Written by Francesca McClimont
Seeing Zac Efron present the environmental documentary Down to Earth came as somewhat of a surprise to many, particularly those who have grown up with him as the teen heartthrob Troy Bolton in High School Musical, and more recently as the star of the Baywatch remake.
In the Netflix eco-series, the actor expresses feeling a growing need to use his privileged position to raise awareness on how we are so disconnected from nature. This feeling of disconnect drove him to reach out to Californian health guru Darin Olien, with whom he forms a close friendship.
Together they travel the globe, hopping from country to country, highlighting the benefits of healthy living, sustainable lifestyles, renewable energy and environmental movements in both urban and rural communities. They are also both executive producers of the show. The actor has recently announced it will return for a second season, posting, on Instagram, pictures of the two of them in a forest.
No release date as yet, but previews released so far show the actor immersing himself in filming, both literally and metaphorically: in a video he appears swimming alongside dolphins.
Another preview sees the actor Down Under, to see whether cows’ feed reduces their flatulence – and amusingly, by extension, ours. To discuss this he visits Sea Forest, a farm that is cultivating Asparagopsis, a seaweed that grows in Tasmanian waters. They say they are “the first in the world” to do so on a commercial scale. “When included in very low quantities as a feed supplement, [Asparagopsis] greatly reduces the production of methane from livestock,” their website claims.
Down to Earth‘s first season was met with mixed reviews. Critics bashed it for being everything from “hopelessly simplistic“, to having a “lack of focus” and that “it mixes bunk with earnest reporting“.
Darin Olien’s questionable pseudoscience aside, the series makes the issues of the climate crisis accessible to young viewers who might not otherwise be engaged or exposed to the movement. In highlighting ways to combat global warming with entrepreneurial, conservational and community efforts, it shows how everyone can play their own, active part in making the future of human activity more sustainable.
It’s important to note, however, that Down to Earth has a sizeable carbon footprint of its own. Netflix’s CEO recently told the Financial Times that “the majority of our footprint is producing shows like The Crown,” citing “actually creating our content, building sets, moving people around to be able to produce a series or film” as the main cause of their environmental impact. Efron’s show, whilst maybe not comparable to The Crown, undoubtedly involves extensive travel for both him, Olien and the production crew. The streaming giant has pledged carbon neutrality by 2022.
Zac Efron may not be an established presenter or renowned environmentalist, and this series may seem slightly out of the blue, but sharing stories of climate change related devastation as well as sustainable methods to combat the change is commendable. He is wielding his influence for good.