Showtime's Years of Living Dangerously Misses the Mark

April 21, 2014

Showtime Years of Living Dangerously

Showtime and all the celebrity co-producers of the new climate change docu-series Years of Living Dangerously really blew it. I mean, they infuriatingly, embarrasingly, enragingly missed the mark.

I am so repulsed by the incompetence in reporting, and the willingness of naive celebrities to go along with anything for a producing credit, I nearly threw my remote through the TV screen. I'm glad you're here to vent to, and that we're connected, because this doc is a weak punch in the face to all of us trying to attack the root of our environmental problems, and I want you to hear why.

Strike one:

In the first full segment, Harrison Ford sits at NASA looking at rising temperatures and projections with the World Wildlife Fund—an organization known to be permissive, if not supportive, of sport-hunting and animal testing, as well as being anti-vegetarian to boot:

"Complete removal of livestock products is an extreme option which is not realistic and presents very significant nutritional challenges," said a 2010 WFF paper on greenhouse gas emissions, "So, consumption options other than vegetarianism or veganism were considered...A simple scenario analysis indicated that the substitution of beef and lamb through increasing poultry and pigmeat consumption would lead to a reduction in the direct GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions..." 

Strike two:

Continuing to narrate, Ford states that the leading cause of rising temperatures is "astonishing."  What is it? I sat up waiting for animal agriculture to be named, shocked that this might actually happen at this moment.

"Deforestation," Ford answers.  

Now if you've read the UN's groundbreaking report, Livestock's Long Shadow, you'll recognize that the statistics he follows with are, rounded up to the nearest 10, directly lifted from the 2006 release, which revealed that animal agriculture causes more GHG emissions than all forms of transporation combined. Except that Years of Living Dangerously downplays the truth. Ford goes on to say that deforestation causes "almost" as many emissions as transportation, failing to reveal the full story. Okay, I thought, they're taking a soft entrance in. At some point they have to mention the driving force behind deforestation as we know it

It sickens me to tell you that when Ford finally mentions the two leading products driving deforestation, he names paper and palm oil.

Strike three:

Ford then travels to Indonesia to look at the impact of deforestation, where he is carried around on elephants, whose riders are driving them with sharp, clear-as-daylight bullhooks (you can witness the full story on "crush cages," how South East Asian natives wrest elephants from the wild, and the role these hooks play in the process by watching How I Became and Elephantyou should not miss it). 

Meanwhile, Ford, standing amongst these very elephants, shakes his head in disbelief when he hears that wild elephants are being poisoned by companies profiting from slashing-and-burning the rainforest. 

Strike four (one last chance):

Don Cheadle's role in the series is to travel to Plainview, Texas, to interview drought-stricken ranchers along with townspeople who believe the drought is not caused by man-driven climate change, but rather God's will.

After we watch Cheadle fry up an organic egg in his home before getting on a plane, the rest of his segments center around a story about the town of Plainview, where Cargill (one of the world's largest petro-chemical-agricultural-pharmaceutical-biotech corporations) comes off as a poor little cottage company forced to shut down a meat-packing plant and leave its townspeople jobless.

The gist is a sad tale about the effects of global warming on the economy. One gets the feeling that according the producers, the ideal outcome of a climate-change-for-the-better would be that Cargill reopens its doors and the local economy of Plainview booms once again. 


Let me close by saying that the episode earned these strikes within the first 25 minutes or so, after which I fast-forwarded in hopes of some kind of redemption, but found none. 

No doubt, job loss is a terrible thing. And no doubt, irresponsible paper and palm oil producers are wreaking unspeakable havoc on the environment and the habitats of multitudes of species—we know that for a fact. But the missing piece in this widely-broadcast series leaves an utter, horrifying disgraceful void. Maybe—I doubt it—they'll get into livestock production in another episode. But I'll not be watching.

I'm sorry that the American public is being fed such short-sighted "liberal" nonsense. If we can't look honestly at our own destructive habits—and liberals, especially, I'm talking to you—then all is lost on the environmental front. There's no point in self-congratulatory attempts where you rally others for change but refuse to yourself.

From what I gather, the focus of Years of Living Dangerously is so magnificently misdirected, it leaves me wondering if Cargill was a sponsor—it's almost clear that they are. These days, getting a show on TV often requires ad buys to deficit-finance production.

I can almost guarantee that if I dug deep enough through the jillions of producers in the film credits, I'd find dirt. But I'd rather eat it than spend one more second on this waste of an opportunity.

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