Directed by Peter Byck. Narrated by Bill Kurtis. (2011, NR, 82 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 25, 2011
Byck wastes no time at the start of his documentary proving that global warming and climate change are, indeed, actual facts of life and constitute the most dire threat to the continuation of life on Earth. These assumptions are givens, as is Byck’s assertion that human beings will continue to release planet-destroying amounts of carbon dioxide into the environment until governmental penalties for emissions are enacted and enforced. But before complete despondency sets in and you’re about ready to string yourself up by your car’s dastardly fan belt, Carbon Nation allows its sunnier side to take over and recounts the many things that can be done on an individual basis to counteract the inevitable doom of humankind. Using peppy graphics and animation, as well as an upbeat narration by Kurtis, the film wants to enlist viewers to become part of the solution. Simple and familiar counteractions such as switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs from incandescents and weatherizing homes are touted. Paint your roof white and take five-minute showers instead of baths, says the film in its suggestion list at the end. Prior to that, Carbon Nation bombards viewers with bundles of graphically stylized statistics and the various and far-flung fronts on which the battle against global warming is being waged. The film’s hectic pace and flow has more in common with design of a kids’ educational TV show, and although the information seems sometimes chaotic. it is always lively, thought-provoking, and inspirational. Byck and his crew crisscross the country visiting individuals who are engaged in paradigm-changing exercises in reducing carbon emissions. These people are the heart of the movie and range from well-known figures such as former CIA director R. James Woolsey, columnist Thomas L. Friedman, and entrepreneur Richard Branson to little-heralded personalities such as Cliff Etheredge, a West Texas wind and cotton farmer; Dan Nolan, a former colonel and activist in Green Hawks; and various energy-company executives and corporate CEOs who speak to the wisdom of weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels. “Do it because you’re a greedy bastard,” says one, and that more or less summarizes the film’s attitude. Byck is not interested in making a lofty pitch to those simply concerned with bettering our planet. Few of the people interviewed could be described as lefty tree-huggers or idealistic rainbow-chasers. Their projects offer solutions to present-day economic problems and proposals for future prosperity. Green businesses and green military practices make economic sense. Unfortunately, Carbon Nation sidesteps all issues regarding the financial incentives and human tendency toward complacency which keep us so dependent on fossil fuels and nuclear energy. As the film jumps around exploring wind farms and algae pools, geothermal and solar technologies, and green farming and building practices, hope builds that our problems may not be insoluble. Yet there’s also the recognition that individual solutions are but a drop in the bucket when calculated on a global scale. It makes you wonder, ultimately, how the carbon footprint created by the film will stand up to the test of time.