If you’re depressed that the U.S. Senate failed to act on a climate change bill last summer, and that action seems even more unlikely when the new Congress convenes late in January, you’ll want to take a look at Peter Byck’s optimistic new film, Carbon Nation, which opens in New York on February 11. We had a chance to show a pre-screening to a local audience at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York last month.
Carbon Nation doesn't waste time arguing that climate change is real and caused by humans, the film steps right into what can be done about it. The main theme -- that it makes simple, good business sense to use energy more efficiently and to find alternatives to fossil fuels -- is developed on economic arguments. Fossil fuels are getting more expensive and we must find alternatives. When evaluated on basic economics, the new fuels are nearly always renewable energy sources.
Visiting a wind farm in west Texas, we hear how a long-time rancher, Cliff Etheredge, is supplementing his traditional cotton-farm income by generating wind power. Visiting an urban neighborhood in Richmond, California, Van Jones speaks passionately about how to retrofit existing houses with solar panels—to save folks money and save the environment too. And Michael Dunham shows how new refrigerators retard “cold loss” vastly better than those produced a few years ago.
Using vignettes of individuals and projects, the film moves across the USA touching upon positive steps to improve the environment and stave off climate change at each stop. Sure, some testimonials, like one about the likelihood of abundant carbon sequestration in agricultural soils, are over the top. But, for environmentalists who are depressed by our nation’s inaction, the film gives good reasons for hope. People can take the right steps on their own, with enlightened self-interest, and produce a better environment as an ancillary benefit. There is no reason not to get on with it now.
William H. Schlesinger is President of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Millbrook, NY and a member of the Board of the Natural Resources Defense Council.