Film Reviews

Carbon Nation: A Green Economy Is a Labor Economy

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 using 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. 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 only economics but also human nature on its side.

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Michelle Orange is a regular film contributor for the Village Voice, LA Weekly, Denver Westword, Phoenix New Times, Miami New Times, Houston Press and Dallas Observer.

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