Afraid of the dullness of its subject matter, and of being lost in the swarm of patronizing eco-documentaries, Carbon Nation tries really hard to speak to the language of “young people these days.” Instead of employing the castrating voice of someone like Glenn Close or wowing through pricey aerial shots of the Earth as in Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s Home, this doc casts a congenial narrator who refers to green technology as “badass,” presents the names of its talking heads against some colorful Nickelodeon-on-steroids graphics, and rarely allows shots longer than a couple of seconds.
The result is an uneven hybrid of well-intentioned entertainment with MythBusters aesthetics (if not hysteria) and unabashed advertorial that has New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman claiming that “green, baby, is the new red, white, and blue.” Friedman’s embarrassingly cheap stoking of nationalism (he also says, “This is geo-strategic, geo-economic, it’s the most patriotic thing you could be-do-think-or-feel today”) is emblematic of the naïve one-sidedness that fuels the film—the same kind that drives genre purists, or the cinematically uninitiated, to claim Michael Moore’s oeuvre is not documentary filmmaking. At least Moore’s work takes the turn into the essayistic, whereas docs like Carbon Nation seem too in love with its program to allow the film to actually breathe.
The film does make some fascinating points about how the business of green is embedded quite orgiastically in the business of war. But instead of wagging its finger at the bad guys cranking up the soldiers’ tents’ air conditioning system, it’d rather focus on those doing the right thing, like folks who transformed those tents into giant water coolers to save energy. At times Carbon Nation can sound a little too happy peppy and so dangerously optimistic (“You don’t have to worry about gas emission, or terrorism or anything”) you’d think Tyler Brulé directed it. It’s also rather problematic that the plea for greenness, the creative ways people come up with to convince the idea of a lazy or unconvinced public to “do something,” is always framed within a context of productivity, national pride, or economical self-interest (precisely the attributes that got us to where we are), never ethics.