National Geographic Channel kicked off November with the second season of YEARS OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY, a documentary series that merges climate change education with entertainment. The series uses celebrity and news correspondents to show viewers the dangerous consequences of climate inaction, but unlike the first season, this season aims to spark social change beyond awareness. YEARS is using its platform to mobilize a solution for climate change from TV screen all the way to Capitol Hill, state houses, and local governments alike.
Entertainment as a Voice for Climate Change
Although scientists have urged society to act on climate change for decades, the United States has failed to move toward any substantial solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Research in climate change communication reveals that the issue faces immense psychological barriers: most Americans view climate change as a distant, irrelevant threat. With the addition of intense political polarization and misinformation campaigns, we are faced with the perfect recipe for inaction. It’s not surprising then, that any discussion about climate solutions results in paralyzing debate or is drowned out by more visible issues like healthcare and immigration.
YEARS executive producers, Joel Bach and David Gelber, left 60 Minutes in 2011 to bring climate change to the forefront of the American mind. They teamed up with Hollywood powerhouses, James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and enlisted the help of dozens of celebrities, like Ian Somerhalder and Jessica Alba, to take viewers around the world to witness climate impacts – from coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef to water scarcity in the American heartland. The first season of YEARS, which aired on Showtime, received critical acclaim and won an Emmy for Outstanding Nonfiction series in 2014. This season, National Geographic Channel is giving climate change an even bigger voice by broadcasting a second season of YEARS in 145 countries.
Now with a greater reach and more celebrities on deck, YEARS will use the new season to mobilize audiences beyond climate change education. According to an interview with Gelber, “We were determined to include real solutions in YEARS OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY this year.” The November 30th episode, hosted by actress Nikki Reed, will showcase the stories of young activists in Texas, California and Oregon championing the solution of carbon pricing.
Why is Carbon Pricing THE solution?
The use of environmental issue documentaries to promote solutions is not entirely new. Al Gore’s AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH concluded with a list of actions individuals could take to reduce their carbon footprint, like eating less red meat and carpooling. Similarly, RACING EXTINCTION, which premiered worldwide on Discovery last year, engaged viewers with individual actions through the “#StartWith1Thing” campaign. The issue with encouraging voluntary actions is that they often fail to solve what economists’ call a “collective action problem.” Although individual actions do count (and are certainly not discouraged), the reality is that human beings are not wired to make personal sacrifices for a collective outcome. In the absence of some enforcement mechanism, our society will continue to live unsustainable carbon-consuming lifestyles.
Here is why the YEARS storytelling highlights the idea that pricing carbon could be a game-changer:
Putting a price on carbon nudges everyone in society to become a little greener, especially the biggest polluters. Carbon pollution, which is mainly produced from fossil fuels like coal and oil, produces negative “social costs” to our air, our drinking water, and through climate change impacts. Fossil fuel companies are not held accountable for the social costs of carbon, meaning that society picks up the tab.
As Gelber explained, “there’s simply nothing more important than making polluters pay by putting a price on carbon. If we do that, polluters will have an incentive to pollute less and clean energy — solar and wind, mainly — will be able to compete with dirty energy companies who are currently able to dump toxic chemicals into our air for free.”
Pricing carbon will help solve an environmental problem and a long-standing issue of social justice. Vulnerable and marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by carbon pollution because they lack the resources to adapt. Young people, too, are unfairly affected as they will be the generation most impacted by climate change.
The Grassroots Campaign Behind the Episode
To generate momentum toward carbon pricing, YEARS partnered with Our Climate, a nonprofit with grassroots organizing experience in Oregon. Together, they launched the “Put a Price On It” campaign in August to mobilize millennials across the country to put a price on carbon. Since young people must live with the costly impacts of climate change, YEARS and Our Climate believe they have the most influential voice in demanding a solution.
According to 20-year-old Tom Erb, National Field Organizer for the “Put a Price On It” campaign and featured in the carbon pricing episode, “…it has never been more clear to me that young people do have an ability to influence policy makers. It isn’t a matter of IF we have a voice, it is a matter of WHEN are we going to decide to use it.”
To date, the campaign has garnered student leaders on over 40 college campuses, who are conducting grassroots activities to make their voices heard: building coalitions, contacting their representatives, and generating media attention. YEARS and Our Climate hope that the carbon pricing episode will inspire more millennials to bolster the movement for a practical climate solution.
In light of debilitating inaction on climate change, entertainment paired with grassroots mobilization could be key to reversing years of living dangerously.