TV Talk: Years of Living Dangerously

By: Amy Spitalnick


PHOTO: Harrison Ford with Lone Droscher Nielsen of the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Reintroduction Project. Photo courtesy of Years of Living Dangerously


Not known as a bastion of treehuggers, the Pentagon earlier this year noted threats to national security from global climate change. Climate change has also been implicated in the recent ebola outbreak. So, the title Years of Living Dangerously isn’t all that much of an exaggeration for the nine-part Showtime series that won 2014’s Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series. Now available on DVD, the series tracks such actors as Matt Damon and Jessica Alba and journalists as Mark Bittman as they take to the field to investigate flashpoints of our changing climate. After viewing Disc 1—which includes the episodes “Dry Season” and “End of the Woods,” featuring Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Don Cheadle—I asked Joel Bach, an executive producer on the series and an alum of 60 Minutes, a few questions.


Do you see a tipping point for policy that would make a significant difference in greenhouse gas emissions?

I think a tipping point is being reached, but not on a national/federal level. States and regions are taking it upon themselves to enact legislation to deal with climate change, like California’s cap and trade policy, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative [a cooperative effort of Northeastern states], and others, and I see a lot of action overseas.


With climate change a global problem, is there a global solution? How much impact can local movements have?

To truly have a global solution we’d need to see all the leading industrial countries band together to curb emissions. It’s starting to happen, but slowly. China is taking aggressive steps, Germany has been a true leader, and the new prime minister of India recently pledged to bring solar to every single home in his country. So there are exciting things afoot. But a lot more needs to happen to turn the ship around, and the United States needs to be part of that. I do hope that state and local efforts in America will eventually catch hold and coalesce into some kind of national policy to address climate change.


What can consumers do to support sustainably grown palm oil?

When you go into a store, it’s not immediately obvious which products/companies are using sustainably grown and produced palm oil and which ones aren’t. But a number of organizations have compiled lists to make it easier for us know what’s what. The World Wildlife Fund, for example, has a scorecard that lays much of this out. Rainforest Action Network also closely tracks the issue, as do other groups.


The evidence suggests that animal agriculture, including cattle grazing, diminshes water supplies and contributes to environmental degradation. Why wasn’t the issue of livestock addressed in discussing causes of drought?

Even though the series is nine hours long, we still found ourselves unable to include everything we wanted, including items like this. It’s why we’re so determined to produce a second season of Years of Living Dangerously, because there’s a wealth of important stories still to be told.

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