Focus on Sustainability: Carbon Nation

More from this show

Peter Byck, director and producer of the documentary film “Carbon Nation,” talks about the future of energy.

Ted Simons: Tonight's focus on sustainability looks at the future of energy. That's subjected of forum presented by ASU and the Arizona science center this Thursday at the science center's I-max theater. Joining me now is one of the panelists for the event. Peter Byck, the director and producer of the documentary "carbon nation." Good to have you here and thanks for joining us.

Peter Byck: Nice to be here. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Why do you think that you are here for this event? You got message. What is it?

Peter Byck: the message is that clean energy and energy efficiency makes a lot of good sense when you just look at it through the business prism. And whether you believe in climate change or not, it's still a good idea to save money and not to waste.

Ted Simons: Interesting.

Ted Simons: And when I'm in a room and I say how many believe in climate change you might get 50% to 60%, but how many like clean air and water, you get 100%. So, how do we get there? That's the, the question.

Ted Simons: And you described the movie as climate change solutions movie that does not care if you believe in climate change?

Ted Simons: Doesn't care, exactly.

Ted Simons: Explain that.

Peter Byck: It took us three years.

Ted Simons: I'm sorry, let's even it out.

Peter Byck: It's not that, it's, it's, basically, as we were making the movie, we thought, as filmmakers when we started in 2007 that the argument about climate change was over and we were naive. It was not close to over. But what we found as we were making this film, people in the department of defense and people like, I think you are going to show a clip from Alaska, where folks are doing all sorts of things to get us towards clean energy, yet they don't believe that climate change is caused by humans. So, I realize that this argument of whether climate change is real or actually keeping out a lot of really smart people from the discussion of whether we have clean energy or not. And I would rather have us all get to clean energy, and we can talk about the details later. That's what the tag line is.

Ted Simons: You mentioned the gentleman in Alaska. Let's show that. This is fascinating fellow, quite a character, and stick around to the end of the clip because that's where the punch line comes in, and it's as you say. He's someone that, that looks at things differently, but also is getting things done. Let's take a look at it.

Video: Alaska has more geothermal energy than all the states put together, but the hot springs is the first geopower plant in the state of Alaska. This power plant is making power off of water that's not as hot as McDonald's coffee.

Video: We developed lower temperature technology, so you don't have to go after 300 or 400-degree water or steam.

Video: This is work worth doing. The lights are on right now. Geothermally. Now we're going to enter the largest ice structure in the world. Forbes magazine voted this the dumbest business idea of the year, and Mr. Forbes can kiss my ass. This entire structure has kept, is kept cold geothermally. It cost me $12 to refrigerate it, on diesel fuel it would be $750 a day. Our electricity is costing us 30 cents a kw and right now we're at five cents a kw.

Video: In 3 to 4 years we'll be a penny per kilowatt hour and have the cheapest energy in the state of Alaska. People say where do you stand on global warming. Do I think man is causing it? I think that we add to it, do I think that we're causing it? No, but that does not make any difference. I want clean water and clean air. And that's so simple.

Ted Simons: And that simple message really is the underpinning of the film.

Peter Byck: It is.

Peter Byck: And again, we did not necessarily start with that message. We discovered that message. And we wanted to make film that, that everyone would like, and everyone would relate to. Basically, from my uncle Phil, sending me climate articles the whole time I was shooting the film. When I met Bernie, it was a light bulb moment for me because I realized again, we were pushing him out. A lot of people say in the environmental community saying, they don't want to talk to him because we were saying he was an idiot for not believing climate change is real. It's amazing when someone is called an idiot how little they want to listen to you after that.

Ted Simons: Indeed, and you also look at solar wind in Texas, I believe, and showed how that changed in terms of providing jobs and changing a rural area there. And but, at what point, you don't want to be like, this but at what point do you still have to get a message across that you believe, at least, that climate change is real?

Peter Byck: Well, we say very clearly, we don't pander a hedge in the movie. We say climate change is real. It's happening. And here's a lot of ideas even if you don't think it is happening, we still think you are going to like a lot.

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Peter Byck: And we have one guy that says, even if you are greedy bastard this makes sense, if you want to save money on energy. So, and then the whole department of defense issue, they want to save energy because they don't want to deliver energy to the forward operating bases so if they are guarding trucks full of diesel fuel with helicopters and soldiers, then they are not doing their mission, as well as they could, if that forward operating base was operating on clean energy. They would not have to deliver that fuel.

Ted Simons: I thought the department of defense was fascinating, also in the sense that it would be nice to get them off the grid for security purposes.

Peter Byck: Exactly. And the back story when, we filmed at fort Irwin in the film, the base commander, when he got on the job, they keep those jobs two or three years, and he was told two weeks into the job, by the way, we're the utility, we're turning off your power next Thursday because we need to work on the line. And there is literally one powerline from a hobby to the base.

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Peter Byck: He thought that was ridiculous so he said we're going off the grid in three years.

Ted Simons: So, with this in mind, and you talk about carbon markets and about -- I think in Richmond, California, solar panels, not only helping with jobs, but also, getting lower income folks some, you know, alternative energy. With all this going on, do you think that, that it will convince some skeptics? To look at it Differently?

Peter Byck: It already is. I think that, that the biggest issue right now in this country, and it's really worldwide, is how underreported the successes are. Even the people working to get to a low carbon economy have no idea how many other people are working to get us to a low carbon economy. So, it's actually happening a lot more right now than anyone knows. And then on the piece of convincing skeptics or conservatives, hey listen, everyone wants to be listened to and respect. So, if you start with that attitude, I thought those guys before, the two state lawmakers actually had a lot of mutual respect for each other. They were able to give each other jabs but I enjoyed it. And I was laughing along with them when watching it. When people can understand that, that I respect them, they will hear what I have to say. And what's happening is when I have one-on-one conversations around the country about low carbon this and clean energy that and energy efficiency this and solar that and geothermal, people are a lot closer on this than anyone knows. We are not a polarized country.

Ted Simons: I was going to ask you that. It's like this polarization is a tribalization of American politics is just American thought. Isn't necessarily the case if you scratch below the surface.

Peter Byck: It's not the case at all. It's, it's a fallacy. And it's necessary if you want to sell a book about how we are like the civil war right now, but we are not. No one is about to, to fire on their nephew because they disagree about electrons. It's ridiculous.

Ted Simons: And at the end of the film, I know you talk about ways to, to improve the country. Talk about some of those suggestions and why you included that in the film.

Peter Byck: Ways to improve the country other than get, us cleaner air?

Ted Simons: For things like practice eco-tourism and try not to eat meat for one day.

Peter Byck: Well, when we set out to make the film, I want to talk about scale. I wanted to talk about things that would change, move the needle, but after all of our screenings, everyone said what can I do? So, we scanned a lot of different websites, and a lot of different groups to see what individuals can do, and we realized that, actually, some of those small events that one person does, if everyone does it, it's huge. For example, I will be fudging the numbers here a bit, but if everyone put one cfl light bulb compact -- easy for me to say, put that in their home, in every home, that's something like, like 100 or 50 coal plants that get to shut down. It's massive, so if everyone puts a solar hot water heater, it's equivalent to taking half the cars off the road in the U.S., pre-emmissions. So these are like one-step things that lots of people can do. But the one that gets the most attention is if you can get your parents to raise your allowance, help them to lower the energy bill. So, if you can, if you can slow them that you are lowering the bill, get them to give you a raise, and we got that from the army. The army is teaching all of its soldiers and their families to use less energy. So, they are figuring out baseline for what the housing should take, and if the families come in under that, the army gives them piece of that savings.

Ted Simons: So, they are literally there are cap and trade opportunities out there in a variety of levels?

Peter Byck: Yeah, and major companies have internal carbon taxes. Shell factors in a carbon tax to every decision that they make, all their projections. Disney has one, and Microsoft just started one. And I have got libertarian friends that make Tea Party folks look quite liberal. And they, themselves, my cousin and another friend mine, they think that, that not having a carbon tax is a ridiculous use of the economy. You are not showing all the external costs.

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Peter Byck: So when I agree with my Libertarian friends on an economic policy, something has to be there.

Ted Simons: Well, it's, it's fascinating stuff. Good luck on the forms. Good to have you here and good conversation. Thanks for joining us.

Peter Byck: My pleasure.

Ted Simons: And that is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you very much for joining us. You have great evening.

Peter Byck:Director and Producer, "Carbon Nation";

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

An armed forces bugler playing the trumpet in front of the United States Capitol building.
airs May 26

National Memorial Day Concert 2024

Graphic for the AZPBS kids LEARN! Writing Contest with a child sitting in a chair writing on a table and text reading: The Ultimate Field Trip
May 26

Submit your entry for the 2024 Writing Contest

Rachel Khong
May 29

Join us for PBS Books Readers Club!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: