Peter Byck's climate change movie has an unusual target audience: people who don't care about climate change. Does he hit the mark?
16 Nov 11
People who make environmental documentaries are often criticised for preaching to the converted. Conscientious citizens who believe in climate change will hear about the film, they’ll go to the cinema, they’ll watch it and then come out newly energised.
Giving campaigners a morale boost is definitely no bad thing, but there’s a real need to reach out beyond those who already have green tendencies.
Campaigners often talk about ‘reaching out to the mainstream’, but Peter Byck’s new film takes this aim more seriously than most – Carbon Nation is ‘a climate change film for people who don’t care about climate change.' In fact, it’s really a film about humans set against the backdrop of global warming rather than a film about the environment.
It avoids appealing to altruism and focuses rather on an individualistic message. It shows how people around the country are benefiting, often financially, from cutting carbon - and you could too. The fact that it is good for the environment is, for many, an added bonus. 'There’s nothing that makes more economic sense than reducing your footprint,' an organic yoghurt company executive tells us.
U.S.A. - The carbon nation
The film is unashamedly American and this could isolate a British audience. It’s populated almost entirely by Americans (Richard Branson does make a cameo to talk about planes) and all the references to the effects of global warming are made in the context of the US. The narrator might also grate on British ears (he certainly did on me.) His slow, deliberate drawl sometimes borders on patronising, and can makes it feel like you are watching an educational film at school (some of the graphics reinforce this).
The idea is that if we treated climate change like a war, we would win
But there is a positive flip-side to all the American-ness. The people are
refreshingly enthusiastic and positive about things, and this is a welcome change from our default cynicism. Van Jones, one of the most inspirational people in the film, says things like, 'We need to go from being world leader in pollution to being the world leader in solution,' and it just works in a way that it never would coming from a British mouth; his energy is infectious. Similarly when the geothermal power plant owner comes out with, 'if someone thinks there’s not global warming, then they must have their head up their ass,' it does add that nice dose of gung-ho to the climate debate.
We can change
It ends on the rousing note that if there was, 'World War II level of mobilisation,'
then it’s well within our grasp to turn climate change around. After Pearl Harbour, America decided to transform their commercial industry in order to mass-produce military machines and they managed it in record time. It didn’t take decades to restructure the US industrial economy, it took months. The idea is that if we treated climate change like a war, we would win.
The film’s main problem is that it doesn’t explain why we don’t treat it like a war, why there isn’t the political will to change. It skirts around the issue (and it’s a pretty fundamental issue) that there are too many powerful people with vested interests for the American economy to just change direction.
If you already know a lot about climate change you won’t learn too much from Carbon Nation. The statistics are informative and the examples of innovation are inspiring but the underlying arguments won’t surprise anyone in the know. But if you have friends or family who could do with a nudge in the right direction, break out the popcorn and gather them round; this is an entertaining film with a valiant message.