Arnold Schwarzenegger, Act 3: global warming crusader

The Terminator took on global warming as governor of California. Now, Arnold Schwarzenegger has joined a Showtime miniseries to try to educate the everyman about climate change.

Jae C. Hong/AP/File
A man flexes his muscles for former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger during a book signing event for his book, 'Total Recall,' at a Barnes & Noble store in Los Angeles in October.

If the United Nations, Al Gore, and hurricane Sandy can't convince skeptics of the threats of global warming, then who can? 

Perhaps the Terminator. 

Showtime network has unveiled plans for a six- to eight-part documentary miniseries to air next year, called “Years of Living Dangerously,” brimming with Hollywood's A-list – from producer James Cameron to narrators Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, and Alec Baldwin.

It's an impressive roster, but there's something missing, some say.

“Imagine what it would be like in terms of substantive impact if the head of Exxon or the corn lobby were involved. Or Rush Limbaugh. Or [Republican] Sens. [Mitch] McConnell and [Lindsey] Graham," says Len Shyles, professor of communication at Villanova University. "Then you'd have something.”

“It would make more sense and have more impact if some luminaries from across the political spectrum were included,” he adds.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of the producers of the project, has long tried to bridge that partisan gap. As the former Republican governor of a Democratic state – not to mention an action-movie icon to average Joes – he fills a unique niche.   

Mr. Schwarzenegger's mixed record as governor and the news that he fathered a child with his housekeeper have damaged his credibility recently. But the Showtime project gives him an opportunity to both help rehabilitate his image and gain a larger voice on climate change.

“Schwarzenegger absolutely does have credibility on this subject,” says Eric Pooley, senior vice president for strategy and communications for the Environmental Defense Fund

The series is going out of its way to appeal to viewers beyond the standard liberal elites on both coasts, and Schwarzenegger is symbolic of that, says Mr. Pooley, author of “The Climate War.”

“They are getting stars from the NFL and NASCAR to appeal to America’s heartland red states,” he adds. “They are trying to connect the dots for those who don’t already think it’s an issue.”

Schwarzenegger gained much of his credibility on the issue when he signed the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 – a law requiring California to cut greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. He has sought to build from there. Schwarzenegger recently opened a public policy think tank at the University of Southern California, and the United Nations Correspondents Association will honor him on Dec. 19 as a 2012 Advocate of the Year for his work with R20, the nonprofit he founded after leaving office to address climate change at the subnational level.

These connections and clout might be his most important contribution to the miniseries, says Peter Lehman, director of the Center for Film, Media and Popular Culture at Arizona State University.

“The issue is less what Arnold knows about climate change and science than the wise use of science experts he and Cameron can bring to the project,” he says. “The dangers are that star power will overwhelm substance and expertise, or that partisan politics will influence perspectives, but there is too much to gain in trying to bring these issues to a large public in this manner, and premium cable TV is currently an excellent format for this.”

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