First Person

Indiana Jones and the changing climate

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“Years of Living Dangerously” will help you see an old issue in a brand-new way.

Here’s a confession: climate change is an issue that, until recently, I’ve never been that passionate about. I know climate change is bad and only going to get worse if we don’t act – I really do – but when I hear scientific terms like “carbon emissions” and “climate mitigation,” you start to lose me.

But lately, that’s been changing. Why? Recent reports and studies have brought the human cost of climate change to the forefront of the debate – instead of a melting icecap, we’re seeing images of farmers whose crops have been ruined by drought or flooding. And we’re reading facts like this one: An extra 50 million people will be at risk of hunger by 2050 because of climate change. Our vision of a world without hunger and poverty is in danger.

That hooked me. I’m paying attention. And that’s why I tuned in to watch Showtime’s new eight-part documentary series, Years of Living Dangerously – because, as the below teaser says, “It’s about us.”

The first episode of Years of Living Dangerously focuses on three stories: Harrison Ford looks at deforestation in Indonesia, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman delves deeper in Syria’s civil war and the drought that preceded it, and Don Cheadle travels to Plainview, Texas to meet workers who were laid off because of the drought.

Harrison Ford – who in Indiana Jones-like fashion flies a plane with NASA, rides an elephant, and helicopters over Indonesia’s Tesso Nilo National Park over the span of this episode – explains and explores deforestation for us. Deforestation is another one of those climate change buzzwords that I’ve stayed away from, so I was grateful for Ford’s interviews with scientists to show what deforestation is, what effect it has on the climate, and what products (like palm oil) are causing the most damage.

Thomas Friedman takes a different angle: how the effects of climate change make people poor, hungry, and more prone to conflicts. He travels to Turkey and Syria to meet several failed farmers turned fighters – many of them recall the long drought that ended shortly before Syria’s conflict began.

To me, the most interesting segment of this week’s episode was Don Cheadle’s visit to Plainview, Texas – and not just because the town reminded me of Friday’s Night Lights’ fictional setting of Dillon, Texas.  It’s because, here, Cheadle introduces us to Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech and evangelical Christian. After drought forced the Cargill meatpacking plant in Plainview to shut down and more than 10 percent of the town’s population lost their jobs, I naively assumed that many would blame climate change. Instead, most view the drought as an act of God. That’s where Dr. Hayhoe comes in: she spends much of her time speaking to skeptical Christian audiences about climate change and helping separate the science from politics – it’s fascinating.

The first episode of Years of Living Dangerously was filled with interesting stories about the human costs of climate change – but one thing that was lacking was the follow up. You’ve convinced me, I thought. Now, what can we do to help stop climate change? Can our small actions make a difference? Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+