Monday, February 7, 2011

Peter Byck's CARBON NATION tackles global warming in terms of what can be done; plus a one-question Q&A with Byck

What an "up" is CARBON NATION -- particularly for a documentary about our current environ-mental situation! At the very least, Peter Byck's new film should leave you with a brain full of ideas about all the things that can and are being done to correct the appalling amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere -- which is the lion's share contributor to our global warming phenomenon. Even more so than last year's fine documentary Cool It (from Ondi Timoner), this film concentrates on (well, you can't call them the positive aspects of global warming, because we're in big trouble here) all the possibilities that very well might get us out of the trouble we're in. So far as "good news" goes, this is about as good as it can legitimately get. Which makes the movie, given its subject matter, a joy to experience. You'll come out of it raring to go and ready to make your own personal dent in the climate change scenario.

At the same time, however, you'll be aware that your own personal dent (and those of all your friends and relatives) won't be enough to effect the necessary change. As the filmmaker points out early on, the U.S.A. has but 5 % of the word's population yet creates about 25% of its CO2. Without government intervention in the energy we use and where it comes from, we shall lose. And what we'll lose is so staggering that Mr. Byck, shown at left, barely refers to it. But that's all right: We've already had our pants scared off by so many other narrative and documentary films dealing with the environmental crisis, without much success. Byck wants us to be aware of all the terrific "green energy" options happening now and what they can mean to the big picture and to our maybe/possibly/let's-hope-for-one future.

The filmmaker begins with wind energy, showing us laid-off Pennsylvania steel workers now employed on  wind turbines (hello: green energy solutions can also help solve our employment problem). Then to Texas we go, meeting the Etheredges, father and son, who've brought local farmers and wind energy developers together successfully. Explains the one-armed Cliff Etheredge (above):  "What we've been 'cussing' all these years" -- the Texas wind -- "turned out to be a blessing!" We also learn about tera-watts of energy, how many we need from clean energy sources, and how immense are the amounts actually available to be tapped.

We meet ex-Obama administration employee and Green Energy/Green Jobs man Van Jones, above, and watch his men happily at work on green energy projects that serve the environment as well as supplying them with perhaps their first permanent "trade."

As for the military's and The Pentagon's association with green energy, the filmmaker notes that the latter is definitely in favor of it, and he interviews "Green Hawk" Dan Nolan, who explains in some detail the difficulty of getting oil safely to our troops in the middle east. The process, which costs far to much money and results in lost lives, looks simply crazy.  Now, with more efficient green energy sources, we're saving money, lives and the environment via things like this monolithic dome in the desert, shown below.

Transportation, too, is covered here, as a truck driver tells us about the fuel savings that can come from using an external power unit to warm or cool the truck when its power is turned off. We learn about bio-fuels -- and why ethanol won't work in airplanes but algae-based fuels will -- and how the hybrid car not only saves money and the environment but can also act as a storage facility for energy. You might even get paid for storing it. But, again, government's going to have to take an active role in ramming this sort of thing through, as utility companies are not all that excited at the idea of possible competition.

Geo-thermal energy?  Sure. Just ask a couple of Alaskan entrepreneurs who've reduced their local electricity costs from 30 cents to 5 cents per kilowatt. We learn what climate change is doing to our oceans but also how to have more energy efficient buildings -- starting with their roofs (NYC's Empire State Building, above, gets an energy-efficient overhaul here), and we see how industry can recapture gaseous heat and turn it into energy. Solar power and grids that store energy while providing the disadvantaged with work come into play here (via Van Jones, again), and we're educated on how forests, farms and pasture land can help reduce the C02 already in the atmosphere which, in addition to preventing further emissions, also needs to be done.

There's more, including how huge companies such as Dow Chemical and Stonyfield Farm are moving away from carbon and actually profiting from this. Byck compares our country's rising to the challenge of producing airplanes during WWII (and outdoing our goals in the process) with our environmental challenge. I would like to think we are up to this task, but I do wonder. In any case, Byck has thrown down the gauntlet. There are clearly more than enough possible "clean energy" alternatives (the filmmaker doesn't even mention the wave energy covered in Cool It!), but it's going to take reform from on-high to put these into practice. So see the movie -- and start agitating.

Carbon Nation has its New York premiere on Thursday night, February 10, at the FSLC's Walter Reade Theater, via Green Screens and Solar One -- and then opens theatrically the following day at the Cinema Village.  In the followin weeks the film wilhit , L.A., Austin, Portland, Seattle and San Francisco. Click here for dates and theaters.


The following short "interview" took place via back-and-forth email between Peter Byck and myself.

TrustMovies: Thanks for an invigorating and much more positive movie about our environment than we usually get, Peter. As much as I enjoyed and agree with your film, I was left with the sense that, yes, these are all good ideas but most of them will take real governmental “push” to get started and to take off in the way necessary to make a difference. So far, I’ve seen little of this, and in fact, have seen much more of the opposite: feet dragging, arguments that global warming doesn’t exist or is being over-sold, the same old dependence on oil for energy, etc etc. How do you think we will be able to put into practice the changes you show us that could help?

Are you familiar with the documentary The Best Government Money Can Buy? by Francis Megahy? That film nails the root problem: the difficulty of getting our elected politicians to actually follow the will of the people who elected them. Politician after politician sells out. Until we have a change is this area, it seems to me that little else can be accomplished. Unless I am missing something.

Peter Byck: Thank you for your kind words re: Carbon Nation. Here's my reply to your question (and I haven't yet seen the "Best Gov." documentary you mentioned).

It would be excellent to have a concerted government push to get these clean energy, energy efficiency and land use practices into high gear. It does look like a long shot right now. American businesses, on the other hand, are actually pushing the agenda because they're making money in the doing, and they are gaining brand loyalty in some cases as well. My concern is that, Stonyfield and others aside, there are still many American companies that seem to be hesitant to speak up forcefully and publicly about their carbon reduction programs - programs that are making them into stronger businesses. I think if a majority of these companies really went public with how much they want congress to act, they would have success. This has been tried with USCAP; we just need much more of it.

All photos are from the film itself, except that of Mr. Byck, 
at top, which comes courtesy of Chrisna van Zyl.

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