That’s the thinking behind Years of Living Dangerously, a nine-part documentary series that uses blockbuster Hollywood storytelling techniques to hammer home the climate change message. Featuring popular film and television stars and respected journalists, this high-powered documentary series shows the human impact on global warming in a new and visually engaging way. It’s an ambitious attempt backed by big production dollars and big-name producers including James Cameron, Jerry Weintraub, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Years has been compared to An Inconvenient Truth, another groundbreaking effort to bring attention to the issue of climate change through documentary filmmaking. But instead of relying on charts and data to explain climate change as Al Gore did, Years of Living Dangerously uses celebrity correspondents who investigate the impacts of climate change and meet people who are already being affected.
The series premiere, “Dry Season,” free to view online, combines three storylines about drought and deforestation. Harrison Ford tracks the environmental impacts of palm oil production in Indonesia, Don Cheadle talks to people who lost their jobs when drought caused a Texas meat-packing plant to shut its doors, and New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman journeys to Syria to explore how extreme drought fuels political strife.
Subsequent episodes feature other well-known personalities, from journalists like MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl to actors and actresses like Ian Somerhalder, Olivia Munn, and Matt Damon. It’s a clever use of star power to attract viewers and keep them involved in the narrative.
The series weaves together important elements of the climate change story, from how scientists study it to how effects—such as droughts, wildfires, heat waves, and melting glaciers—are playing out. Perhaps most importantly, it thoughtfully explores how politics and religion divide people and impede action on this critical issue.
Years introduces us to several people who are bridging this ideological divide. In Episode 1, Cheadle meets Katharine Hayhoe, a Texas Tech climate scientist raised as a devout Christian, who manages to reconcile her faith with the science she studies. She’s trying to help others realize that climate science and Christianity are not contradictory. Episode 3 introduces us to former congressman Bob Inglis, a Republican and evangelical Christian. He’s on a mission to reach out to others in his own party and of his own faith to help them understand the reality of climate change.
The impact of this compelling series remains to be seen. What is already clear, as the title suggests, is that we’re living in a more volatile and dangerous world. How we choose to handle this reality in the next decade or two will determine the kind of planet we leave for our children, grandchildren, and generations to come.