Filmmaker Byck takes on climate

Written by Joel Welin | Courier-Journal on .

Offers solutions

Filmmaker Peter Byck was watching his young son romp outside their home near Cherokee Park as he talked on the phone. Thoughtful and soft-spoken, his enthusiasm was evident in his voice as he told how his latest documentary film, "Carbon Nation," came to be.

"It was really just the overwhelming feeling I had in 2007 that climate change was real," he said, marveling at his own innocence. "I believed it. I studied it. I said, 'Wow! This is heavy stuff. Can we solve it? How can we solve it?'


"I had made a film, 'Garbage,' in the '90s; I was aware, but not nearly as involved. I was a good target."

So he began to read and to further educate himself. "I did research ... in 2007, there was a bundle of research being done by then. I read all the newspapers. And then for three years, I got to ask the most brilliant people any question that popped into my head."

"Carbon Nation," which opens at the Village 8 Theatres on Friday, is a fast-paced, easy-to-grasp film that not only asks the questions Byck had, but also offers solutions from industry executives, Defense Department officials, environmental leaders and others.

"I saw 'An Inconvenient Truth' at its world premiere at Sundance in 2006," he said. "It was a classic horror film. It just happened to be about our planet. I thought it was incredibly effective and no one needed to go down that road again. It was about the problem, and we wanted to make a film about the solutions."

To that end, "Carbon Nation" surveys a range of alternative-energy providers, energy-efficiency experts and eco-entrepreneurs.

"I really wanted to make a point," Byck said. "The biggest thing I found was: Do the thing that will solve climate change even if you are in it for national security, or energy security, pure greed, religion, as a steward of the planet, or (from) an environmental(ist's) point of view. It all lands you in the same spot. Even if you're only in it for the money, you will still do the same thing," he said of the motivations for people to change. "Indeed, the amazing realization was that it worked for so many different people."

Now that he has studied the situation, asked the questions and heard the answers, what does Byck recommend as the first step to help combat climate change? Reduced-emission vehicles? Better energy-storage technology? A more efficient grid?

"All of the above," he said, "and a price on carbon emissions that reflects the market. It's a market perversion to have the emitting of carbon not cost anything. This is where government can make a huge difference. Government can create situations where good ideas can flourish."

While "Carbon Nation" echoes Byck's sensibilities, it is neither a screed, nor is it all facts, statistics and entreaties. It's more a film about the people who are taking it upon themselves to effect changes: Cliff Etheredge, the one-armed wind farmer; Michael Dunham, the rock 'n' roll refrigerator eviscerator.

Perhaps the most emotional moment in the film comes from Oakland, Calif., lawyer Van Jones, who founded an organization that helps convicted felons and former drug abusers to develop marketable green skills. Jones credits his father, Willie Jones, a Jackson, Tenn., educator, with showing him how to do more and with inspiring him to lead.

It's a moving subtext in the film: Fathers and sons, passing along information, skills and desire from one generation to the next.

"We filmed Van in 2008, which is when his dad died, and then I started filming other people with their dads: Richard Branson, Amory Lovins ... and then my dad gets cancer," Byck said. "My dad is my best friend. He was with me the whole way with this film. Dann Byck Jr.; he was an actor himself, you know, so he knew what it was like. And then he was gone in 2009."

With the completion of "Carbon Nation," what's Byck's next film project?

"We're a foundation (Earth School Educational Foundation); we'd like to grow, and if that's successful, we'd like to keep making these movies," he said. "We're in the business of putting ourselves out of business."

Joel Welin can be reached at (502) 582-4684.

Louisville premiere

When: 7 and 9 p.m. Thursday Where: The Louisville Science Center, 727 W. Main St.

Admission: Tickets are by donation to Earth School Educational Foundation

Info: www.carbonnation.tv/tickets.

'Carbon Nation'

Opens: Friday, and continues through May 13

Where: Village 8 Theatres, 4014 Dutchmans Lane, Louisville. Info: www.village8.com, visit www.carbonnation.tv.

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