J.J. Abrams v. The Weather Channel: Getting Energy Politics Right

I don’t think it’s particularly surprising that we’re seeing a crop of global-warming related pop culture projects. And now, J.J. Abrams and the Weather Channel are getting in the game as well. Abrams just sold a drama to NBC, which seems to be betting big on science fiction, about “a group of characters struggling to survive and reunite with loved ones in a world where all forms of energy have mysteriously ceased to exist.” (Energy, of course, is not the same thing as fossil fuels: if all forms of energy cease to exist, so will life.)And the Weather Channel is getting into the unscripted space with Turbine Cowboys, a show about the workers who maintain wind power turbines in dangerous conditions.

Both of these are intriguing concepts. The Abrams show is the kind of after-the-disaster thinking that I’m always interested in, though I’ll be more compelled by the concept if the characters have some sort of alternative energy source they’re trading or manufacturing. People may get far along on an irreversible decline before trying to find solutions, but unless Abrams is pushing the reset button on society, if energy sources just vanish suddenly, I bet someone, somewhere is keeping the lights on, or at least trying really hard. Americans do love their appliances. And testing the depth of our attachment to them, and to our sense of instantaneous interconnectivity could be a really interesting project. A show that’s as much about what energy lets us do as that as the specific sources that power our desires could personalize the energy crisis beyond gas prices.

Turbine Cowboys is, of course, set in a more familiar future. But I think it’s a smart move to personalize—and glamorize—people who work in the new energy economy. I think the left does a good job of selling outcomes, but given that a lot of the work we’re talking about is hard organizing work that requires a generational timeline, we need to glamorize process, too. I’m not saying that the work of turning over to new sources of energy requires as much epic courage as sitting through being assaulted at a lunch counter. But if we’re going to valorize auto workers, we could valorize the folks at old U.S. Steel plants who are building wind turbines. And if we’re going to make heroes out of Dutch Harbor fishermen, surely we can make heroes out of the folks who are trying to make sure our energy sources are sustainable.