Author Archives: Bill Moulton

Part Two: What To Do About Our Planetary Pickle? The Answer(s) Could Be Blowing in the Texas Wind!

Until I attended America’s largest Earth Day Expo and its parallel EARTHxFilm Festival in Dallas two weeks ago, I had no idea that Texas was America’s top wind power state. Oil state? Of course. Full of gas? Guess so. But wind, who knew? I’m from California—the San Francisco Bay Area to be exact—living in a green bubble, though even we are not nearly as eco-savvy as we could be and people might presume.

Let’s face it, when it comes to protecting our eco-sphere, the place we all call home that makes all life possible—or not—there’s a lot for each of us to learn and not a lot of time to come up to speed. That sentiment—a desire to learn and share what can be learned about our rapidly changing environment and climate—is what inspired founder Trammell S. Crow.

When I think of Texas I think of a few things, all of them supersized: BIG petroleum companies that sometimes cause BIG oil spills, BIG beef producers, and BIG cities like Houston and Dallas with world class shopping. With those stereotypical and simplistic views, I was overdue for a second visit, and excited to be covering what is now billed as the BIGGEST Earth Day gathering in the world. My first trip to Dallas was a decade ago when asked to speak at the Texas Women’s Conference on climate change. I recall being stunned to learn that then Governor Rick Perry rejected the evidence of human-caused climate change. . Those were the early days of climate denial and the concept that an elected official running a state as significant as Texas could ignore scientific consensus was too strange for me to comprehend. While I still don’t get or respect what I call “deny-o-saurs” we now know, all too well, what dark forces are fueling it.

This year, especially in the wake of Mr. Trump’s Cabinet picks for the EPA and Energy Department—not to mention his State Department choice, Exxon’s own Rex Tillerson—I was in need of an infusion of inspiration. I was curious about whether the event would look, feel and sound like so many of the West Coast hosted environmental gatherings I’ve covered during twenty years on the green beat.

The answer was both “yes” and “no.”

Since first hearing about the man with a BIG vision behind the six-year old event, I was eager to meet Crow. I was curious, as I always am when interviewing green visionaries, to learn what motivated him—an heir to a real estate development fortune and patron of the Arts—to spend his greenbacks spreading the green gospel around Dallas and beyond. I’ve since learned that Crow’s grand vision is BIGGER than his home city, BIGGER than even the State of Texas, AND the U.S. It’s only when one considers how quickly Earth Day Dallas has grown into Earth Day Texas and—as of last week—expanded to its new name, EARTHx—with a now national, and even international, focus—that one has to take Crow seriously when he says “If we can turn Texas, we can turn the country and, if we turn the country, we can turn the world.”

From the beginning, Crow’s strategy has been to build a big tent and put out a big welcome mat. EARTHx 2017 brought together not only environmental activists and NGO’s but also a diverse group of business leaders and politicians—many of them Republicans. The big names present included Bill Shireman, founder of Future 500 and an early contact of Crow’s who helped inspire the event, representatives as diverse as Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, a climate champion from Rhode Island, to the opposite end of the political spectrum, Energy Department head, Rick Perry, and the EPA’s Scott Pruitt. They all spoke on the same day, at separate venues, as did retired General Wesley Clark, an impressive and thoughtful presence. Talk about a change in climate!

“It’s about different parties getting in a room that don’t necessarily agree with each other,” according to Michael Cain, President of EARTHxFilm, “No one is excused from the table.”

Crow brought Cain, a Sundance award-winning filmmaker and co-founder of the Dallas International Film Festival, on board a year ago to launch an eco-themed film track to complement the rest of EARTHx. Topics this year ranging from climate change to conservation, plasticity, oceans, clean power solutions, GMOs, farming and extinction, comprised this year’s line-up of 23 full length feature films and 33 shorts. There were also filmmaking workshops and Virtual Reality exhibits.

If the theme of “something for everyone” is coming into view, that was in fact the focus. Cain set out to curate films that “connect to the head and heart” on a range of topics that mirror the trans-partisan programming track.

I was able to squeeze in two new movies, each of them equally impactful and well produced. The first was Plastic Ocean, which like Chasing Coral—one I had seen at Sundance in January but was also screened in Dallas—left an impression that haunts me still.

If images of fistfuls of plastic debris being removed from the carcasses of shore birds and fish don’t turn your stomach, you’re not paying attention. Especially, when one considers that plastic does not break down in the atmosphere or the ocean, and marine creatures are increasingly mistaking plastic bits for food as more debris reaches the ocean from streams and runoff. The sight of intact plastic beverage bottles bobbing on the ocean floor for perhaps eternity made me feel physically nauseous. That’s the potential of media done well and a perfect, if upsetting; example of what Cain calls “the power of film to change the world.” It’s a mixed blessing “to know” because plastic is so pervasive. But only when enough people are aware can things change.

The second film I previewed was Happenings, a mostly optimistic documentation of the exploding clean power sector from Jamie Redford—son of Robert—who matches his father when it comes to concern about our environment, but without the Hollywood trappings. The filmmaker takes us on a multi-state voyage as he seeks out examples of energy solutions in the works, from Apple’s clean powered data centers in the desert, to Marin County’s Green Energy option for residents and businesses. At one point in the film the younger Redford’s adolescent daughter is less than thrilled about new solar panels going up on the family’s Marin rooftop. When Jamie asks Lena (Redford) why she’s not more excited, she answers—with typical pre-teen snark—because it’s only one house.” What about everyone else?”

Hers is a good question and again fundamental to the challenges of educating and engaging the masses, to go beyond the margins in America’s greener pockets. The message resurfaces in one of the film’s final scenes when, returning from their green energy road trip, Jamie—at the wheel—appears despondent as they drive along the freeway. When Lena asks her Dad why he was so glum, he answered with the essence of her earlier comment—“Despite the few great examples we saw, what about everyone else?” She attempts to comfort her forlorn father but who among us who care—often caring too much while way too many others appear oblivious—cannot relate? The key to success—if we are to leave our children a healthy environment—is to amplify and scale the solutions, commensurate with the scope of the challenges.

This gets us back to Trammell Crow’s mission: to not let what happens in Dallas stay in Dallas. Instead, attendees are urged to interact with the material, whether it’s seeing a powerful film, hearing a provocative talk, or participating in a “hackathon” that featured 1,200 high school and college students attempting to address real-world environmental challenges in short order. There was also an E-Capital Summit, matching investors with start-up eco-preneurs, and more than 1,700 booths of all kinds. Indeed, there was something for everyone.

One of the highlights for me was the food, which was, decidedly, NOT your typical green event fare. At a fundraiser for forest preservation at a venue on the Fair Park site Saturday evening, “chicken fried lobster” was served and because it was so tasty—and there were a few empty seats at our table—I got seconds, and that’s a first.

Usually at climate and sustainability conferences the fare is much more “P.C.” – vegetarian or maybe organic chicken or “sustainably farmed” salmon is served…certainly not steak and lobster, but no complaints! On the one hand, I can appreciate the argument that such gatherings should serve as a model for sustainable living. On the other hand, the raw vegetable salad and quinoa served at lunch the day before, was a bit on the skimpy side—until I realized that it was just the appetizer when a plate of Texas beef was plopped down in front of a surprised me. I had just finished my delicious vegan lemon dessert because the baby vegetable slices had not quite filled me up. A few bites of the beef were enough but I must confess, it did taste good.

There were two other culinary signs that I was not in San Francisco anymore: 1) there was seemingly no coffee to be found anywhere on the 227-acre fairground sight, unheard of where I come from; and 2) in the media and volunteer center instead of the usual organic fruit and cheese platters, there were bags of BBQ Fritos and chocolate chip “health” bars. There was also a refrigerator filled with chilled soda. Desperate for a caffeine fix I helped myself to what was the first Coca-Cola I’ve had in years.

If it sounds like I’m complaining, I am not. I truly loved the contrast and cognitive dissonance that Crow has created, intentionally or not. For too long I have lamented that when I go to an environmental event–- whether a conference or a film screening— it’s the “usual suspects,” people I know to be active in the climate or sustainability communities. Where is everyone else? Even in my own supposedly progressive Marin County, I often ask myself, “where are the soccer moms, or people from my gym?” Many who comprise what I refer to as “the mainstream” were among the reported crowd of 114,000 this year. For someone who laments the slow spread of environmentalism from the margins to Main Street, it’s encouraging to know—with numbers so supersized—that surely hundreds of attendees who came, learned, watched and discussed what they experienced—will go on to become tomorrow’s “solutionaries.” For a builder like Crow it must be satisfying to know that he is laying a foundation for the next generation of leaders.

My overview of the mega-event would not be complete if I failed to mention the glitz factor, or what I call “Greenerati.” Although neither Leonardo DiCaprio nor Mark Ruffalo have yet made their way to Dallas for the biggest Earth Day Expo in the land, it’s just a matter of time before they do. This year actress Jennifer Beals (Flashdance) accepted an award with Michael Green of the Center for Environmental Health and Laura Turner Seydel (Ted’s daughter, also a committed environmentalist) and her husband Rutherford, walked the Green Carpet.—pictured above with Jessica and Matthew Upchurch. Additionally, there were a handful of eco-luminaries including Sylvia Earle, affectionately known by fans as “Her Deepness,” Captain Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd, and filmmaker Jeff Orlowski of Chasing Ice and soon to be released Chasing Coral fame. Louis Psihoyos, who directed pivotal films, including The Cove and Racing Extinction, also drew a crowd.

In the end, I loved spending my twentieth Earth Day since starting out on the green beat, in Texas. Where else can you find someone at the top who is so worth “crowing” about? And chicken fried lobster? As long as there is an ocean for such delicacies I’m down for that (though at the rate we’re warming our oceans, shellfish may someday be a thing of the past). I’m not pretending this type of food is sustainable, or exemplary, but it IS authentic Texan fare. In a world filled with fake news and alternative facts, I have a new appreciation for things that are real. I can also hold in high regard a strategic desire to appeal to all shades of green, PC or not, Texas style.

In Trammell S. Crow’s own words “they come here as empty sponges and they leave saturated. At least until next year when they come back for more.”

I hope to return as well, along with a few California grown suggestions of my own.

When the “Fair and Balanced” Network Surprises

It was an extraordinary moment one week ago on April 2: Chris Wallace of Fox News—a media entity that has denigrated climate science and climate activism for years—turning up the heat on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for the latter’s disavowal of the scientific verdict on climate change.

Obviously, Wallace won’t be joining anytime soon; the Fox News Sunday host also has a long history of casting doubt on climate science, and pointedly refused to ask any questions about climate change in the third presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump last fall. So why would Wallace hammer away at Pruitt’s rejection of the evidence that the burning of fossil fuels is driving the planet towards climate chaos?

In all likelihood, Wallace felt motivated to press Pruitt on pollution for the same reason that former Secretary of State James Baker felt motivated to urge the Trump administration to support a federal carbon-pricing policy; in both cases, the idea could well be a survival instinct to protect the Republican Party from self-destruction.

Pruitt is arguably the single most controversial figure in the Trump administration; his full-on rejection of the overwhelming data proving that oil, gas and coal threaten the planet as a whole could drive those who are not committed right-wingers away from the Republican Party for good, a problem the GOP absolutely cannot afford. As a loyal, lifelong Republican, Baker has an obvious personal interest in protecting the political health of the GOP; as a Fox News figure, Wallace has an obvious professional interest in protecting the political health of Fox’s preferred party.

According to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, “[A]bout half to a majority of Trump voters think global warming is happening and support a variety of climate and clean energy policies…Over half of Trump voters (52%) support eliminating all federal subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, nearly half (48%) support requiring fossil fuel companies to pay a carbon tax and using the money to reduce other taxes by an equal amount, and almost half (48%) support setting strict carbon dioxide emissions limits on existing coal-fired power plants to reduce global warming and improve public health, even if the cost of electricity to consumers and companies would likely increase.” In other words, a significant portion of Trump voters disagree with Pruitt on climate change—and if their concerns about the climate crisis intensify, they may seek alternate political routes.

Baker doesn’t exactly consider himself a climate hawk, and Wallace will never be confused with MSNBC’s climate-conscious Chris Hayes. However, Baker and Wallace clearly understand that the GOP cannot deny the abundant evidence of human-caused climate change in perpetuity, thus risking potentially severe Election Day consequences. One can only wonder when and if Fox’s loudest deny-o-saur, and Trump’s buddy, Sean Hannity will ever wake up and smell the carbon. Given how many times he has spouted outright lies on his program about climate realities—and that’s just the dozen or times I’ve been on his show to spar with him and his climate-denying cronies—it’s impossible to imagine Hannity (or “Inanity” as I call him) ever acknowledging he was wrong. Especially as long as his paycheck, and network’s ratings, depend upon the profits made by perpetuating provocative nonsense. Never mind that the planet’s fate hangs in the balance – let’s mock the tree-huggers at any cost, and denigrate climate scientists too while we’re at it. As if Hannity and Company know more than 97% of experts in their field of focus! But I digress…

The political climate finally appears to be changing in the United States, with a growing number of House Republicans pledging to work with Democrats on climate solutions and major corporations acknowledging the need to curb carbon emissions. If the Trump administration expects to survive politically, it cannot be deaf to the concerns of Republicans who don’t buy into the idea that climate science is a conspiracy concocted by the Chinese government.

It’s not likely that Pruitt will change his tune on climate change anytime soon, but as ecological and political storms gather, it’s not beyond possibility that his time as EPA Administrator will come to an end sooner rather than later. Those who deny the settled science of climate change were thrilled when Pruitt became EPA Administrator, but they may soon find themselves outfoxed by reality.

Rooted In Peace Is Rooted In Hope: A Time for Action

Greg Reitman is indeed the right man to make this sweet and poignant film at just the right time—amidst a current backdrop of political bitterness, unprecedented national divisiveness and bellicose buildup of military might at the expense of public health and our environment.

Although Donald Trump was not yet on the political scene when Rooted In Peace was conceived and produced, his presidency and dark values loom in stark contrast to the movie’s primary message of the need for peace, hope and love to prevail if humans hope to live in harmony with themselves, each other, and nature.

Open minded and open hearted, Reitman shares his journey from a presumably normal New York City boyhood, filled with the usual comic books and video games, to young adulthood during which his travels exposed him to trauma caused by witnessing violence, even if only as a bystander.

The first two life-changing events occurred on foreign territory—witnessing, as a student, bombing raids in Israel during the first Gulf War, and years later during a visit to Hiroshima while surveying the devastation from World War II. The third encounter with violent trauma hit closer to home as we learn in an interview with Reitman’s brother-in-law, who witnessed the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers.

Setting out on a journey of self discovery—armed with a miniature “peace tree” and existential questions like how did humans learn to become so violent (since we’re not born that way) and how can we reconnect with our inherently peaceful nature as individuals, nations and a planet—Reitman takes his quest for answers to India and seeks out spiritual gurus like the Maharishi and Deepak Chopra. Along the way he poses philosophical queries such as: Is there any such thing as a just war? And can one be an angry peace activist?

Along the way Reitman comes face to face with…himself. First, in the form of health issues which force the filmmaker to seek medical advice, ultimately leading to a change in diet and exercise habits. Next, he confronts anger issues in his relationship with girlfriend Britta, a co-producer in the film. Once he gets the toxic stuff out of his body and relationships, Reitman turns his lens on the endangered health of our planet. He meets with noted environmental thinkers like Paul Hawken, Lester Brown and William McDonough, who weigh in on what must be done to reverse ecosystem decline and the planetary crises caused by, and facing, mankind.

Throughout the film there are cameo appearances and clips with Desmond Tutu, Pete Seeger, David Lynch and Ted Turner. Also threaded throughout was a killer soundtrack with songs from Mike Love and The Beach Boys, Donovan, Sting, Coldplay, Pink Floyd and David Gray.

In the end Reitman welcomes and shares wisdom gleaned from his worldly mentors. Among the nuggets? A meditation practice can expand the brain to become more receptive than reactive: our hearts have a stronger connection to our emotions than our brains: our planet is the circulatory system of all life: and the rage of Gaia (earth) will come back with great vengeance if we continue to abuse, and take from, nature. And closing the loop back to where the film opens with the mini Bonsai, humans have more in common with trees than it would appear on the surface, including the ability, and necessity, to breathe oxygen.

The movie concludes with a nod to its title. Following many scenes in which the seeker-filmmaker is planting trees, Reitman turns over the omnipresent “peace tree” to his nephew, in whom he seemingly plants his hopes for a better future. Finally, in the ultimate act of hope, we see Reitman and his girlfriend tie the knot while the sun sets on the couple beginning their future as a married couple.

Now if only we could make Rooted In Peace required viewing for everyone, especially those in the Trump administration. In that fantasy scenario Reitman, will have planted seeds of change that would cause a pivot toward peace and sustainability and away from a no-win war on ourselves, each other and our precious planet.


Greg Reitman is a director, producer, writer and active member of the Director’s Guild of America. Described by Movie Maker Magazine as “one of the top ten filmmakers producing content that impacts our world,” he is the founder of Blue Water Entertainment, Inc., an independent production company. DVD release for the film is May 10th, to be sold at Whole Foods nationwide.

My First Sundance: A Bright Ray of Light in a Storm of Darkness

It has only been two weeks since I returned from Sundance and already I can hardly wait until next year, although it’s hard to imagine anything matching the drama and spectacle of SFF 2017. And that’s just from what happened outside the theaters.

At the closing Awards Ceremony Festival Director John Cooper said, “This has been one of the wildest, wackiest and most rewarding in recent memory. From a new government to the independently organized Women’s March on Main, to power outages, a cyber attack and record levels of snow, the work of our artists rose above it all.”

With a surreal Presidential Inauguration and a storm of protests across the country, those back-to-back national events set the stage for the festival’s spirited kickoff at 7,000 feet. Turnout for the Women’s March in Park City was more than twice was what expected when Chelsea Handler announced she would be leading the charge. A handful of notables joined her, including musician John Legend and social activist Dolores Huerta, whose film about her life debuted to rave reviews.

It was my first time attending and armed with a full festival media pass, warm boots and a strong desire to take my mind off what was coming down in Washington, it was an entirely satisfying adventure. The thought provoking documentaries, and attendant events, were the perfect distraction to the show going on in D.C.

It was the debut of the New Climate Program that got me to Sundance. Twenty years of covering green news and views on local, national and Internet radio finally paid off. The lure of seeing Al Gore’s sequel to An Inconvenient Truth six months ahead of its public release was just too tempting to miss, as a climate denier was taking office and filling his cabinet with like-minded appointees. The opportunity to be immersed in environmental films was a welcome diversion from the man with America’s biggest ego, and eco-footprint, moving into the White House.

I was not disappointed. Not only did I get to see An Inconvenient Sequel –Truth to Power as well as Chasing Ice’s sequel, Chasing Coral, also about the effects of climate change, I was also able to hear Al Gore, Robert Redford, Jeff Skoll, David Suzuki and President Mohamed Nasheed, formerly of the sinking Maldives, in a timely panel discussion. (Speaking of presidents, I almost got to see Malia Obama, missing her and a girlfriend in a consignment store by only five minutes. Can you imagine Ivanka buying second hand? Neither can I.)

The March was also a highlight. An estimated 8,000 strong — women, men and children — braved a snowstorm, many in bright pink hats, carrying signs that ranged from clever to crude (but still clever). We marched, or rather trudged, in the wind and snow, holding hands to keep each other, and our cell phones, from freezing. As a longtime environmental journalist, Trump’s election hit hard since he appears fixated on inflicting lethal blows to both the planet and the Press. As was the case for millions of others, this mass revolt against the bombastic billionaire — repeated across the country and world — reignited my hope, activism and spirit. It’s a good thing because most of the films I watched were a downer, but like Trump has done, they also got me fired up.

Many of the films moved me because they were substantive, well made, timely and troubling, if not downright terrifying. In the terrifying category, Chasing Coral was a stunner, both visually and for what it portends. Director Jeff Orlowski has done for coral reefs what he did for Arctic glaciers five years earlier; captured on camera through time-lapse photography their demise. Bringing the sobering reality of rapid planetary change that’s occurring “out there” to the big screen “right here” hits home, hits hard and is impossible to dismiss once you’ve witnessed it.

I cannot forget seeing the video of an older woman, a self-proclaimed “die-hard Fox Bill O’Reilly fan” leaving the theatre in tears after viewing Chasing Ice. The woman told an interviewer that she’d come to “laugh about global warming” but now that she’d seen it with her own eyes, was intent on letting everyone she’d previously argued with about climate change know of her pivot in opinion. She vowed to tell friends she was wrong and very sorry “for kicking them out of her house.” That’s the power of media done well and I’d love to track her down for an update! The link can be found here:

Watching the transformation of coral reefs was equally dramatic. During a three year period the film was colorful, pulsating live organisms morphed into tangled brown carcasses. This is due primarily to warming ocean temperatures at a rate that is both dizzying and sickening. Orlowski and his intrepid crew visited several continents to bear witness to the destruction offshore and to share with the world what it means for our future. An estimated one-quarter of all sea life feed on coral reefs, the underwater canary. During the festival it was announced that Netflix picked up worldwide rights to distribute Chasing Coral, which hopefully will mean millions get to see this alarming wake-up call. It also won an Audience Award in the U.S. Documentary category.

Al Gore’s newly produced An Inconvenient Sequel — Truth to Power premiered on the Festival’s opening night to much fanfare and a few standing ovations with Gore on hand for a Q & A. The film focused on the rapid rise of renewable energy and lowering of costs to help propel growth, especially in the solar sector. But it also showed evidence of mounting threats like rising sea levels, with Miami streets under several feet of water, as well as cause for rising political concern.

Gore’s sequel, like the original 11 years earlier, was part lecture, part travelogue, and part personal journey. The man who would be President is still using some old lines, with references to a “nature hike through the Book of Revelations.” But thankfully, especially for those of us who have spent days with him in his climate training, he also had some chuckle-worthy fresh lines.

Producers Jon Shenk and Bonni Cohen worked with Participant Media to make the sequel, which has now been picked up by Paramount for distribution this summer. Disappointing that we have to wait until July for what will hopefully be another cinematic game changer. At the least It should provide a much needed reality check against the deny-osphere in D.C.

The film included cuts of Trump uttering ridiculous comments about climate change, signaling a dark period ahead. That is unless Al Gore, Elon Musk, Rex Tillerson, or someone can get to Trump before too many of Obama’s hard fought victories are reversed. It says a lot that Tillerson, former head of ExxonMobil — the company that covered up climate data for decades — is the bright spot in Trump’s “basket of deplorables.” That is because he has expressed openness to a revenue-neutral carbon tax, which scientists (and some prominent Republicans, such as former Secretary of State James Baker and George Schultz agree is our best, perhaps only, real hope to avoid carbon catastrophe and climate collapse.

Additional offerings in the new environmental track included Plastic China, Trophy and Water and Power – A California Heist.

Plastic China was a heartbreaker, zooming in on a poor Chinese family forced to make a living picking plastic debris (some from American brands) out of the adjacent landfill to melt down for the Chinese-equivalent of pennies. The father was suffering health problems as a result, and his children didn’t know any other reality, including school.

Trophy, an excellent film by Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau, focused its lens on the sport of big game hunting and the all too lucrative business of poaching. Although it did an excellent job of connecting the dots to extinction threats for species like rhinos and elephants, it also provided a balanced and plausible analysis; the competing interests of natives trying to make a living against conservationists working to save endangered animals. In the case of one South African man, that means using his personal resources to protect rhinos by capturing and breeding them. John Hume prevents them from being killed by cutting off and selling their tusks allowing them to survive, though perhaps not thrive. Hume, advancing in age and a bit battle weary, worries that “his rhinos” will perish after he dies. On the day of Trophy’s World Premiere, The Orchard and CNN Films picked up North American and television rights to distribute the movie. That is encouraging when you consider what CNN’s repeat airings of Blackfish did to rally public outrage against Sea World which ultimately led to a phase-out ban on keeping Orcas in captivity.

The final film I screened in the environmental category was Marina Zenovich’s Water and Power: A California Heist. The producers follow the trail and plumb the depths of water wars in scenes reminiscent of Chinatown. This movie is about a real life crisis and shows the impacts on local citizens who suffer through shortages during drought years while private interests profit by manipulating the law. Imagine my chagrin to learn that the Wonderful Company, which makes my favorite pomegranate beverage, is one of the brands benefitting. Locals are forced to drink bottled water and travel to take a shower while paying five dollars for the “privilege.” Not so Wonderful though California’s current deluge eased some of my guilt.

Perhaps the best news…Sundance Board Chair, Pat Mitchell, announced at the “Artist At A Table” dinner on opening night that the Institute plans to continue A New Climate next year. With the current administration taking aim at the EPA, environmental regulations and global climate agreements not boding well for our planet — at least their regressive actions should yield a bumper crop of compelling new films!

What struck me while at Sundance, and left a lasting impression, was how ebullient everyone was to be there. I guess that’s what happens when you mix 40-thousand film fanatics, creative artists, movie-makers and wanna be’s in snow globe of a town. For political progressives, this Rocky Mountain High surrounded by a sea of misery provided welcome refuge.

In the end, attending Sundance 2017 was a guilty pleasure, getting to see a film at 9:00 am on a weekday in a dark screening room and going late into the evening with screenings, sponsor receptions and media parties. But I came to the conclusion that it’s a worthy pursuit to immerse oneself in thoughtful documentaries around the clock for a week, as social change is needed now more than ever.

Oh how I savored being in that Sundance bubble, hiding out in dark theatres knowing soon enough I’d be back to the new reality of shock and awe. But first please pass the popcorn.

August May Go Down As the Month We Woke Up to Smell the Carbon

Our climate is changing. The impacts on our weather, food and water supplies, oceans, forests, public health, national security and economy are already being felt. Bees and other species are disappearing. These trends do not bode well for humans.

Those facts are not news, or at least not new, but President Obama has made news by making August a Green Letter month taking his newly urgent warnings about our climate crisis on the road. Last stop, Ground Zero, Arctic Alaska where icebergs are melting at a new glacial speed. He will be the first sitting President to bear witness to “the challenge of our time.” Hats off to him and it just might be warm enough.

Perhaps after this record breaking hot summer we will set a new normal for climate change coverage as well. To date, we have not seen a majority of serious environmental developments covered regularly and with sufficient context and depth on the evening news or on any recurring talk shows. It’s time for the news networks to step up their game.

For too long we have had what I call a “Glaring Green Gap.” Our eco-systems are in decline — nearly across the board — and our addiction to fossil fuels is our culture’s dirty not-so-little secret. Outside green circles it has not been part of our national conversation nor a regular part of the media mix. Too few Americans are aware that we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction, the first caused by humans, and that our seas are under siege due to warming waters, overfishing, “dead zones” and plastic pollution.

While newspapers are doing a better job of going deeper into these issues people are often surprised to learn there are precisely zero talk shows on commercial broadcast stations dedicated to covering our changing environment and discussing what we can do about it. I cannot think of a better use of mass media outlets during this time of crisis especially with timing so critical.

After creating, producing and hosting three popular Green programs: “Trash Talk” on KCBS Radio in San Francisco, “Eco Talk” on Air America — a daily talk show with 50,000 listeners per night back in 2006 — and “Green Front” airing on the internet, I learned there’s a growing audience hungry for this new program genre. Nearly a decade later the multitude of challenges and solutions have expanded exponentially and yet mainstream media has not yet filled the green gap with dedicated content.

A big part of the problem is network gatekeepers, both at the programming and executive levels. They are trained to go with the tried and true which often means playing to the lowest common denominator. Just look at the plethora of so-called reality shows while we ignore eco-realities and our future hangs in the balance!

Additionally, program managers I’ve communicated with over the years assume such content would be “too controversial or too political.” However, with fossil-fuel interests leading, and funding, “the deny-o-sphere,” isn’t it time to stop emphasizing the special interest fear-based aspects and wake up to the practical realities of these shared threats?

In addition to the green programming gap on a national channel, there is no formal education or consistent outreach being offered to citizens and communities. How are average Americans supposed to know what they can do to better understand our changing ecological systems, have a more positive impact and lighter footprint on our life support systems, both for nature’s sake and our own?

If not in mainstream media, what about academia? Sustainable solutions are being discussed on campuses across America in ecology clubs, Environmental Studies programs, and a few new Green MBA programs, but does that mean we should wait until the next generation comes of age armed with enough understanding to start digging out? If we do too little today their task will be that much larger tomorrow. There isn’t enough time to turn over the shovel to Gen X, Y, or my daughter’s Millennial generation, forcing them to clean up an even bigger mess later.
By ignoring the need to educate and engage Americans who have long since left the classroom, we are missing an opportunity — and obligation — to have all able-bodied citizens do their part.

So who is talking about what we can do on channels that reach the masses?
Evidently, at least up until now, mainstream newspaper publishers and broadcast news editors have not seen it as their role or responsibility to offer eco-solutions.

When Paul Rogers, an executive at the San Jose Mercury News, was questioned at a 2013 San Francisco Commonwealth Club panel about why his newspaper didn’t offer more coverage on climate change solutions, he replied that it was the job of Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and other environmental NGOs, not the news media to inform on what steps people can take.

While grass roots groups representing various green causes do their best to get media attention to cover these matters the news media powers-that-be assume it’s up to the grassroots to get word out, if not to do the actual environmental clean-up needed.

Therein lies the Catch-22 of just who is responsible for educating the public on climate and conservation tips?

Meantime, with a handful of notable exceptions, corporate America doesn’t see it as their obligation to accelerate eco-innovation or talk about valuing sustainability in their marketing.
What about the federal government? I’ve often wondered why the EPA doesn’t do substantive public outreach. How can we, as citizens, protect our environment if no one is telling us what to do or why it matters? The information is out there yes, but it has to be easily accessible and omnipresent in order to penetrate the zeitgeist.

It is essential to establish mechanisms and media channels to bring average citizens into the conversation about conservation, and with all the breadth and depth needed to make rapid societal shifts.

Failure to connect the dots between extreme weather events and climate disruption is a failure of leadership on the part of government, corporate America and my professional arena, major news media.

It will be interesting to see how the news networks cover President Obama’s trip to the Arctic this week. I suspect they will get on board this big media opportunity. However, just in case, perhaps Kim Kardashian should go along to ensure maximum exposure. Or maybe someone should send the omnipresent Donald Trump? Then again, no — all his hot air may hasten the melting of Alaska’s glaciers.


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