Tom Eblen: Documentary offers practical view of climate fixes


Kentucky-born filmmaker Peter Byck has no doubt that climate change is real, that human activity is causing it and that people must take significant action to stop it from destroying the planet.

But when he set out to make his new documentary, Carbon Nation, Byck didn't necessarily want to change skeptics' minds. He wanted to show them that many remedies for climate change are worth doing for other reasons — like making and saving money.

"We wanted to make a positive film — a solutions-based, no-blame, no-shame movie," Byck said.

Carbon Nation will have its first Lexington screening at 7 p.m. Tuesday at The Kentucky Theatre. The screening is sponsored by the Kentucky Energy & Innovation Roundtable and the Idea Festival in Louisville. Tickets are $10.

Byck was born and raised in Louisville and studied filmmaking at the California Institute of the Arts. He has worked a lot in the film industry, including being assistant to the producer of the 1988 hit A Fish Called Wanda.

But his passion is making documentaries about society's relationship to the environment. One of his earlier films, Garbage, won the documentary award at the South by Southwest Film Festival in 1996.

Carbon Nation includes a tutorial on climate change that is less preachy and more solutions-oriented than former Vice President Al Gore's 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth. Much of Carbon Nation is a series of profiles of people who are doing creative things to make or save money, operate businesses more efficiently, make the environment cleaner, make people's lives better, and fight climate change, whether or not they intend to. Among them:

Cliff Etheredge has created one of the world's largest "wind farms" in West Texas by organizing small ranchers like himself. Windmills generate electricity for utilities — and steady income for the ranchers.

Retired Army Col. Dan Nolan tells how the military is reducing energy consumption in Iraq by finding more fuel-efficient ways to cool temporary buildings. In addition to saving money, it is putting fewer military convoy drivers in harm's way.

Arthur Rosenfeld, the father of California's building and appliance efficiency standards, talks about how his work has saved consumers billions of dollars during the past three decades. Former CIA Director James Woolsey is promoting plug-in hybrid cars. And Bernie Karl in Alaska is doing pioneering work with geothermal energy that is saving companies he works with a fortune.

Byck said Karl is an example of someone fighting climate change while still doubting its existence. "I realized that you didn't have to believe that climate change was a problem to do all these things that could solve climate change," Byck said. "He just likes clean air and water, and he doesn't like smokestacks."

Carbon Nation has been showing in theaters around the country for the past year to build credibility for broader distribution. "The trick with any film, especially a small indie film like this, is getting more people to see it," he said.

Byck said a major studio is negotiating on-demand video rights with cable companies. The film will soon be sold in Wal-Mart stores and through, he said.

While Carbon Nation has a natural audience among environmentalists and liberals, Byck said he is especially proud that many conservatives have seen and liked it. The film recently received a glowing review on the blog of the Evangelical Environmental Network.

Byck hopes the film also will be seen by more business people, especially in states such as Kentucky, where energy conservation and renewable energy development could be big business opportunities.

Byck said solution-oriented films like his can be an antidote to poisonous politics and media portrayals of America as a polarized society. He thinks the only way to solve major problems is by finding a "respectful center" in which to discuss them.

"The film is doing what we wanted it to do," Byck said. "It's reaching a lot of people like my Uncle Phil, who is a very conservative guy. We wanted to present an argument that made sense to him — an economic argument, a national security argument."

So what does Uncle Phil think of Carbon Nation?

"He loves the film," Byck said. "I was relieved."