Carbon Nation: Walk, Don’t Drive, to See This Movie

Built more like an education module than a documentary, Carbon Nation might make you nostalgic for those blissful days when the substitute teacher slapped on a science video and hid in the faculty lounge. Director Peter Byck opted for corny graphics, a wall of statistics, a voice-of-God narrator, and a xylophonic score, but behind the infomercial presentation are solid ideas that warrant scrutiny. Byck focuses on the energy crisis from outside the global-warming debate, homing in on its moral, economic, and national-security imperatives and identifying some increasingly viable solutions. Alternative energy sources—algae, wind, and geothermal—are showcased, but Carbon Nation is most persuasive when it focuses on the individuals utilizing those supplies in their communities. A segment on Grid Alternatives, an organization that enlists the underemployed to install solar panels in poor neighborhoods, exemplifies the film’s drumbeat maxim: a green economy is a labor economy. Some of the proposals—getting truck drivers to turn off their engines while they sleep, painting rooftops white—seem infuriatingly obvious. And yet the clean-energy pioneers depicted in the film underscore the idea that countering the brainlessness of so much of our current oil-guzzling, overconsuming behavior with inversely compelling, eco-friendly no-brainers is a strategy with not just economics but human nature on its side.