Documentary Series Sheds Light on Climate Change at HBS

A new Showtime series entitled “Years of Living Dangerously” debuted at Harvard Business School Monday afternoon, kicking off Earth Week and offering a look at how humans have exacerbated climate change around the world.

“At some level we have an impoverished debate in this country on this issue,” said Daniel R. Abbasi ’86, who co-produced the series. “One of the goals of this series is to ignite a public conversation.”

The documentary series will include nine episodes total. The first, which was screened at the Business School Monday, highlighted the impact of human activity on climate change. It included appearances by actors Harrison Ford and Don Cheadle, as well as New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman—each of whom traveled to a different location to investigate the effects of climate change.

Ford went to Indonesia, where he encountered forest burning, an illegal activity that clears space to cultivate palm trees. Palm oil, a product of the trees, has recently experienced a spike in demand, according to the series. The burning of the trees, however, releases high quantities of carbon into the air.

The episode also follows Cheadle on a trip to the small town of Plainview, Texas, where he observed the plight of workers laid off from their jobs at a meatpacking factory. Their company went out of business due to a prolonged drought. Cheadle highlighted how difficult it can be to convince deeply religious communities, such as those located in the panhandle of Texas, that climate change actually exists.

Friedman traveled to Syria for his segment of the episode, where he met with Syrian rebels who described how another drought, which took place from 2006 to 2010, had influenced the revolution.

Abbasi noted that celebrities and public figures featured throughout the series may help increase viewership.

“We were very selective on the [celebrities] we chose,”Abbasi said. “These were fiercely intelligent people who are really students of human nature, among them Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Olivia Munn, Harrison Ford. And that comes through.”

Abbasi also noted that the series stands apart from previous climate change documentaries, such as “An Inconvenient Truth.”

“We wanted to do something different,” Abbasi said. “We didn’t want to make a documentary film. We wanted to make a mainstream vehicle for television; we wanted to have a sustained amount of coverage.”

Rebecca M. Henderson, co-director of the Business and Environment Initiative at the Business School, commended the way the series has addressed climate change.

“At a time when so many of us who care about these issues are so deeply frustrated at our seeming inability to make any progress at all, it is deeply exciting to have the ‘Years of Living Dangerously’ on public TV with so much favorable media attention,” she said.

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