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Climate Visions: RenewUS,, Dimming the Sun and An Inconvenient Truth
Alex Steffen, 17 Apr 06

This spring is seeing an explosion of media about the environment in general and climate change in particular. And now a slew of new video projects have arrived.

RenewUS -- a project produced by our own Joel Makower -- showcases an awesome bit of video futurism, couched as a documentary shot in 2055, looking back at how humanity beat the threat of climate change:

“This film predicts the future,” says Kathleen Rogers, President of Earth Day Network, “so we know how it all turns out – the power of people dedicated to change wins the day. The planet and its inhabitants face a bright future.”

As futurism, that's the only thing that's a little disappointing about it: it's telling, not showing; predicting, not evoking. It's a very cool project, but it uses the futurism wrapper essentially to argue for a set of actions we ought to take now, rather than help us imagine what a climate-friendly future might in fact be like. That's a shame -- not because we don't need to mobilize public action (in this case buying green energy) -- but because we have a far more pressing need for visions of the future worth fighting for, and this was a perfect opportunity to create such visions. Still it's great to use a sweeping future-historical setting as a means of showing people why their individual actions are part of a grander story.

The other big video releases are straight-forward calls to action. is a UN-funded online station that's 'casting videos produced by European environmental NGOs and government agencies. Their piece, Tomorrow's Climate, Today's Challenge has got some great production values and swell imagery, though: check out the part where they say if we could see greenhouse gasses, the cause of the problem would be obvious to everyone. Nifty effects.

Dimming the Sun is a new documentary talking about global dimming, and the unfortunate finding that as we clean up the worst sooty air pollution, climate change may paradoxically worsen (at least in the short term):

"The good news is that pollution controls have slowed and possibly even halted global dimming during the last decade. The bad news—and the ironic twist in NOVA's story—is that without pollution, more sunlight is reaching Earth, revealing the full impact of global warming. Although all climate models have important uncertainties, the unsettling implication is that, with dimming fading away in many regions, global temperatures may rise even faster than most models have predicted."

Even more interesting than the doc's site, though is this note from producer David Sington, where he talks about the difficulty of making climate media that will appeal both to Europeans and Americans:

"Dimming the Sun" posed an interesting and unusual challenge: how to deal with the fact that British and American viewers are, so to speak, in a different place when it comes to global warming. ... In general, Americans seem rather more skeptical about the idea that human activity is changing the climate than we British are. This impression, which led us to adopt a subtly different approach in the two versions, got me thinking about the whole question of why so many people still reject an idea that must be one of the most intensively studied and widely accepted in modern science, and why Americans seem more resistant to it than Europeans are.

Finally, there is the Mother of All Climate Media (no, not Day After Tomorrow), An Inconvenient Truth. We'll be getting a sneak peek at Al Gore's climate blockbuster next week, and we'll review it then, but for now, let's just say that the signs are good that this thing's gonna be huge.

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I'm surprised there hasn't been any Worldchanging coverage of "The Great Warming," an edited form of a longer TV documentary which is running in indie theaters.

I found it very slick and cheery but kind of earnest and bland. I had the impression that it was intended to be shown at public meetings and perhaps mildly activist church groups.

Posted by: Stefan Jones on 17 Apr 06

hear hear Alex!!!

it is amazing how many new tv & video Cch things are a happnin' now (and that 2055 is cute). but i agree with you they have to copmel, and have to help us in our collective vision building thing...

Posted by: lee on 17 Apr 06


There is also going to be a big HBO special on this Saturday evening (check your local listings for the time) called "Too Hot Not to Handle", which is produced by Laurie David.

Full disclaimer: I'm one of the scientists featured in the piece.

Ironic part: I don't even have cable, so I won't be able to see it.

Jon Foley
University of Wisconsin

Posted by: Jon Foley on 17 Apr 06

I was lucky enough to see an Inconvenient Truth a couple weeks ago. Its great. Although very, very, sobering. Not without hope. But sobering.

But, yes I too would like to see more visions of the future. I've been thinking of how to imagine and put forward the city that I would like to live in. Don't think I have quite the means yet, or maybe its just the time.

Posted by: adrian on 17 Apr 06

I like to plant trees. Doing so extends the term of "now" - and we need to learn to do that better.

Your health in your seventies depends on your lifestyle in your thirties. So does your retirement. That's an extended Now, because events across 40 years are so tightly coupled.

A century ago, the lives of Persians were little affected by history of Americans. Today, that's clearly not the case - our Now is global and older.

When the biosphere could absorb our greenhouse gas emissions, the fact that CO2 stays in the atmosphere a century didn't matter to today's choices. Now that fact matters - our Now extends at least a century ahead.

A vision of the future? Start living in a full Now, and act accordingly. See the grown tree when you plant the sapling, and know the soil you're standing on.

Posted by: David Foley on 17 Apr 06

You can see the trailer of An Inconvenient Truth here:

Posted by: Michael G. Richard on 17 Apr 06

"As futurism, that's the only thing that's a little disappointing about it: it's telling, not showing; predicting, not evoking. It's a very cool project, but it uses the futurism wrapper essentially to argue for a set of actions we ought to take now, rather than help us imagine what a climate-friendly future might in fact be like."

In my opinion, it takes quite a bit more than a short film to give an enticing, illustrative, how-to picture of what we should do now, together with what that positive future might look like. That's quite a tall order, and one can debate whether film truly has the ability to convey all of that. It took me 385 pages of a novel to show society's transformation into the future and there is so much more that could be done/shown/offered/imagined.

Climate: A Crisis Averted is short and snappy, positive and can-do in its approach. Most importantly, it is presented in a medium which can be easily transmitted to massive numbers of viewers, for free. In that niche, it is an excellent piece.

Joanne Poyourow, author of Legacy: A Story of Hope for a Time of Environmental Crisis

Posted by: Joanne Poyourow on 17 Apr 06

I'm sorry, but this is obscene. All the instruments are there to tackle climate change in a strong, straightforward way.
There is no need for this kind of Anglosaxon myths about "a group of dedicated individuals tackling the world's problems". No need for individuals here, and no, these American "individuals" are not the heroes here. 10 years ago the world ratified Kyoto and a host of other policy agreements. Bill Clinton went along. It's still on the table, all you have to do is to ratify it too.
Really, the people who made this video are the objective allies of those Americans who refuse to take climate change seriously - because they keep taking this sickening Anglosaxon approach to matters - "individuals" taking action, "individuals" with weblogs telling other individuals what to do, "individuals" with cute little companies doing this, and doing that, etc... It's disgusting.
Why don't Americans grow up and get in touch with real people? I'm so sick of this Anglosaxon ideology. I've really had it now. Just ratify Kyoto and shut up. Dammit.

Posted by: Lorenzo on 18 Apr 06

Lorenzo - I'm living in Canada right now, and it has ratified Kyoto. It hasn't however met its obligations. The only way to get the government to act here is to embarass it to act: it says "meeting Kyoto is impossible".

Posted by: Daniel Haran on 18 Apr 06

you can't shame rona ambroze nor stephen harpoo the only way to keep kyoto is to throw them out already. she (ambrose, the new head of the UNFCC) has been pretty frank about killing kyoto.

And Lorenzo does have a point, while i like the cheeryness of the video, it is reliying pretty heavy on the fact that this one group saved the day with their e-campaign. Sheesh! what about the tens of thousands who are sweating it out in uphill battles to see stuff happen? what about the mayors taking proactive steps, and of course what about the people who toiled in their innovative technologies or who would not be complacent and silent? no, a new blog saved the world. ha. And there are so many awesome tings happening in non western countries that the west could learn from, its very true Lorenzo...

(since everybody else is full disclosure here, me too-- i also made a climate change doc. almost 10 years ago (but it aged like dorian grey), fully positive & solution based, and not 100% white men talking sure it doesn't have an exVeep or Leo, but it's free....)

Posted by: lee on 18 Apr 06



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