NewsApril 13, 2014

Cast of Stars Put Face on Climate Change in New Series

By Suzanne GoldenbergThe Guardian

A star-studded cast of Hollywood actors will for the first time “put a human face on climate change” in an ambitious new U.S. television series, the show's executive producer says.

Years of Living Dangerously” begins in the U.S. on the Showtime cable network at 10 p.m. ET on Sunday night. The first episode, which features Don Cheadle travelling to Texas to talk about drought with climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe and her evangelical preacher husband, can also be watched free online.

The project is the first big take on climate change in popular culture since Al Gore's film “An Inconvenient Truth in 2006.”

It has generated a huge amount of attention from environmental groups who have struggled to find a way to connect with ordinary Americans over climate change, and the response has been almost entirely positive.

Dan Abbasi, the executive producer, says he has come up with a winning formula: dispatch big names from Hollywood and the media to visit ordinary Americans living with heat waves and drought and interview scientists about the human causes of climate change.

The idea he said was to dispense with experts, and get down to emotions.

“We've all seen the charts and graphs,” Abbasi told a screening and panel discussion organized by the Center for American Progress earlier this month. “But what we realized is that we need to put a human face on this, we needed to make it more personal. We needed to draw new audiences in. We needed new messengers.”

“Years of Living Dangerously” on Showtime Networks features Hollywood’ stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger, pictured here among Californian firefighters.
Credit: Years of Living Dangerously


In addition to Cheadle, those messengers include Harrison Ford travelling to Indonesia to look at deforestation and journalist Tom Friedman travelling to the Turkish border with Syria to look at how climate change and drought is fuelling war. Matt Damon, Olivia Munn and Arnold Schwarzenegger appear in future episodes. Abbasi has also been working with James Cameron and Jerry Weintraub as executive producers.

Abbasi's strategy expands on arguments aired by environmental activists and social scientists over the years – that simply barraging the public with more facts about climate change does not amount to a persuasive argument.

That is where the Hollywood connection and the dramatic staging comes in, Abbasi said. “You are in a much more emotional place. You get out of that statistical side of your brain and you shift over to connecting through the heart,” he said. “When you get to emotion you transcend the politics a bit – that's the hope.”

It still stands to be a difficult sale, however, even with those powerful backers. Abbasi tried for nearly a year to find a home for the series on network television – but was forced in the end to go for Showtime with its more niche audience behind a subscription wall.

And it's not clear how relying on Hollywood talent will overcome conservative suspicions that climate change is solely a preoccupation of the wealthy, liberal elites.

Abbasi has said his stars were chosen because of their commitment to social issues, and that they tried to find Republican actors to appear, aside from Schwarzenegger.

And the true test of success, he said, will be whether the project elevates climate change to a core concern for Americans. The producers hope to sell a DVD series of the show from September, and Abbasi is already talking about a second and third season.

Reprinted from The Guardian with permission.

Editor's Note: Heidi Cullen, chief climatologist for Climate Central, was a chief science advisor for the Years of Living Dangerously.