Blog: Feature Documentary Films

Shattered Sky: A Whirlwind of Good

Since the March 22 premiere of Shattered Sky at the DC Environmental Film Festival, it’s been a whirlwind of good: NY Times coverage and lots of contacts with festivals, colleges, and activists who want to play the film.

Most importantly, our Shattered Sky team is growing, and setting a solid foundation for a campaign to make a huge impact on the issues come September – the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol, the international ozone treaty.

The New York Times article quoted me well: “Shattered Sky is not about the science. It’s about what a responsible leader does when there’s a good chance the science is right. It’s important to remember that the first draft of the ozone treaty wasn’t perfect. It was a first step. It showed the world that America was committed to lead — and that made all the difference.”

The festival was super. Expertly run, our screening was super packed. We had Sunshine Mendez moderating, with Rolling Stone editor Jeff Goodell joining Dan Evans and me on stage for the panel afterwards.

We had a private reception at the nearby Hotel Rouge following the panel, with about 100 people. National Wildlife Federation CEO Larry Schweiger talked about the educational partnership with Shattered Sky.

I’m personally really excited about this, and will write more as it continues to take shape. The outreach will focus primarily on high school and college. It will be national. It will be a combined science and civics curriculum. And it will focus on the positive message that America led the world to a solution on the ozone crisis during the Reagan Administration—and we can do it again on energy and climate.

If you’re on Facebook, you can see the photos of the film, the vibe, and the party.

It’s been a crazy month, but has exceeded all my expectations. Thanks to everybody for all you’re doing to get our campaign going. You know who you are!

Respects, Dr. Rowland

I was all set to write something today about how we just got our 400,000th fan on the Shattered Sky FB page, before our film festival premiere later this month, when a friend sent the Washington Post obit for Dr. Sherwood Rowland, chemist and Nobel laureate, who passed away over the weekend.

When I first met Dr. Rowland in 2007, he was already 33 years removed from the defining discovery of his career — that chlorofluorocarbons contribute to ozone depletion.

I remember how nervous I was before our interview at UC Irvine. Here was one of the most renowned atmospheric chemists in history. What if he and his doctoral student Mario Molina (co-Nobel Laureate) had never made the discovery? What if the ozone hole had kept growing? Would skin cancer be a much more serious threat today? Would crops and fisheries be suffering? What about our health and environment today if Rowland and Molina simply hadn’t done the work?

I recall how tall he was and how my hand disappeared in his as we greeted each other. Something from his bio jumped to my mind, and I mentioned it: that he’d been named the MVP in the AAU Chicago city basketball championship game in 1949. Dr. Rowland smiled and relayed some stories. Our interview got off to a good start.

The enclosed photo is a screen shot from a 2009 interview for Shattered Sky, my new documentary that compares the ozone crisis with climate change. I literally couldn’t have made the film without Dr. Rowland, who gave Dan Evans and me full access to his archives, going back four decades.

Dr. Rowland was the rare scientist in the 1970s who spoke forcefully for political action. He set a strong example that a scientist’s role didn’t end at the laboratory door, which paved the way for other strong scientists to speak out, including some in our film.

As Shattered Sky premieres later this month (and we announce an exciting nationwide educational partnership), a new generation will learn not only about Dr. Rowland’s discovery, but also about America’s success in solving the ozone crisis. My hope is that the story inspires us all to take action on climate change, because it’s the smart and right thing to do now for our energy, economy, and environment.

Respects, Dr. Rowland.

 

Jane Goodall LIVE

 

Today was the second time I filmed Dr. Jane Goodall recently for an upcoming movie, and each time she has taken me off guard (in a good way) with an extraordinarily gentle spirit, iron resolve, and tendency to break into impromptu primate calls.
Dr. Goodall is 77 years old. She moves lightly; the years exert no visible weight on her. She talks in a whisper, not out of reserve or infirmity, but from the quiet confidence of somebody accustomed to her own authority and eloquence. People listen.
This morning, Dr. Goodall speaks with the crew at the International Space StationCommander Mike Fossum and Flight Engineer Satoshi Furukawa join in. I film her side of it. The astronauts are inspired by Dr. Goodall’s life-long conservation mission. She finds common ground, learning about their science and their thoughts about the Earth from their perch.

In orbit, the world’s most accomplished astronauts are zipping at more than 17,000 miles per hour, chatting with the only person who’s ever been accepted into chimpanzee society. As I type this, Jeff Orlowski is putting the final touches on Jane Goodall: Live, which is playing one night only, September 27, in 500 cinemas around the country.

Afterwards, Dr. Goodall and I discuss Roots and Shoots, a youth-oriented program of the Jane Goodall Institute that is in 100+ countries and all 50 states. It’s her passion; it’s visceral how intent she is on getting the next generation to care. She leans in: “I bet you need a chimp hug,” she says. I mutter something far less poignant than how David Graybeard might have responded. She utters a chimp call, and tenderly squeezes. I smile.

 

Shattered Sky – Can We Do the Same on Climate and Energy?

Been super busy, in a good way, in post-production for Shattered Sky. New feature indie doc from my co-director Dan Evans and me. Compares ozone issue to the current climate/energy crisis. Amazing similarities between the two: invisible compound was found to be wreaking devastating effects on the environment; all countries were at risk; changing course meant massive global economic implications; finding a solution was incredibly tough . . . except in the case of the ozone issue, the US took responsibility, owned up to the issue, led the world to a solution. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked. Can we do the same today on climate and energy?

Nilles: Coal and Energy Choice

So, today Dan Evans and I interviewed Bruce Nilles for our film on climate change, Shattered Sky. Nilles is the Sierra Club’s National Coal Campaign Director. He’s pretty focused on ending coal consumption as we know it, and he’s not alone. I asked Nilles if there’s such a thing as clean coal. And, in no uncertain terms, he said the exact same thing that Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy said (who I interviewed a few weeks ago): NO. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is in the study phase, and is at least 10-15 years away as a commercial enterprise. Of course, Nilles emphasized that CCS coal would cost twice as much, and be more expensive as solar and wind. Rogers thoughts that CCS is a good investment. Nilles railed against the production of coal — which includes mountaintop removal, ash ponds, and a certain amount of deaths per year. Rogers didn’t talk much about that.

But we’re in a democracy, right? If we don’t want this anymore, we can change it? “We don’t have choice,” said Nilles. He’s right. Try calling up your monopoly utility company and requesting a second or third option for your electricity. For the approximately 25 states that derive 50% or more of their electricity from coal burning, citizens don’t have much of a choice. Ultimately, is today’s energy debate about providing us with more of a choice? When we find out more, what do we demand? I vote clean. And I suspect, with the right incentives, Rogers’ Duke Energy might invest to help us get there. Possible?

Lovins: No Regrets Action!

Interviewed Hunter Lovins today for our climate change documentary Shattered Sky. Who is not jazzed and encouraged after talking with Lovins?! She advocates action toward clean energy and reducing CO2 emissions, not because it is the right thing to do per se, but because there’s a compelling business case. She cited case after case where companies saved wads of cash by instituting various energy-efficiency practices. Energy efficiency could “reduce energy demand and carbon emissions by 50 %” she said. Inspirational.

Becker: From Climate Weirding to Executive Solutions

So, with co-producer Dan Evans, I interviewed Bill Becker today for our documentary Shattered Sky. So, should we be calling this crisis “climate change” or “global warming” I asked Becker. I don’t much care what we call it anymore, let’s just do something about it, he responded, before deciding on “climate weirding.” This, because there won’t be uniform warming, but unpredictable extremes – droughts, extra rain, possible feedback, etc. On his blog at Yale, John Waldman says Hunter Lovins coined the term; but when I interviewed Lovins, she said she got the term from “a friend.” So who invented it? Or more importantly, is it useful?

Becker is low-key, avuncular, and comprehensive in approach. During the last few years, he talked with hundreds of policy people, scientists, and other experts on what to do on three interrelated challenges: climate, energy, and national security. The conclusions of his Presidential Climate Action Project are in large part being integrated into early-stage Obama Administration initiatives, a credit to Becker and the work of his collaborators.

Carbon Age Over Tandoori Chicken

So, I’m eating lunch at my favorite local Indian place with my friend Eric Roston today. Roston’s the author of The Carbon Age, a brilliant, definitive book about carbon as a structural element in life and civilization. So, over some tasty Tandoori Chicken, the conversation fortunately veers away from molecular composition and astrophysics to something I can at least talk about: ethics. Roston makes the point that the climate issue is the perfect moral quandary: any actions you and I take to try to arrest the build-up of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere will have little to no impact during our lives. We simply won’t see it, since CO2 emissions have atmospheric lifetimes of 100-150 years, and sometimes a lot more.

Are our political and economic systems equipped to handle long-term, complex, moral issues? So far, no.

Check out this nice blog post, with a video of Roston on the Comedy Central’s Colbert Report. Roston holds his own pretty well. Funny!

Google 2030: How’d a Tech Company One-Up the Gov’t?

Google’s Energy team put out a strategy in October called “Google 2030,” which makes a strong case for smart investments in clean energy. Like most everything Google does, it is smart, thorough, and transparent — they’ve improved it quite a bit with public comments in the past six months (why can’t the federal government work this way?). It targets some aggressive but realistic goals, which not only help address climate change, but reduce pollution and get us well on our way to using renewable energy at scale. Some highlights: it aims to reduce fossil fuel-based electricity generation by 88%; reduce vehicle oil consumption by 44%; reduce dependence on imported oil (currently 10 million barrels per day) by 37%; reduce electricity-sector CO2 emissions by 95%; reduce personal vehicle sector CO2 emissions by 44%; reduce US CO2 emissions overall by 49% (41% from today’s CO2 emission level).

Does everyone have an agenda? Sure. Google’s is to have cheaper, sustainable energy in the long run so their massive server farms don’t become a PR nightmare in CA during the next generation. Oh, and it might help their bottom line. And Google knows that utilities are essentially monopolies, so we need government intervention in making the move toward cleaner alternatives. Is the US federal government up to the task?

What’s one way forward? Read Google’s HOW TO.

Bob Watson and the IPCC

Interviewed Bob Watson today for Shattered Sky. In my opinion, if you have to pick one person in the world today who contributed most to science informing international policy, it’s Watson. Start with the nascent international science assessments around the ozone crisis in the mid-1980s. Those were organized by Watson and Dan Albritton, from NOAA. Until then, country-level science assessments competed with each other, and often contradicted each other, undermining the authority of science and essentially making it less of an input into policy. Watson wrangled together the best scientists in the world, who coalesced into a convincing, unified voice preceding the 1988 Montreal Protocol, the landmark international treaty that phased out the chemicals that were destroying the ozone layer.

Soon thereafter, in 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its first assessment on global warming. So, 20 years later, we’re up to the 4th IPCC report, which included more than 2,500 scientific expert reviewers, more than 800 contributing authors, and more than 450 lead authors — from more than 130 countries.

So, for the first time in history, we have a truly global consensus in scientific opinion. Some complain that because there are so many participants and it takes so many years to reach consensus, that the IPCC may actually be too conservative. But, I say, better to err on this side than overstate climate change.