Green Living: Documentary Offers Energy Solutions

'Carbon Nation' follows everyday Americans who live energy-efficient lives.

March 12, 2011— -- With a crisis in the Middle East and gas prices hitting alarming levels, alternative solutions to fossil fuels have become popular discussions of debate. A recent documentary called "Carbon Nation" explores these solutions and focuses on a greener way of living -- and it's geared to audiences who believe in climate change, and those who don't.

"Carbon Nation," directed and filmed by Peter Byck, follows everyday Americans and their quests to live energy-efficient lives.

The film opens by presenting alternative energies and showing how the U.S. compares with the rest of the world. Not well. Byck then takes the audience through four different types of energy being used around the country -- wind, electricity, water and solar power. From a "Green Jobs Not Jails" initiative in Richmond, California, to water recycling in Alaska, "Carbon Nation" gives viewers an inside look into energy solutions and why they're so important.

"A lot of times films can be kind of preachy in this realm of environment. We just didn't want to be preachy, we didn't want to talk down to anybody," Byck told ABCNews, on a recent visit to Austin for the opening of his film. "There's a large group of folks in this country that don't want to be told they're doing something wrong, but they want to know about solutions."

Byck traveled the country in search of solutions. Performing 326 interviews along with 240 hours of footage, he talked to citizens, scientists, environmentalists, business owners and past government officials.

His overall goal: to start a conversation.

Avoiding Finger Pointing

"We want the hate and the anger and the pointing fingers, let's just put that away because it's really not based on anything factual," Byck said. "Let's just start from a place of 'Do you like clean air and do you like clean water?'"

The film features a wide range of characters who aren't the typical line-up for an environmental documentary. CEO of Duke Energy James Rogers, who as head of a major power company advocates saving energy rather than making energy; Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways; and former CIA director James Woolsey are just a few.

"You don't have to be concerned about climate change or terrorism or anything to want to drive at 10 percent of the cost of what you're driving at now," Woolsey says in the documentary.

And Dan Nolan, former Army Colonel and member of the Department of Defense, says the carbon footprint is more than just an environmental threat.

"Climate change is in fact a national security issues, we need to change the way we think about things," Nolan says. He appears in the film early on, speaking passionately, signaling to the audience that "Carbon Nation" will use a broad brush in presenting issues of the environment.

'Carbon Nation' Hits Home

In his interview with his ABC News, Byck said the main concept of the film "hit home" for him when he was filming in Alaska. While there, he met Berni Karl, an Alaskan pioneer who'd found a way to use 165 degree water to create geothermal power, which usually requires 250 to 400 degree water temperature. Since his discovery, Karl has now partnered with Goldman Sachs to sell units to oil companies across the country.

"Do I think man is causing global warming? No. But that doesn't make any difference. I want clean water, I want clean air and that's so simple-geothermal," Karl says in the film.

In the small town of Roscoe, Texas (population under 1,500), Byck found Cliff Etheredge, creator of one of the world's largest wind farms.

"The more I began to study the wind industry, the more I learned we had a wonderful wind resource in Roscoe," Etheredge told ABC News, who was also in Austin for the film's opening.

Etheredge said he was tired of ranches in the South leasing their land to wind companies while towns like Roscoe got none of the business. Forming a community "wind group," he organized scores of 500 acre farms to create Peak Wind, one of the world's largest in wind turbines.

"I think about the community and the benefits. The first lasting benefit was an increase in enrollment in Roscoe schools," Etheredge said. "All of a sudden within two years we had more jobs, an increase of 40 students -- it's strictly due to the presence of the wind farm."

Before the wind farm, Roscoe was losing young people and businesses. "I knew we were going under when the Dairy Queen shut down," he said. Now, the West Texas farmer said, small businesses continue to pop up while more and more kids come back home to work and carry on family ranching.

"I'm blessed with continuing the legacy there, and now my son Scott, he's taking over the family farm," Etheredge said.

Byck says it's characters such and Karl and Ehteredge that make "Carbon Nation" personal to audience members.

Mixed Reviews

The Los Angeles Times says Byck "covers an impressively wide range of ground within his film's compact running time as he introduces us to a stirring cross-section of pioneers, researchers and innovators committed to helping the world reduce its carbon footprint."

"America is like a sore that we just keep letting swell up with pollution," University of Texas biochemistry major Michael Hearn said after watching the film. "I think 'Carbon Nation' is a great eye opener to that sore- regardless of your political affiliation."

But not all critics bought Byck's lack of politics. According to The New York Times, the film "seems blissfully unaware that political obstructionists are paralyzing the legislative process; that deep-pocketed influence peddlers have a vested interest in maintaining the fossil fuel culture."

"I don't see these things as political issues. I never have. We've made a non-partisan move and it's about solutions to climate change," Byck said. "I don't think you need a lot of money to simplify a story and that's what we're hoping we're doing with this clean energy, good stewards of the earth, energy efficiency, leadership story that we're telling. "

Some may even say it's patriotic.

"Green, baby, is the new red, white and blue," New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman said. "Carbon Nation" is playing in Austin now, and will open in Seattle and Portland, Ore., in April. contributor Ashley Jennings is a member of the ABC News on Campus bureau in Austin, Tex.