TV Show ‘Revolution’ Teams Up With United Nations to Shine Light on a World Without Power

In last night’s episode of the NBC post-apocalyptic drama, Revolution, each of the characters faced the consequences of the risky alliances they made in their struggle to survive in a world without electricity.

That world—complete with water-borne disease, warlords, and refugee camps—is a reality for many of the 1.2 billion people who live each day cut off from the power grids that most of us in developed nations take for granted. (See related, “Five Surprising Facts About Energy Poverty.”) That’s why the United Nations, which has been trying for some time to bring greater attention to the plight of the energy poor, struck up an informal partnership with the TV show.

United Nations officials met with Bad Robot Productions owner J.J. Abrams, Bad Robot head of TV Steve Tao, and Revolution creator Eric Kripke in Los Angeles ahead of the second season. UN field staff shared experiences in war-torn and energy-starved places like Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sudan, and Syria.

Some of those details (the warlords in Revolution offering hostages sweet tea, for example) are now being woven into the series. And along with Tao and Kripke, show stars Giancarlo Esposito, Billy Burke, and Tracy Spiridakos, (seen in the accompanying photos taking their seats in a UN conference room) came to UN headquarters in September for a panel discussion on the problem of energy poverty. (See related post: “American Blackout: Four Real-Life Threats to the Electric GridAmerican Blackout: Four Real-Life Threats to the Electric Grid,” and the show site at National Geographic Channel.)

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Actress Tracy Spiridakos, one of the stars of the TV show, Revolution, briefly takes the Greek delegate’s seat at UN headquarters in September. Photograph courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc./ David Giesbrecht.

“It was very humbling to me, because I’m just a nerd making a sci-fi show,” says Kripke in a videotaped interview at the event. “For us, it was a science fiction concept. And they come to us and say, actually, no, one-fifth of the world lives entirely in the way that is depicted in your show. And, by the way, a lot worse.” (See related, “Pictures: Scavenging for Charcoal in the Rubble of Manila.”)

Kripke said UN officials told the Revolution team that they’d like to use the show as a platform for getting that message out. In return, they’d offer research access to UN staff with on-the-ground experience on energy need.

Today, the UN blog uses last night’s Revolution plot as a jumping-off point for a discussion of the polio outbreak in Syria, and the UN’s Shot at Life and polio eradication effort. (In Revolution’s world without electricity, vaccines for cholera and other disease become as valuable as diamonds.) (See related, “Cookstove Smoke is ‘Largest Environmental Threat,’ Global Health Study Finds,” and “Biochar Cookstoves Boost Health for People and Crops.”)

This fall marks the second anniversary of the United Nations’ “Sustainable Energy for All” initiative, which aims to achieve universal access to modern energy services, the doubling of energy efficiency, and the doubling of the share of renewable energy in the world’s energy mix by 2030. (See related, “The Solvable Problem of Energy Poverty.”)  The UN has said it will fall far short in its effort to fight extreme poverty unless access to modern, clean energy can be extended to all.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for both public funds and private financing to tackle the issue. The mobilizing of $100 billion a year for climate finance by 2020 will be a “huge challenge,” he said last month at the opening of a “sustainable energy for all-efficiency hub” in Copenhagen, Denmark. But “I do not think it is sort of a miracle or something impossible,” he said. (See related post: “Linkin Park’s Bid to ‘Power the World’“)

What would your life be like without electricity? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Actor Billy Burke, whose character had to communicate in code with a sunlight reflector in last night’s episode of the TV show revolution, takes advantage of modern technology at UN headquarters in September. Photograph courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc./ David Giesbrecht.