50 States. 1 year. One planet to save.

Are we doomed?

You could panic…
or you could watch
this guy and this guy and this girl
panic for you.

– from the YERT trailer

Last night, I was gratified to finally attend one of the events we have been promoting incessantly for Earth Week: the film screening of “YERT: Your Environmental Road Trip” sponsored by the Environmental Studies Program and the Office of Sustainability.

It was a delightfully funny, engaging and eye-opening experience. Billed as a docu-comedy, YERT follows producer Mark Dixon, director Ben Evans and his stalwart wife Julie Dingman Evans in a “year-long eco-expedition through all 50 United States.” They packed their belongings into a Ford Escape Hybrid named Rachel (in honor of Rachel Carson) which is shown getting 44 mpg on the film. They started in Pittsburgh and carried all their garbage around the country from July 4, 2007 to 2008, interviewing over 800 people.

Unlike many films about the environment, YERT is far from depressing. Mark and Ben, being old college buddies, were especially goofy together – injecting a large dose of humor into even the most serious interviews. They put together funny skits to liven up conversations. They challenged themselves not to create more trash each month than a cereal box can hold. They slept in a cave, a VW eco-bus/hotel room, and of course, an actual yurt.

The film did not sugar-coat or avoid big issues; instead, it balanced the good news and bad news stories extremely well. Who knew that there is a guy in Idaho working on Solar Roadways, a project to harness the sun’s energy by replacing asphalt and concrete surfaces with solar panels? Or that worm poop is one of the best things that could ever happen to your garden?

I really enjoyed watching the team do their corn challenge in Iowa and visit unusual places like the City Museum in Missouri filled entirely with salvaged/repurposed objects. They also visited the Terracycle plant in New Jersey and massive wind farms in West Texas.

The Earthship Education Facility

I was especially inspired that so many people – real, regular, everyday folks – all around the country are bravely trying to effect change in their own way. We are introduced to several fascinating characters – the “Lunatic Farmer” Joel Salatin (whom we recognized from Food Inc. and now has his own film, Fresh) and the architect of a self-powered green house called “EarthShip.”  My heart went out to the man in West Virginia who refused to move from his family home of 300 years, whose fight against the coal mining companies cost him his marriage (his wife was not a fan of getting shot at).

I was impressed that the film raised some key issues – questioning the model of infinite economic growth and how the American way of life has so successfully enabled individual independence at the expense of a sense of community. It’s no surprise to me that YERT has won so many awards. I highly recommend catching a screening soon – Tisch Library has a copy. Don’t pass up the chance to watch this very entertaining and inspiring film!

In the meantime, you can watch any of the 60 short films or YERTpods on their website. Here’s the trailer again, in case you haven’t seen it yet: