Military Green Hawks save lives and money by spraying desert tents with insulating foam. A Texas farmer revitalizes his town with a wind power commune. In California, parolees are trained to install solar panels in their community, and residents sell power to the utility.
These stories are told in Peter Byck's new film, Carbon Nation, which shows people across the nation successfully moving to a low-carbon economy. Inspired by Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, Byck and his team spent three years traveling the country, finding creative energy and land-use solutions good for the bottom line and the planet.
How is your film different?
A lot of films are designed to scare people: An Inconvenient Truth was marketed as a horror movie. We're trying the opposite: we focus on solutions since I believe we can do a heck of a lot better.
Your view of sustainability is business-friendly?
If I were a coal company owner, I'd be one of two people. I'd either be the guy fighting to the death to keep what I've got: "I'm making too much money, things are too good for me." But there's … the visionary who says, "We have a lot of money right now but this can't last, so we'd better be doing new things."
It's not really about global warming?
It's not a political documentary. We made this film for everyone, even folks who are not worried about climate change. You can come at it from so many different positions: energy security, national security, job creation; you can come at it strictly from greed. You wind up doing the exact same things.
It's good for the bottom line in that green is the new black?
We did some early interviews at a conference on energy efficiency, where companies like Goldman Sachs, Dow Chemical, Walmart, Exxon, were all talking about how much money they'd saved and how huge a revenue generator just energy efficiency could be if they could figure out a way to market it.
There are a lot of old laws on the books governing utilities, which are now hurting things in a big way. … What we need are sweeping executive orders to clear the way for new solutions, like (President Franklin D.) Roosevelt did during the (World War II).
You think there's support for that?
No, I don't. That's another reason we made this film. A lot of people think clean energy is anti-business, but a lot of businesses are already doing it.
Right now, as you point out, carbon emissions have no penalty.
But it's expensive. There are a lot of hidden costs to putting carbon dioxide into the air, and society pays them.
How much do we waste?
Experts say 30 percent of energy is just tossed. It's not making your beer colder, it's not making your shower hotter, it's not making your house cooler in the summer.
So who's against the greening of America?
There are huge corporate interests that will fight. If you say organic farming is best for sequestering carbon dioxide, land-use practices, health, the companies that make genetically modified seeds will fight. Of course, big coal and oil will fight this. They're powerful and talented in moving people's opinions.
What's the biggest step we can take to move forward?
Put a price on carbon emissions. It has to cost money to throw carbon in the air.
How is green power poised to be the next big global industry?
I'm sure there are new solutions out there, and a large number of insanely smart people are already on it. Algae, say, may turn out to be a great biofuel … The criteria are that the clean, green products have to perform the same or better, and cost the same or less.