Between seven people living in a loft and overweight Americans vying to shed poundage, reality TV wallows in tacky. But the form is finally living up to its name with the cable show Peak Moment, produced by Nevada City’s Janaia Donaldson, coordinator of Alliance for a Post-Petroleum Local Economy (APPLE), and her partner, Robin Mallgren. Their company, Yubagals, named for their Sierra foothills bioregion, produces a weekly half-hour talk show devoted to exploring “community and individual responses to a changing energy future,” as Donaldson says during her introductory spiel in the first few episodes.
Though the two Yubagals are the driving force (and the financial capital—they’re operating without sponsors or underwriters) behind Peak Moment, they have a rotating crew of about ten APPLE members who help out. By mid-July, 25 episodes of the sustainability talk show have aired on NCTV channel 11, Nevada City’s community access station—exploring everything from cattle ranches to determining if solar is the way to ensure your own energy future. Donaldson spoke from her home outside Nevada City about the unique strategy of broadcasting sustainability issues into the living rooms of local channel-surfers.
How did you get the idea for a TV show on the localization movement?
We got the idea a year ago as APPLE was forming. My background is in graphic design, and Robin’s is as a computer software designer. In the late ’90s, we took a video class and that caught fire for us, so we’ve been building a small business since about 2002 videotaping events in our community. While brainstorming for APPLE, I said, “We’re living at a peak moment on this planet,” and bing!—but it didn’t bear fruit until this December, when I helped do a studio shoot for our local community access television station. I saw how easy that was, so we put the word out to other friends in APPLE because we needed more crew. We started the show in late January.
Do you have any background as a talk show host?
No! I simply have a background as a person who enjoys engaging people in conversation and finding out what people think. And no, we don’t have a teleprompter in our little studio.
How many people watch the show?
We don’t have any idea because our local television station doesn’t do viewer surveys. There are 10,000 subscribers to cable in the Nevada City/Grass Valley area. We want to get it out to a much wider audience. It’s already showing at the Auburn community station and in Mount Shasta, and we’re looking for people to put it on their community access station or college station.
What sort of feedback are you getting from the broader community?
The jury’s still out for folks who aren’t yet on this wavelength. That’s part of why I’m trying to cover this topic not just from experts but to have space for people’s personal responses. I’m trying to tap it at every level—people who are scared about the news, who are afraid the whole thing’s going to crash. I had a couple of sisters—episodes 10 and 11—who first read about peak oil at Matt Savinar’s site lifeaftertheoilcrash.net. [Savinar’s book, The Oil Age Is Over: What to Expect as the World Runs Out of Cheap Oil, 2005-2050, is available at the site.] Savinar points out how fossil fuels have led us to far exceed the planet’s carrying capacity. In other words, human population is in overshoot.ÊWithout those energy inputs (and without alternatives to rapidly take their place at the scale we now use energy) he sees a massive die-off of human population until we are at a level of sustainability.ÊThat’s a pretty scary scenario, and one that I don’t tend to emphasize in talking with folks because it triggers so much fear and then paralyzes people because they’re overwhelmed. However, it really propelled the O’Brien sisters into positive action: they took a permaculture course from Solar Living Institute and both of them got gardens going and one moved to an off-grid home. Hearing how they emotionally responded—they wanted their whole family to move together so they’d all be safe together—those stories are just as instructive for people who might be hearing about peak oil, looking at what people can do in a positive way and not getting lost in fear.
Presenting a TV show is wonderfully novel considering that, within the sustainability movement, television is an oft-shunned medium.
We’re a television-literate culture. Here’s the irony—Robin and I don’t get television: we don’t get satellite. But we’re aware that’s where a huge part of America lives, and not just America but the world. We traveled to Thailand in 2001 and every shop had a little TV on. Downstairs where the people were living, little TVs on. All over the world, people are watching, and they’re watching other people’s stories, and they’re learning how to live. What television’s done across the world is say, “Look at these wonderful and exciting lives the Americans live! Look at all the things they consume! Look at all these wonderful things you can have!” We’ve certainly spread that message of “consume, consume” that is eating up the planet. So this is our own modest way of hoping that some of the stories people share—not just their own information but their stories—are a different set of models for how we might live.
This past April, you represented APPLE and Peak Moment at the Northern California relocalization conference in Willits.
We decided that while we were at the conference, we’d do some Peak Moment interviews with people working hard on localization. We stayed with a friend in Ukiah who’s part of a localization group called GULP—Greater Ukiah Localization Project—and showed them a few shows They got all fired up about the possibility of interviewing people in their community who are involved in localization efforts. And we’ve had localization groups in other communities who said they’d love to have us do some sessions with them.
Now it’s taking on a life of its own, growing into the notion of taking it on the road and using our videotaping skills to empower folks on the ground. Sort of like a biodiversity movement—every community’s going to have its own approach to how to localize its economy and how to build its own sustainability, which institutions and organizations are already open to that and which won’t be, how many will be able to work with their government leaders and how many will have to work with environmentalists first so they can begin to work with middle-of-the-road folks. Our hope is that we can empower people because telling their stories of what they’re doing in their communities can make them proud and we can make DVDs and use them as starting points for discussion or to take back to community leaders. If we videotape what Solar Sebastopol is doing, can Ukiah do that in its community or in my community? We need that cross-fertilization.
Is Peak Moment Road Show the next step?
Our idea, which sort of sounds crazy in the light of fossil-fuels pricing, is to have a little studio in the back of a motor home and go from community to community, videotape what they’re doing on-site, or do the interviews in the back of the little motor home. Just from our trip to Willits, we have 16 shows in the can. Now I have people contacting me wanting to be on the show. There’s no end to the material. People are excited about sharing what they’re doing. We need to be the media, and Peak Moment is a part of that.