'Years of Living Dangerously' throws reality in our face

Courtesy of James Cameron

By Grace Hamilton, Daily Arts Writer
Published April 21, 2014

“I had never heard of climate change,” said Nellie Montez from Plainview, Texas, now unemployed after the closing of a Cargill meatpacking plant, which killed another 2,300 jobs with it. Plainview had been suffering from a drought for the last three years and could no longer grow the wheat necessary to keep the plant alive. Montez was forced to learn something new.

Years of Living Dangerously

Sundays at 10 p.m.

“Years of Living Dangerously,” a nine part Showtime documentary series that premiered on April 14, explores stories like this one across the world from Texas to Syria. The focus is our changing climate; the damage that has already been done and that which is yet to come. These stories are woven together to create what Showtime is branding as “the biggest story of our time.” The hope is that audiences will come to agree.

The show is a remarkable combination of efforts. Executive producers include James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Hollywood actors like Harrison Ford, Don Cheadle and Matt Damon help play the role of investigative reporters, along with today’s leading journalists, like New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Each investigator takes on a different case, narrating their travels and experience, and the heart of the issue is poked at with more depth than the camera itself presents.

The first episode follows three different stories, whose central issues range from politics to religion. These important variations underscore the near incomprehensible complexity of climate change and the reason why approaching it effectively has brought so many challenges.

The series is taking a new approach to get people to pay attention. Whether it’s the stars that pull you in, the producers, an interest in the issue itself or just an attempt to get educated, this series will satisfy, providing both explanation and perspective. Powerful images, like praying and singing families in Plainview, an unprotected 86 thousand hectors of burnt forest in Indonesia and the unsettling signs of war crossing the Syrian border, are reminders of where we might find ourselves in the future. “Years of Living Dangerously” throws this reality directly in our face.

At the same time, it also does an excellent job dispelling popular myths with sensitivity. That God is the cause of droughts, for example, is a sentiment that echoes throughout the episode. This is an opinion shared by many Americans: climate change is a fallacy. Many of those who share this belief are introduced in the episode. Still, there are exceptions, such as the evangelical minister who preaches about the dangers of climate change. This minister is a powerful representation of the way that progress needs to happen in America.

Faith and science aren’t necessarily incompatible and don’t have to be. Accepting the reality of climate change does not mean sacrificing other values and morals. Therefore, adaptation will mean more than changing our behavior, like recycling and cutting back on plastic; it means a radical change of mindset — or at least that’s what the showrunners are trying to get across.

The changes necessary now are far more expansive than most realize and demand revision in our economic system and everyday life. What is happening in other parts of the country and world, whatever the physical distance might be, should be at the height of our priorities here today. It is pure foolishness, to borrow Friedman’s adjective, to believe anything else, and even more so not to act. That being said, if you are in need of reminder, “Years of Living Dangerously” will do so with care.