Carbon Nation

A new film is currently having it’s cinema release in the USA, aptly titled Carbon Nation. As the name suggests this is a story about carbon dioxide emissions, but not in the space occupied by Al Gore and the science discussion (although it briefly dips its toe in this water for context reasons), rather it talks about the energy issues we face today and how society might begin to tackle them.


The film has been around for over a year now, but at film festivals and special screenings. Throughout February and into March it is on general release across the USA. I saw it recently at a private showing in London, led by the incredibly motivated Director Peter Byck. Peter is pretty new on the directing scene but has been involved with such block-busters as The Matrix and King Kong. This is his first widely released film.

Carbon Nation doesn’t profess to offer the big solution, rather it shows through a series of interviews at community and individual level how progress is being made and could potentially be accelerated. The 82 minute film starts with a really excellent description of the sheer size of the energy system, which sets the scene nicely for the track it then follows. From a vast wind farm in Texas to a local community centre being fitted with solar panels, the film explores how a wide variety of people are making a difference. This includes major corporate players such as Virgin Atlantic owner Sir Richard Branson and his quest for a bio-fuel based solution in aviation. The film explores a wide range of CO2 technologies and energy alternatives, in transport, agriculture and electricity generation and also has a major focus on the potential for energy efficiency improvements across the economy. As with all the discussions, the film approaches all these avenues by example, rather than simply pontificating on the possibilities. This is its real strength in terms of delivery.

As a film to go and see, it is worth paying the money at the box office. I thought it had a first class script which sits between and nicely joins together the many interviews making up the bulk of the time. It also tells a good story. But in watching the film, some viewers might come to think that energy services are an entirely local issue and that therefore the problem of CO2 emissions can also be managed locally. This is perhaps the one drawback of the interview approach taken. But another way of interpreting this and hopefully the one that most leave the cinema with is that energy provision and use should in fact be an issue that individuals think about. This is not to say that everyone should climb on their roofs to fit solar panels, but to the extent that they engage with the political and information processes in our society, energy should at least be a part. That of course includes the ballot box. There are very real choices that can be made there and this film serves as a good point to start the journey to become a true energy citizen.

Last but not least, I should admit to a minor bias in all of this – I was one of the many people interviewed for this film and if you are patient and get to the end then you can hear me discuss the role of a carbon price in the economy. Thanks to Peter Byck for not leaving me on the cutting room floor.