12/07/2012 12:19 pm ET Updated Feb 06, 2013

The Essence of Nobelity

Turk Pipkin, who filmed Nobelity, doesn't digress -- he gets right to the heart of why the world is so screwed up. Ever wondered what the world's top 10 problems are? Well, now you can have those issues laid out for you in a handy list. Here are some of the highlights: Energy, water, poverty, disease and education. Pipkin dives into many of the top 10 in-depth, but he doesn't stop at enumeration. More than mere talking points, he wants solutions. Nothing short of that can stave off the helplessness he feels about the legacy our generation is leaving for the next one. With the future made more urgent as seen from the lens of his two young daughters, Pipkin makes his way across the world as an everyman in search of the essential.

I love this film, earnestness and all. The nine Nobel Laureates Pipkin worked with include Desmond Tutu, Wangari Maathai, Ahmed Zewail, Harold Varmus, Steve Weinberg, Amartya Sen, Jody Williams, Sir Joseph Rotblat and Richard Smalley. His work with Rotblat and Smalley, it turned out, would be the final major interviews of their lives.

Sometimes the Nobel Laureates offer complex answers to Pipkin's questions, despite him striving to make the concepts accessible to the layperson. But others, such as Jody Williams, who won her Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work on banning land mines, keep it simple: "There is nothing magical about change. It is getting off your ass and caring enough to take the first step to contribute to change on an issue you care about."

The predictions in the film are clear-eyed and blunt: Global warming, the drowning of Venice, the disappearance of Bangladesh, peak oil, global pandemics, deforestation and the inevitable triggering of nuclear weapons. But ultimately, the film reflects an unshakable hope that disasters can be averted if we work together. The change we want to see begins with ourselves.

Several inspiring examples uplift the film, especially the green belt movement in Kenya pioneered by the late Wangari Maathai. She founded the movement in response to the needs of rural Kenyan women who reported that their streams were drying up, their food supply was less secure, and they had to walk further and further to get firewood for fuel and fencing. Maathai's mission was to encourage the women to work together to grow seedlings and plant trees to bind the soil, store rainwater, and provide food and firewood, for which they would receive a small monetary token to reward their work. Most recently, the green belt movement has extended its reach internationally to campaign on climate change, the importance of Africa's rainforests in the Congo, and, along with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), to advocate for its Billion Tree Campaign.

Pipkin ends on an upbeat note, with Desmond Tutu discussing the "human family" and how interconnected we all are. "In a good family we say: From each according to their ability, to each according to their need," says Tutu. He points out that a solitary human being is a contradiction in terms. Our humanity, as the film brings home, is defined by the quality of our relations: how well we take care of each other, as well as our universal home.