More than 120 world leaders – including President Barack Obama – kicked off a one-day United Nations’ summit on climate change in New York City by viewing What’s Possible, a short film on the urgency of global warming.
Narrated by Morgan Freeman, the film’s images, some disturbing and some magnificent, are meant to remind them of what’s at stake: global warming will place our planet and all its inhabitants at destruction’s door unless our governments take immediate action.
The creators of the four-minute film, Lyn Davis Lear and Louie Schwartzberg, spoke with Bill about what they hope their film — translated into six languages and simulcast around the world — will achieve. “They have to focus on the fact that all of us together united add up to something significant,” Lear told Bill. “And the world leaders need to know there is a movement happening right now. People want this to happen.”
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The film is not only meant to make an impact on world leaders but also on the world’s citizens. As Schwartzberg puts it: “We hope we can inspire them to take actions in their life that will allow life to be sustainable… And more importantly to elect leaders who share the same values.”
About the Filmmakers
Lyn Davis Lear is a producer, activist and philanthropist. She is one of the founders, along with her husband Norman Lear, of the Environmental Media Association. She is a recipient of the Global Green Millennium Award for Entertainment Industry Environmental Leadership, and was the executive producer of the documentary Cesar’s Last Fast, nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Louie Schwartzberg is acclaimed the world over for his remarkable work. He specializes in the creation of films that use time-lapse, high-definition and 3-D photography to reveal nature as it is seldom seen by the naked eye. He is founder of the studio Moving Art.
BILL MOYERS: I’ve watched the film now two or three times. You made it for the world leaders who have gathered here in New York. How do you move these people with a four-minute film?
LYN LEAR: The U.N. was very clear. They wanted a film that was positive, that was inspiring. But we didn’t make it entirely for them. We made it also for— live a long life after the U.N. We hoped that it would inspire other people and especially people around the world because it will be translated into six languages. And it’ll be simulcast around the world. And we’re hoping that it inspires people in other continents to become leaders and do more about climate change.
LOUIE SCHWARTZBERG:: You know I believe nature created beauty as its operating instructions manual because beauty and seduction makes us do things for life to flourish. We made this film together to put out a message that uses the power of messaging and media and beauty to shift consciousness, to do the right thing. And I think that’s what we can try to do is emotionally connect with people. If you love something you will protect it. And that’s for me the core message of how art can shift this conversation. By making people fall in love with— because I think we’re hardwired to fall in love with things, to protect it. And then— and you got to change the conversation. I mean, with anybody, do you care about the future? Do you care about your children’s future? Well, if you do then these are the normal, natural course of action we need to take.
BILL MOYERS: And what do you want them to do after they are touched?
LOUIE SCHWARTZBERG:: Well, in a short film we hope we can inspire them and take actions in their life that will allow life to be sustainable. It can be personal like, you know, you recycle paper because you care about the forest. You will eat healthier. Maybe you eat less meat because that has a giant impact on the environment as well. Those actions in total culminate to a big effect on the planet. And more importantly elect leaders who share the same values. I think values that sustain life on a personal level and on a political level are one in the same.
LYN LEAR: Well let’s hope that there’s a critical mass building in politics. I think a lot of Democrats are getting a little frightened. And some of them also are starting to campaign on climate change which they never would’ve done a few years ago. And the climate deniers in Congress and in the Senate are getting a little bit frightened too because they’re— somebody’s finally coming after them. They’ve never— nobody’s ever come after them before.
BILL MOYERS: You travel the world looking in a way that no one else I know looks at nature. What are you seeing as far as the effects of global warming?
LOUIE SCHWARTZBERG:: Well, recently I was in China. We were shooting the Great Wall. And we were only about two hours outside of Beijing. And we couldn’t see the Great Wall more than 100 feet in front of us because of the intense smog. We had to wait, you know, about four or five days for the wind to shift so we could see the Great Wall. I was recently in Greenland and the indigenous people there said they can’t hunt anymore because the ice is too thin. And in Fiji natives were saying— showing me islands that already have, you know, getting— being covered by water. So it’s sad that the people that have the least impact on the global environment are the ones that are suffering the most.
LYN LEAR: 18 million people in Bangladesh having to leave their country because it’ll be going underwater.
LOUIE SCHWARTZBERG:: The Philippines, thousands of people died—that’s a moral issue.
BILL MOYERS: What kind of balance do you have to strike between optimism and pessimism, between hope and despair? Not only in your own lives as you live in a world that you see as being adversely affected by climate change, but as you make a film.
LYN LEAR: I think people need a little push maybe to know that it’s frightening, it’s a real thing that’s out there. We need to deal with. It’s— we have a very short amount of time to deal with it. But there really then needs to be hope. We have to have hope. People need to know that this is solvable. And it is. More than ever today.
BILL MOYERS: You’re hopeful?
LYN LEAR: Very hopeful.
BILL MOYERS: About climate change?
LYN LEAR: Yes. I’m—
BILL MOYERS: Global warming?
LYN LEAR: —very optimistic.
BILL MOYERS: Why? LYN LEAR: Because there— today more than ever before there are things that are changing. Wind and solar around the world are cheaper and freer than ever before. Solar and wind in Africa, they’re sweeping the continent. In India they’re using solar and wind far more than ever before. They’re just doubling in use everywhere. In America as well.
LOUIE SCHWARTZBERG:: You look at the fact that, you know, when we decide to unite together we can do anything. We put a man on the moon. If we can shift our consciousness, value the things that are positive that allow life to be sustainable then clearly we can do it.
I mean, a pessimist and an optimist will agree on the facts. But what are the options? I mean, quitting is not an option. And people do feel overwhelmed with the negative despair of hearing about, you know, global warming. What can they do? It’s invisible. Polar bears are dying and— but they have to kind of focus on the fact that all of us together united add up to something significant. And the world leaders need to know there is a movement happening right now.
BILL MOYERS: But how do you explain that the politicians aren’t reacting?
LYN LEAR: They’re in the pockets of the oil and coal industry. They spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year to plant these pseudoscientist climate deniers out there to help spread misinformation so that you know people are confused about whether such a thing is real or not.
LOUIE SCHWARTZBERG:: And that’s one of the reasons why we made this movie is because we can actually skirt the system. I mean, clearly the politicians are controlled by corporations and the corporations control media. But the beautiful thing is technology moves forward. We have the internet. A film like ours can touch millions of people.
LYN LEAR: And because of that, we can transcend government in a way. We have more power than we think. And the younger generation has more power than they realize. When Ban Ki-moon was on Jon Stewart recently—
BILL MOYERS: The Secretary General of the U.N.
LYN LEAR: Yes. He called for the young generation to empower themselves—and to understand how much power they really do have. And if they just knew that, then they would take charge of their own generation, and they could really solve a lot of these issues themselves. People want this to happen. You know, social change doesn’t happen without that kind of activity unfortunately. History has proven the fact that it takes that kind of marching and public reaction to get people to change. LOUIE SCHWARTZBERG:: And there’s a movement now that is tangible. We see it whether it’s in the street or online. The people of the world are saying, “Enough. These leaders are behind the eight ball.” There’s a movement happening right now that if these leaders don’t get on board then they need to move outta the way.
BILL MOYERS: Thank you very much Louie Schwartzberg and Lyn Davis Lear for being with me.
LYN LEAR: Thanks Bill.
LOUIE SCHWARTZBERG:: It’s an honor.
Film credits — Director: Louie Schwartzberg. Writer: Scott Z. Burns. Producer: Lyn Davis Lear. Narrator: Morgan Freeman. Music: Hans Zimmer.
Interview credits — Producers: Candace White and Lena Shemel. Editors: Sikay Tang and Donna Marino.