years of Living Dangerously”, James Cameron-produced, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ian Somerhalder, Jessica Alba-starring (among many others) 9 episode ‘Showtime’ documentary, which wrapped just over a month ago. However, I had to start with David’s book because I think that’s a very interesting, informative and inspiring resource for someone wanting to get introduced to the issue of climate change. Another show I watched recently, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Cosmos”, science of which was sometimes hard to follow, when talked about climate change, for example, had a clear mission to carefully and clearly dispel all the myths surrounding the subject while remaining positive and also showing that not all is yet lost.
“Years of Living Dangerously” on the other hand… When I first heard about the show I was very excited. Hollywood finally giving climate change the treatment, yay! I really wanted to like it. And I did – to some extent. I appreciated the crew and cast travelling to far corners of the world to tell varying stories of how climate change is already changing the world and affecting some of the poorest and most vulnerable communities – Bangladesh, Indonesia, Syria, Yemen, low lying island states, and, well, New Jersey and New York. Some of the stories were really interesting and compelling and it was great to see some of the issues so up close, for example, the bits about Indonesia’s deforestation, which were simply heartbreaking.
But this was also one of the reasons why it took me so long to watch all the episodes. I wasn’t looking forward to the next instalment because they were increasingly depressing and just simply exhausting. I’m not saying they should have gone the Disney route and wrote a happy ending to each of the little stories. I’m also not saying that those stories were not true or were exaggerated and darkened on purpose (of course, this might be the case as, for example, “The Inconvenient Truth” exploited that very well, however, anything related to climate change doesn’t really need exaggeration – it’s already bad enough). In any case, it was often hard to watch and understand how could this be happening, how are we letting this happen… Maybe that was the whole point of the show, to make you uncomfortable, frustrated, angry and sad to the point that you’ll start doing something. I’ve said this numerous times – studying ecology and the like nowadays is very depressing and we are inundated daily with bad and worse news. But YOLD was too much even for me.
Another thing that made me so frustrated with the show and avoiding watching the episodes was the many Americans that were interviewed – I’m not talking about people affected by Sandy or farmers in Texas and Kansas. I’m talking about the people who have the power and resources and are outright deniers. That guy in the episode with America Ferrera trying to overturn new wind and other renewable policies in different states… It made me sick to my stomach. Church leader denying climate change (with a daughter the environmentalist which seemed a bit too perfect to just be a coincidence, though after googling a bit it really seems to be true!) as well as governors, senators, other people just parroting the deniers claims (no consensus among scientists?! I’m sorry but how stupid you have to be to listen to 3 instead of 97?) – how can you not be frustrated? And it’s not only US but other places too… Neil deGrasse Tyson once said “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” However, politicians and/or people who elect them need to believe in that science to push for change… True, there were some examples of this in YOLD too, which was a very nice, albeit rare, change.
Despite all this, YOLD was, I think, a wholesome show talking about climate change from various points, covering different issues and perspectives and smartly making many of their points through the lips of climate change deniers or lobbyists. In the context of the show they seemed clearly confused, wrong or outright liars and manipulators. I liked how when talking about fracking they didn’t go the cheap ‘burning water from the tap’ route but instead talked about new science on enormous methane leaks, which everyone seems to ignore (though there were some cheap and sappy parts in the series nonetheless). I would say that it’s a good, well-made documentary although most of the time very depressing and frustrating. As the book I mentioned at the beginning showed that’s not necessarily should be the case when talking about climate change. Nonetheless, show is worth a watch (or even a must).
I’m not sure why, maybe because of the weight of the subject (though the science and explanations were definitely easy to understand), I didn’t see the show being covered or appear often on my Facebook and Twitter walls (So if people were finding some really negative things about YOLD, factual errors etc, I’m not aware of them. Please mention these in the Comments below, would be very interesting to learn of these). In comparison, “Cosmos” which was broadcasted around the same time was quoted constantly on Twitter and there were numerous articles each week detailing how it’s taunting creationists, the same climate deniers and others. The fact that YOLD was shown on ‘Showtime’ (paid cable) while “Cosmos” was on FOX (broadcast) could have contributed to this lack of coverage and reviews. Hopefully, next show on climate change will reach an even greater audience.
You can watch the first episode of “Years of Living Dangerously” on YOLD’s YouTube channel (video below). For the rest, you can consult YOLD website (they’re planning to bring it to other countries’ soon, there’ll probably be DVD’s too) or search for links online (there’s plenty of those, though for obvious reasons I’m not going to put any here). Yearsoflivingdangerously.com is an incredibly rich resource providing a lot of additional information on the stories seen on the show.
Have you watched “Years of Living Dangerously” or read “The Bicycle Diaries”? What did you think of them? Do you know any other good sources for the lay public to learn more about climate change? Please share in the Comments below.