Years of Living Dangerously: Climate Change Gets the Hollywood Treatment

  • Showtime presents Years of Living Dangerously, a groundbreaking documentary event series which provides first-hand reports on those affected by--and seeking solutions to--climate change. - Photo: The Years Project/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: YOLD_LastStand_506.R Pictured: Correspondent Harrison Ford from the segment "Last Stand." Additional correspondents include Mark Bittman, Christopher Hayes, Lesley Stahl, Sanjayan Muttulingam, Thomas Friedman, Ian Somerhalder, Olivia Munn, America Ferrera, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Matt Damon, Michael C. Hall, Don Cheadle and Jessica Alba. The Executive Producers of the series are James Cameron, Jerry Weintraub, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Joel Bach, David Gelber and Daniel Abbasi.

April 4, 2014

In the trailer of the Showtime documentary series, “Years of Living Dangerously," producer James Cameron's voice is heard over dramatic music.

"Everybody thinks that climate change is about melting glaciers and polar bears.  I think it’s a big mistake.  This is 100 percent a people story," he says.

And the people telling that story are, among others, a cast of A-list Hollywood actors.


In the first episode, Harrison Ford is decked out in aviator glasses and a NASA jumpsuit. He strides up to a jet which will take him and a team of scientists up to collect air samples that measure greenhouse gases, which cause global warming in the atmosphere.

He also gets schooled by an eighth grade science teacher about trees and global warming.

Ford is joined in this first episode by actor Don Cheadle, who visits Texas and people impacted by drought there, and New York Times reporter Thomas Friedman, looking  to connect the dots between climate change and the war in Syria.   

But while celebrities and big production values help tell what they are calling “the biggest story of our time,” the stars share the stage with regular people around the world who are being affected by climate change, and scientists.

Michael E. Mann is a Distinguished Professor at Penn State University, and a science advisor on the documentary. He even makes an appearance in front of the camera.  Mann has been talking about the science and social components of climate change for years, from international reports to books.

But he says, depending on the survey, there is still a gap between what most scientists agree—that global warming and changing climate are caused by people—and what many Americans believe—that they’re not. He says climate change is impacting us now, and wonders what it will take for skeptical Americans to make the connection and take action.

"Some of us thought that it was Hurricane Katrina, some of us thought that it was the record heat wave two years ago that devastated crops across the midwestern U.S.," he says.

The series explores the doom and gloom, like wildfires in Idaho and decimated forests in Indonesia.  But according to another of its producers, David Gelber, it also looks at solutions.  It’s something he learned as a producer on the news program “60 Minutes.”

" I remember saying once to Don Hewitt, the founder of “60 Minutes”—I said, “Don, you know I’d like to do a story about acid rain.”  And he said, “Gelber, we don’t do stories about acid rain. We do stories about people who do something about acid rain.”

Environmental groups are some of the heroes here.  But with celebrity endorsers, like Ian Somerhalder.

in this clip from the “Years of Living Dangerously” website, the heartthrob of the TV show “The Vampire Diaries,” gets young women fired up at a Beyond Coal rally.  He touts clean energy, which produces no greenhouse gases, and green jobs for their generation. The website also includes resources for audiences to get involved.

So will big name actors be able to pull off in 9 episodes what scientists have not--namely get Americans to tune into the conversation about climate? You can see for yourself.  The series begins April 13 on Showtime, and at least the first episode will be available—for those of us without cable TV—on YouTube.