New documentary series explores climate change through ordinary lives

Showtime series "Years of Living Dangerously"... 06:22

Climate change is often addressed among scientists and policy makers, but a new documentary explores how global warming impacts the lives of ordinary citizens across the world.

In a new Showtime series called "Years of Living Dangerously," journalists and Hollywood stars trek through regions like the Middle East, the Arctic and even the United States to learn more about the issue.

One of those journalists is Pulitzer Prize-winner Thomas Friedman who explained how an extended drought, fueled by climate change, contributed to civil unrest in Syria, which has been mired in violence ever since.

"Beginning in 2006 and lasting until 2010, Syria experienced the worst drought in its modern history," Friedman said Friday on "CBS This Morning." "About a million Syrian farmers and herders left the land and basically flocked into the major cities in the homeland [like] Damascus where they really overwhelmed the infrastructure."

However, then-President Bashar Assad's government did nothing to help them, Friedman said.

"The drought didn't cause the revolution, but when the revolution came, all these farmers and herders could not wait to join."

New climate change documentary explores impac... 08:54
Friedman has written extensively about Middle East, covering issues including the water shortage in Yemen and Egypt's bread crisis, but he said he has never spent an extended period of time only talking to Arab environmentalists.

"They're a remarkable community. Small, but extremely able," he said.

Friedman said talking to the Arab environmentalists gave him a whole new perspective on the region.

"One thing young Arabs will tell you is, 'Hey, we've tried everything. We tried nationalism, socialism, communism, Islamism, capitalism, liberalism, and nothing worked,'" he said. "And I tell them there's one '-ism' you haven't tried -- and that's environmentalism."

Environmentalists start with the commons, he said. "They understand that there's no Shiite heir, Sunni heir if we don't protect the commons, nobody's going to breathe."

Syria isn't the only place highlighted in this documentary series about climate change. In a separate episode, "60 Minutes" correspondent Lesley Stahl reported from a glacier in Greenland, where she witnessed "ice quakes."

"So not only are the glaciers falling into the ocean, but they're melting from the top and it looks like a white blouse with blue polka dots," Stahl said.

Climate change's effect on Greenland is being felt elsewhere in the world - rising sea levels have brought more disastrous floods than in previous generations, Stahl said.

"That's because the ice is melting, it's affecting the sea water all along the eastern shore of the United States," she said. "So we're feeling the impact here. You see it when you're there, and you feel it when you come home."

Stahl and Friedman are two of the 14 correspondents reporting for the documentary series. Others include Harrison Ford, Jessica Alba and Matt Damon.

Friedman said while he cannot predict how climate change skeptics will react to the documentary series, there is power in telling the story through the experiences of "real people living in real communities."

"Al Gore did an amazing job with 'Inconvenient Truth,' but that was one man telling millions," Friedman said. "What this series is about is millions telling many more millions about how climate change is impacting their real lives."