AN INTERVIEW WITH PETER BYCK DIRECTOR OF “CARBON NATION”
Saturday, February 19th, 2011
Written by: Laurie Curtis
With all of the films that have been released on our environment and the impending doom we are all facing it was refreshing to watch a film that discussed and focused on solutions. Director Peter Byck takes a new and fresh approach on the issue and you leave the film feeling empowered rather than defeated. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Peter to talk about his films and how it came about.
TATM: Why an environmental film when there were so many environments films currently out there?
Peter: Well we started this in 2007, so I think a lot of films have come out since then, because of a lot of people like us were thinking the same things. We feel that this is a business film and a national defense and energy defense film. We are being told it’s an environmental film because it’s about climate, but it’s really about business opportunities… and the fact that we are [offering] solutions.
We feel “An Inconvenient Truth” is a perfect film that tells people about the problem. Why make another film like that, it was done perfectly? I think everyone who’s going to be moved by that film has been moved and I think there’s a huge part of our country that’s not going to be moved by that film that we need to be moved if we are going to really solve this thing. So we knew from an early stage that were gonna make a climate change solution film with as big of a tent as possible. No blame and no shame – which is actually a Cherokee Indian phrase a friend of mine, taught me.
TATM: “Carbon Nation” seems to be the first film that is really bold about linking climate change up with social issues. You have a wonderful image of a military cemetery that says so much about our dependence on oil and what it costs this country?
Peter: We got lost. We were aiming for Rodale Institute an organic farm and we got lost in Pennsylvania and found the church that had the flags out for each soldier who died. Isn’t that interesting that a church decided to honor soldiers who died in battle for our country and yet people watching think it’s political? When the only thing that’s happening in our film right there is the talking to soldiers about soldiers getting killed in the line of action,…specifically [the] soldiers taking fuel to the front line. They’re using so much fuel the from line because their tents are so energy inefficient that their generators are working overtime to basically air-conditioned the desert. When you find a department of defense is focused on this for the reasons of saving soldiers lives…let’s need less fuel in the front line.
The U.S. Army is trying to make buildings that create energy so you never have to transport fuel in a war situation. I am not a warrior. I don’t like war, so why do I support that? Because I know that technology will be brought out in my life, in your life, and my kid’s life in a way that will change things that I cannot foresee right now. The Army wanted to communicate to each other in case of a nuclear attack, so they created what is the Internet. The Army needed really small chips to put on the bombs so they would be lighter, well guess what? I now have an iPhone because that. That’s why we support that.
TATM: I don’t know how much of this was intentional but you cover and link the development of green energy to many different issues in one place and create a sort of platform? Was that intentional in the design of the film?
Peter: I’m always up for serendipity but I have to say that everything in this film was written and rewritten and thought out and rewritten. I just got to speak to a lot of really smart people and then I had to, with my team, filter it and filter, filter, filter it. So it has been like a year of writing and rewriting. Even with all the stories edited.
Some people think that you have to tell people to change everything or nothings gonna happen. I think that people sort stop at that point. They stop and go… Don’t bother me. And if you bombard somebody with a problem without a solution right away, like my mom says, “if you show somebody a problem, better show a solution right away or you’re not gonna get what you want”, unless you like the problem and want to wallow in it. So with the meat itself that specific thing, there are people that said you have to stop eating meat. We thought that’s just gonna stop many people from listening to us. So what we say is start eating meatless one day a week. Somebody came up with the phrase “Meatless Mondays”, I did not come up with that.
TATM: One of the things I love is the diversity of solutions in the film. The one that stuck out the most for me was the truckers.
Peter: Exactly, all these places and there’s so many solutions that we don’t have yet. Like just think if we can somehow figure out how to turn off all the Coke machines in the country until you needed them. Think of how many are on right now that are being used. Think of all the escalators. Think about that and think of all the money you could save by doing that.
But with the truckers instead of saying by all these truckers not using their fuel is like taking [X amount] of cars off the road. We said it’s a fifth of the DOD’s energy use. We told you the DOD’s the biggest energy user and then we just told you a fifth of that is equal to the truck’s wasting fuel its massive.
TATM: How did you find all the people and the stories to link up and make your point in the film?
Peter: We found people inch by inch. It started off with meeting Richard Branson at a Kentucky Derby party two years before we started filming. I asked if he would please be in a movie of mine. He said absolutely. We would e-mail every six months and he would reply. As the film progressed I asked if I could tell people he was in the film and he said sure. We were able to put that on a proposal, Richard Branson said yes….The is in it list got bigger, but even with all those big names we still don’t have the stories.
My wife came on starting the second year of production and the stories came. She found Cliff Etheridge. She got us onto the Department of Defense bases. She found Bernie and brought him to my attention. Bernie Karl the geothermal guy. It was when we interviewed Bernie fairly early on… Is when I had the Ah ha moment that we don’t even need to be pushing climate. Bernie’s revolutionizing geothermal power he likes clean-air he likes clean-air he likes he hates most tax he hates waste he’s an industrial level recycler. So thought wait a second, what are the other ways that people are coming to the same place. I’m coming from the climate angle, liberal no question about it. He’s coming from, he likes clean-air. He likes clean water. He hates waste. We got the DOD coming from a national security issue. We got Jim Woolsey coming from and energy security issue and we’ve got people who are faith-based coming from sort of an earth issue. Then we got businesspeople like Gary Hirschberg coming from just a business issue. He’s saving money. He’s able to hire more people. He’s able to not fire people. All those things come to the same center from all those places.
TATM: I think that’s what makes this film stick out amongst the flood of environment films.
Peter: We don’t want people to want to slit their wrists. When I’m afraid I don’t perform well. When I’m laughing and inspired I am much more effective. So I figure let’s make a film that will create that attitude if possible. We didn’t know if we could do that [but] we wanted to. We weren’t sure if it worked for the audience but at the premiere a sold-out screening, standing ovation that was a nice way to start it.
TATM: With the thought that the government needs to get behind green energy and America really needs to be a leader in green energy. Has the Obama administration watch the film? Have you sent them a copy?
Peter: I haven’t sent them a copy and we would certainly like President Obama to watch this film. The only government official that has seen it so far is John Warner, who is a Republican, a retired senator from Virginia. He has seen clips and he said to me “you’re the kind of guy that makes America work”.
I’ve had so many conservatives see the film. One guy in particular I met him on the plane sitting next to me he heard that I was filmmaker. I said yeah making a film about making solutions to climate change. He said, “you and I are gonna disagree about everything”. Just because I told him I was gonna make a film about climate change solutions…I don’t talk to people on airplane rides, and he and I talked gate to gate and into the terminal. We agreed on about 90% of the stuff we would do with this country. We weren’t anywhere close to polarized, but he knew we were when he sat down… I said watch this movie, tell me what you really think. Tell me what you think because you’re the person I made this for…He called and he loved it, because we weren’t preaching to him and we didn’t tell him that he’d done something wrong at him.
That shows me that there’s no polarization in this country. We are being told were polarized to sell soap. I don’t think were polarized, I think were much closer than people think we are.
TATM: How do you think we go about bringing those two sides closer together so we are on the same side of the issue?
Peter: The storytellers that don’t want to go down this road, they will tell you that [green energy] kills jobs. Right now those storytellers are doing a better job than the people that are telling you that it creates jobs and save jobs. It’s a storytelling issue. The storyteller rules society.
If this country got a critical mass of people attacking this going to clean energy there would be nothing stopping us. We’re getting kicked in the ass by China but I think that will change quickly.
TATM: Is there a next project planned?
Peter: I would like to make this a TV show, to make this into a thing, make this into a brand. So there’s plenty to do.