Good intentions don’t necessarily make for satisfying television, and such is the case with “Project Earth,” a Discovery Channel series that promises to “put the most ambitious geo-engineering ideas to the test” in addressing the threat of global warming. What ensues, though, feels more like an opportunity to get out an oversized chemistry set and transform climate-change science into a jazzy “Ice Road Truckers”-style reality show. Some information about shrinking glaciers will doubtless seep in, but this breathless exercise does more to trivialize the issue than shed light on it.
Billed as “experiments,” each hour will entail a large-scale project designed to mitigate the effects of climate change. Yet as a handful of skeptical scientists note near the end, such tinkering has engendered skepticism even within the overwhelming majority of the scientific community that accepts global warming as a reality and danger.
The episode made available — which will be paired with a one-hour preview of the entire series — hinges on a “save the glaciers” scheme to essentially carpet Greenland, covering vast ice-encrusted expanses under protective blankets of tarp to shield them from the sun’s melting rays. Despite zealous advocacy from glaciologist Jason Box, it’s the kind of drastic measure that lends itself to ridicule.
Put simply, from a layman’s perspective the whole notion sounds silly. What’s next, laying down hardwood floors throughout the Amazon?
Much like “Fantastic Voyage,” the “Project Earth” “task force” eagerly dives right in, fretting over the particular logistics of the endeavor before ever contemplating any practical considerations — among them cost (close to $600 billion) and whether the effort would do more harm than good, given the carbon outlays necessary to implement this feat of engineering.
Additional episodes will focus on such matters as harnessing wind power, reseeding the rain forests, using satellites to gather solar energy and trying to clean the air by sucking excess carbon from the atmosphere.
It’s interesting stuff, as is data about the oceans potentially rising 23 feet if the ice caps continue eroding. Still, Discovery’s description of the program as an “environmental thrill ride” underscores its main drawback: pursuing thrills at a juncture when the climate-change discussion requires more here-and-now sobriety.
Then again, Discovery’s sweeping environmental initiatives — including the launch of dedicated channel Planet Green — come awkwardly sheathed in the needs of commercial television: Save the planet, sure, but by god, be engaging, dramatic and suspense-filled while doing it.
It’s a delicate balancing act, and at first glance, “Project Earth” slips on that protective carpet as if it were a giant banana peel.