Spotlight: Carbon Nation

  • Exclusive Clip from Carbon Nation

    Q&A with Director Peter Byck

    1. Your film, Carbon Nation, features so many interesting and innovative personalities from around the country. How did you find all these people and get them to appear in your film?
    The first call we made was to Richard Branson, who I’d met at a Kentucky Derby party in 05. I asked him if he would be in the film, and if we could tell people, and he said yes and yes. Then we met and interviewed Amory Lovins, then Van Jones, and then we got Tom Friedman to say he’d be in it. All in the 1st 3 weeks of the filming, April 07 (our world premiere was in March, 2010). So we had a great base to work from, to recruit more incredibly smart people – I got to ask anything I wanted with these PhD’s and MacCarthur Genius award winners, engineers – it was awesome. Then, a year into the filming, my wife, Chrisna, came on board as one of the producers and things really got going – she found Cliff Etheredge (the one-armed cotton farmer turned wind farmer), she got us on to Ft. Irwin and other military bases, she (along with associate prod. Michael Cochran) found and secured Bernie Karl (our wild Alaskan geothermal pioneer) into the movie.

    2. What was the most surprising fact you discovered while making Carbon Nation?
    1) That if we stopped all carbon emissions today, we would still continue to heat up because we’ve already put too much CO2 into the atmosphere. 2) The only solid and rugged solution for this blew and continues to blow my mind, as more and more science and studies come in: that properly grazed cattle, basically like the buffalo were like before Europeans showed up in North America, huge herds, constantly moving so there’s no over grazing, pooping all along the way, will create the most robust grasslands – grasslands that in turn sequester huge, huge amounts of carbon. The grazing land in the U.S. alone would remove so much CO2 from the atmosphere, that we’d be able to slow down climate change. And organic farming does the same stuff – and manure added to organic farming makes it even more robust. Just using the earth’s 5 billion years of R&D. Stay tuned. This is some big stuff. Helps me sleep at night, I’ll tell you.

    3. What was the most interesting experience you had while making the film?
    At Ft. Irwin, where all Army soldiers are trained before heading out to Afghanistan and Iraq, there is a mock Iraqi village – food cooking, music playing, Iraqis doing their daily work – then add the tanks, a bunch of amputees with motion picture special effects make-up on the spots where the limb is missing, blood, bandages, the whole 9 yards – the was pretty intense. Learning about the plug-in hybrid at So Cal Edisons’ facility was awesome. Driving a hydrogen BMW well above the speed limit on PCH was a highlight.

    4. What did you learn in the process of making the film that you did not know before?
    This is a very long answer. It would take me about 84 minutes to tell you, but I’d recommend folks seeing the movie instead. I’m not being facetious; I did not know anything that is in the movie before we set out to make it. Making docs is astounding for those of us insanely curious people. And for me to be lucky enough to dive into the world of clean energy, energy efficiency, energy security, all the while finding astounding characters, heroes – this has been the best job I’ve ever had. On the filmmaking front, I was able to push my skill-set to the limit, and better yet, I was able to collaborate with Eric Driscoll, our main editor who man-handled 240 hours of technically challenging footage, MFactor on the graphics, 6PointHarness on the animation, Rob Hawes on the orchestration and sound design, and on and on.

    5. As your film demonstrates, there are many people working on climate change solutions throughout the United States right now. What are some of the next steps that need to be taken to implement the new technologies featured in the film?
    Companies need to figure out how much energy a piece of gear will use in its lifetime before making any purchases. Life-cycle costs. That way, they’ll end up buying something that will most likely cost more upfront, but will save them tons of money for the life of the equipment, from new efficient jets to air conditioning systems, on and on. Then this gives the market a signal – energy efficient is selling best, make stuff even more energy efficient. That’s a big one. Would do a lot. And the land use piece I mentioned above.

    6. What do you think is the best way to get the film’s message across to a large audience of diverse people, like business leaders and environmental activists?
    For business leaders to see Carbon Nation, we’re going to conferences, we’re reaching out to them via other business leaders who like our message. Our goal is to continue to have companies buy large blocks of DVDs to give to their employees – to inspire them to help lower the company’s energy use, which makes the company money. A beautiful thing. We want companies to make money. We want them to be responsible too. Those two things can go very well together. For the environmental activist, we’ve already had 600+ community screenings, all set up by people who wanted this film seen. We’re reaching out to conservation groups, schools, houses of faith – our film’s message of common ground, common purpose is well received across the country. Folks of all political stripes appreciate our film’s heroes – they’re inspired by them.

    7. What has been the reaction to the film by people who are skeptical of climate change and government efforts to curb it, such as cap-and-trade programs and carbon taxes?
    You’re talking about conservatives – you’re basically talking about my Uncle Phil. He was sending me climate denier articles the first 2 years of filming. I kept him in mind. Hey, we even have a great character in the film, Bernie Karl, who is a geothermal pioneer, an large scale recycler, who will do more than I’ll ever do to slow climate change – he’s amazing, yet he doesn’t think humans cause climate change. And we have so much in common – put the climate aside – and he and I agree 100% on the need for clean energy, the need to take fossil fuels out of our energy stream as much as possible, the need to promote clean air and clean water. So, conservatives come up to me at screenings, and they’re thrilled with the movie. We don’t blame them. No blame, shame. We only look forward – what can we all do from here on out. We don’t talk politics – we talk business. This is about business – good business – big business.

    8. What makes you film stand out for other environmental documentaries is that it focuses on solutions, rather than the problem. With so many different ways to curb greenhouse gas emissions being developed, what do you think is the biggest challenge to solving climate change and how can we as a nation overcome that challenge?
    Our national leadership seems to be ineffective right now and I do not think they are representing the will of the people. 435 people stuck in the past, not seeing the 21st century. The clean energy revolution is upon us, will the U.S. play a leading role, or take a back seat to all the other capable countries who are on the ball. South Korea – we get all our batteries for electric cars from them. China is the world’s leader in making solar panels and wind turbines. And on and on. We are a patriotic movie – we think the U.S. could take a huge leadership role – we certainly don’t think it’s too late – but it’s getting close to that. I think that once most American people really understand what the heroes in our film understand, that energy efficiency, just in the building sector alone, creates huge amounts of jobs, local jobs, and saves huge amounts of money, cleans the air, cleans the water. That story has not been told well enough, or often enough. Someone has to get these stories out there – that is what we are doing – and we need all the help we can get.

    9. What can average people who are not working in industries dedicated to green technologies dedicating their lives to do to help combat climate change?
    Vote for candidates who want the U.S. to lead on clean energy and energy efficiency. Number 1. Vote. Only buy from stores that push clean energy, lowering their impact on the communities they serve. Turn off your lights when you’re not in the room. Plug in all your kitchen appliances into a power strip and turn it off when you’re not using the stuff. CFLs, and better yet, LED lights. Buy sturdy furniture and keep it for generations. We have a list on our site:

    10. What the most important point you want the audience to take away from your film?
    Pushing for a clean energy future is the best thing for American business – the most patriotic thing for our country – the best national defense plan – the best jobs creator – the best health care overhaul – the best tax break for the average American. This stuff inspires me. It inspires folks at our screenings around the world.

    August 6th, 2011 | Joe Wilka |

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