Years of Living Dangerously
2014/07/03
By : Cynthia LaGrou
Produced by Oscar-winning James Cameron (director of the two of the highest- grossing films of all time) and other Hollywood heavyweights, the documentary series "Years of Living Dangerously" has been publicized as "the most important climate change multimedia communication endeavor in history."

With hopes of "closing the gap" between science and action, the docu-series builds needed awareness for the scientific consensus around climate change by featuring a science advisory board for credibility and accuracy, and by rounding up scientists such as Heidi Cullen, Jim Hansen, Michael Mann, Michael Oppenheimer, and others. The nine-part series on Showtime broke plenty of new ground combining climate communications and hard hitting, reality based storytelling - so how has Years of Living Dangerously fared thus far?

Denise Robbins from Media Matters' Climate and Energy team writes, "The April 13 series premiere came one week after NBC's deep-dive special on climate change, and both are sorely needed. Even as top reports are showing that the issue is becoming a dire threat that calls for immediate action, a Pew Research poll indicates that Americans continue to rank addressing climate change as a low priority.

"Years of Living Dangerously," Robbins continues,"and NBC's climate special both work to reverse the attitude of apathy, by showing the impacts of climate change are already happening and drastically altering quality of life. The premiere episode of Showtime's series, "Dry Season," takes viewers to see climate refugees in Syria (displaced due to severe drought), rainforests in Indonesia being burned to the ground, and cattle ranches in Texas suffering from drought."

These media vehicles are designed to ignite conversation and global movement using a visceral, cinematic, storytelling approach to inspire awareness and collective action. The collaboration of Hollywood producers and actors committed to the cause include Ian Somerhalder, Matt Damon, Harrison Ford, Olivia Munn, Jessica Alba and Don Cheadle and who are among the documentary's actor-correspondents. Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of the executive producers is quoted saying, "A scientist will never get the attention of an actor," added Schwarzenegger, "I always felt there was a communication gap in bringing ordinary people in and making them part of the movement. I think the environmental movement only can be successful if it's simple and clear and makes it a human story."

Is Schwarzenegger onto something, or is it more complex? In an attempt to understand the barriers and associated nuances of climate communications, a study Funded by the National Science Foundation, was conducted by researchers associated with the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School which involved a nationally representative sample of 1500 U.S. adults. The study set out to evaluate political controversy over climate change to the public's ability to understand science, and, to understand opposing sets of cultural values.

The study concluded that public apathy over climate change was unrelated to science literacy. It wasn't a matter of understanding the science, but according to Dan Kahan, the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law and professor of psychology at Yale Law School, "The study suggests the need for science communication strategies that reflect a more sophisticated understanding of cultural values."

"More information can help solve the climate change conflict," Kahan said, "but that information has to do more than communicate the scientific evidence. It also has to create a climate of deliberations in which no group perceives that accepting any piece of evidence is akin to betrayal of their cultural group."
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