Peer-reviewing the Script
Fact-checked and advised on the science by Climate Central’s Heidi Cullen (also see a Yale Forum Q&A with her) and prolific climate writer and analyst Joe Romm of Climate Progress/Center for American Progress, the series explores serious data and research as correspondents speak with scientists, activists, politicians, and average citizens presented as seeing changes all around them.
Cullen says the celebrities are meant to serve as “proxies” for the average viewer, posing questions and exploring uncertainties. They add “a fresh perspective,” she said, adding that “all the editors and producers cared so much about getting the science right.”
Two recent historical precedents to “Years” may come to mind as climate change documentary sensations. The 2011 PBS three-part series “Earth: The Operators’ Manual” featured Penn State climatologist Richard Alley, a highly regarded scientist and charismatic science communicator.
And there is of course former Vice President Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” shown in movie theaters worldwide, and generally seen as being highly effective in introducing the climate issue to the broad public and in audience persuasion.
‘Years’: Showing ‘Heartbreak’ along with a Fair Dose of Optimism
Perhaps distinguishing itself from those two documentaries, “Years” is less a purely professorial work that focuses on “consensus science” findings and datapoints — though there seems plenty of that too in the series. The new documentary strives also to be more of a production building toward a sort of global “consensus experience” of climatic change, and it includes ample upbeat or “optimistic” messages along with the grim news of a rapidly warming atmosphere. “Years” follows human subjects over substantial periods of time, developing deeper character sketches, showing “heartbreak,” and putting a “human face” on the issue, as its creators say.
“We include science coverage,” says Daniel Abbasi, an executive producer, climate advocate, author, and green investor who helped organize the project, “but less by charts and graphs and statistics and more by scientists showing us what they do in the field and why they’re reaching the conclusion that this problem is such a serious risk to the viability of our civilization and requires urgent action.”
Abbasi said in an interview that the series “unabashedly covers some of the emotional content around climate change and, in this sense, does something I think [much] of the cerebral coverage of climate change is missing.”
“All in all,” he continues, “‘Years’ challenges our fellow citizens to come with their full cognitive and emotional minds engaged so we can process the climate change issue and take much needed action.”
Whether the series will be subject to the scene-by-scene science debates and media critiques that Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” ultimately was remains to be seen, but barbs from those steadfastly rejecting the scientific “consensus” are all but certain. By taking to the “field” to assess climate change, “Years” of course runs right into sticky attribution problems — establishing accurate connections between human-induced atmospheric changes and weather, drought, etc.
The project’s primary funding comes from a variety of philanthropists both in the United States and Europe. (Disclosure: The Yale Forum shares a common funder.)