There are people who live dangerously because they can afford to, and then there are those who live dangerously because they can’t afford to live any other way. If you believe that those who live recklessly as a luxury shouldn’t be lumped together with those who do so out of necessity, I’m on your side. Those distinctions must be made, especially when defining “danger.” And when the stakes are as existential as the habitability of our planet, we better be taking the hardest look at the culprits who are actually driving the crisis.
Showtime’s Years of Living Dangerously—a nine-episode documentary series that premieres this Sunday—is an ambitious attempt at illustrating the many ways climate change dangers are surfacing across the globe, and the obstacles to solutions. In each episode, viewers are guided by narrators we’re familiar with from popular movies, TV and media: Don Cheadle, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Friedman, Harrison Ford, Jessica Alba, Chris Hayes and America Ferrera are just a few of these. Creators of the show, which lists James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger as executive producers, hope the celebrities will draw a broader audience to the problem.
“It was really important to make sure we had reach with this series, so we decided that we would find well-known figures who are passionate about environmental issues, but not necessarily experts,” said David Gelber, a co-creator and executive producer of the show.
In the first two episodes made available to the press, we follow Cheadle, Ford, Schwarzenegger and Friedman to various locations that are either feeding climate change through unsustainable practices, or are being fed upon. Friedman travels to Syria to learn how climate change helped fuel droughts that led to civil war. Cheadle goes to the small town of Plainview, Texas, to examine how droughts have destabilized jobs there. Ford lands in Indonesia, where uncontrolled deforestation has released tons of stored carbon into the atmosphere. Schwarzenegger visits Montana, where mother nature has her own deforestation project in the form of uncontrollable wildfires. While individual instances of extreme weather can’t be directly attributed to climate change, climate scientists stress that the planet’s warming is exacerbating all manner of natural disasters such as these.
Schwarzenegger dealt with plenty of fires in his own state, when he was governor of California. It’s why he understands the true threat to the future, despite his Republican affiliation. Explaining why he decided to be an outlier in his party, Schwarzenegger says in one episode, “Climate change is not political.”
The show goes on to paint a different truth. Politics is a part of it, as viewers will see in these storylines. Yes, extreme temperatures can deepen poverty. In part of Friedman’s storyline, UN Ambassador Susan Rice explains to him how climate change has created conditions, like food and water scarcity, that have driven communities and nations into economic insecurity. But politics began forming poverty long before we realized we were forming a hole in the ozone. Racism, no doubt, exacerbates it all. Viewers will get a strong sense from these early episodes, though, that government itself is the major culprit behind inaction on climate change, by either failing to create the laws needed to stem the problem or failing to enforce existing ones.