Years of Living Dangerously Recap: Episode 1, Dry Season

After months of deserved buzz, Showtime's nine-part documentary series, Years of Living Dangerously premiered last night (also available on YouTube). I say "deserved" because this project is impressive by any measure, from production pedigree (James Cameron) to celebrity "investigator" hosts (Harrison Ford, Matt Damon, Jessica Alba) to ambition - as broad an audience engagement on the subject of climate change as possible. The series was trending on Twitter last Friday, with Google Hangouts, Reddit Ask Me Anything sessions with James Cameron and Harrison Ford and viewing parties rolled out over the weekend.

This week's episode featured three stories which will be followed throughout the series  - and judging from episode one, we're in for a visually stunning, compelling and fascinating ride as climate change is discussed in the most human terms possible. It's riveting, truly must-see viewing.

Stories of the Week

Last Stand
Since 20 percent of annual carbon emissions are caused by deforestation (as much as caused by all transit on the planet) Harrison Ford heads to Indonesia, currently the worst offender for the practice. After the widespread - but illegal - fires clear the land, palm trees are planted to produce palm oil, which is in countless products in the grocery store and drugstore. (Go to your pantry or medicine cabinet and take a look!) Just last week, Procter & Gamble announced a new no-deforestation policy after criticism from Greenpeace and other environmental advocates. The issue isn't with palm oil as such, but how it's produced. 

Ford: "Oh, I can't wait to see the Minister of Forestry. I can't WAIT." (Neither can we.)

Pray for Rain
Don Cheadle takes on the thorniest aspect of climate change in the US - the passionate political conflict between science and religion, red states and blue. In Texas, Cheadle meets climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe who is an Evangelical Christian - her husband is a minister - and introduces us to Texans who lost their jobs after drought eviscerated the cattle herds, resulting in closed meatpacking plants and devastated communities.

Climate Wars
We join Tom Friedman in Turkey, planning a dangerous foray into war-torn Syria, where the recent revolution came on the heels of the worst drought in the nation's history, displacing rural farmers into cities by the thousands. Friedman highlights the geopolitical implications of drought and climate change, warning that the rest of us will not remain immune to conflicts arising out of food and water insecurity. Another drought, starting last year, is likely to exacerbate bad conditions and the ongoing humanitarian crisis as it has debilitated food production.

Voices from Episode 1 

  • Many Texans Cheadle meets think the drought is biblical: "There's only one man who knows how much rain we're gonna get and it's not a scientist," says one Plainview, Texas resident.
  • Texas minister Drew Farley, to Don Cheadle, on why climate change should not be so politically polarizing in the US: "A thermometer is not Republican. A thermometer is not Democrat."
  • A Syrian revolution commander used to be a cotton farmer; when the country's record-breaking drought hit, he became a smuggler to support his family. "Starving makes you do anything."
  • Texan Nelly Montez: "If we start using the right things, and doing the right things, we can probably save our planet."
  • The moment of the week goes to a furious Harrison Ford, flying over blackened, scarred land illegally cleared for palm oil forests in Indonesia without government intervention: "Oh, I can't wait to see the Minister of Forestry. I can't WAIT." (Neither can we.)

To Take Action and Learn More

On palm oil: Agriculture, Energy and Climate Change

On food, water and energy security: The Impact of Climate Change on Water Resources

On drought and climate change: California's Drought at the Nexus

From the Pacific Institute: Sustainable Water Management - Local to Global

From Years of Living Dangerously's Years Project: Take Action on Drought

To discuss the series on social media, join us in conversation with @YearsofLiving on Instagram, @YEARSofLiving on Twitter or @YearsofLiving on Facebook using #YEARSproject.

Check out our other Years of Living Dangerously recaps:


Episode 2, The End of the Woods

Episode 3, The Surge

Episode 4, Ice and Brimstone

Episode 5, True Colors

Episode 6, Winds of Change

Episode 7, Revolt, Rebuild, Renew

Episode 8, A Dangerous Future

Episode 9, Moving a Mountain