7 reality shows that could help save the world (yes, really)

Reality shows could made it easier for people visualize a better world that works for everyone – and inspire them to help make that vision a reality.

7 reality shows that could help save the world (yes, really)
Photo by Aneta Pawlik / Unsplash

If you’ve been paying attention to the ongoing climate crisis, you know that we humans have to find a better way of living in the world.

Our voracious fossil fuel-powered consumer culture is polluting the planet, overheating our atmosphere, and causing massive upheaval to our climate and environment that – if left unchecked – will  likely lead to the collapse of many of the world’s ecosystems and the end of human civilization as we know it.

(Not to get too dramatic about it or anything... 😅)

Clearly we are going to have to radically transform the way we work, shop, eat, travel, and live our lives in the next couple of decades. And these shifts aren’t going to happen by themselves. People won’t overhaul their lifestyles purely out of the goodness of their own hearts – they’re going to have to WANT to make these changes.

And the only way that’s going to happen is if they’re able to see the immediate benefits they’ll experience as a result.  

So. How do we make that happen?

How do we encourage people to WANT to make the changes that must happen if we're going to mitigate the effects of climate change and create a sustainable clean-energy economy that works for all of us?

By showing them how incredibly AWESOME that future could be – and how taking action toward that future isn't simply virtuous, it's cool. And practical. And financially rewarding. And easier than one might think.

That’s where reality shows come in.

Love them or hate them, no one can deny that reality shows are a hugely popular form of entertainment. According to this stats site, 79% of television-watching adults in the United States watch reality shows and about 60% of all prime-time TV in the States is reality programming.

Reality shows such as Survivor put contestants in challenging situations which force the viewer to consider, “What would I do in a similar situation?” and “Who will triumph and why?” Shows like The Great British Bake Off or even The Physical 100 showcase the incredible skills of “regular” people and encourage empathy for the diverse range of contestants who participate each season. And shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians or Vanderpump Rules explore the lives of the rich and beautiful and reveal the all-too-human messiness behind all that money and makeup – allowing viewers to moralize among themselves while still aspiring toward certain aspects of those wealthy and glamorous-seeming lifestyles.

Regardless of how “real” they actually are, the best reality shows tell compelling stories and make it easy for people to visualize and relate to different ways of living that they never experienced.

That’s why I think they could be a valuable tool for helping people better visualize how awesome our lives could be if we took powerful action to create a sustainable, clean-energy world that works for all of us.

Consider the possibilities…

Here are some reality shows that I would personally love to see:


Photo by Cesar La Rosa on Unsplash

Imagine talented fashion designers competing to create new clothing out of existing garments, showcasing the huge potential of upcycling materials as well as the urgent need to shrink the global fashion industry’s devastating impacts on the environment.

In one episode of the show Next in Fashion with Tan France and Gigi Hadid, that’s exactly what happened. The outfits the designers made using the fabric from discarded garments were stunning! It made for compelling television and prompted me to think: instead of a single episode, why not a whole series where a group of designers competed to be the “Next in Upcycled Fashion,” making high-quality bespoke fashion out of used clothing and showing how designers and consumers can help make the fashion industry become more circular?

Wouldn’t it be cool if THAT became the height of “haute couture” – wearing customized clothing created by talented designers using high-quality materials that already exist, thereby reducing the amount of waste in the world?


Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

We’re not done with fashion yet! The world consumers about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. And 30% of the clothing produced goes straight to landfill without ever being worn!  

British fashion designer Patrick Grant is quoted as saying, “We have enough clothing on the planet right now to dress the next six generations of the human race.” It is undoubtedly true that we have more than enough already-made garments and fabrics to keep us clothed for years. Instead of making more we need to become much better at using the things we already have.

That’s why, in addition to Next in Upcycled Fashion, I’d love to see a show about talented stylists who source new wardrobes for clients or participants entirely from thrift stores. The show could walk participants through the process of understanding their fashion “brand” and then show how stylists find items in thrift stores that go together to create a great wardrobe that fully expresses that participant's personality. It would be fun to watch the stylists exult over high-quality vintage thrift store finds that are way cooler than most newly made clothing items could ever be.  


Photo by Jw. on Unsplash

Lots of people love a good “property” show! And since the building industry is responsible for a whopping 37% of all emissions, the sooner we can decarbonize this industry, the better.

That's why I’d love to see a reality show that focuses on beautiful homes that are built or renovated to meet the highest environmental standards, use fully renewable net-zero energy, and are made of the most sustainable building materials available, including recycled materials. The sooner we can make green building practices the norm everywhere, the better off we’ll be.

We could also have spinoff series looking at innovative affordable housing solutions for people who are finding it hard to break into our current highly overpriced housing market. Housing is a huge problem that needs to get solved and I would love to see what kind of novel solutions countries around the world are exploring and implementing.


Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

The world generates more than 50 million tons of e-waste a year. That is NUTSO – especially when you consider all of the reusable parts and valuable materials contained in that e-waste.

That’s why I’d love to see a show that features hardware hackers and inventors who are challenged to create valuable tech devices and machines using only the materials they can gather from, say, 500 lbs of random e-waste (or whatever amount makes sense). It would be great to show how innovative people can be while also emphasizing the importance of creating more effective recycling infrastructure and making the tech industry far more circular and sustainable than it currently is.


Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Plastic is a blight on the planet. Globally we produce 300 million tonnes of it a year and only 9% of that gets recycled. The sooner we can find alternative materials to use, the better off the world will be.

Fortunately, there are countless science and engineering teams that are exploring methods to produce plastic alternatives from agricultural waste, mushrooms, algae, and other biodegradable materials. It would be cool to see a “Shark Tank” style show focusing on entrepreneurs and start-ups whose products are designed to help create a plastic-free world.


Photo by Justin on Unsplash

There is so much misinformation being put out by major industries that are trying to slow our acceleration to a green-energy sustainable world. Here are just a few examples to show you what I mean.  

It would be great to have a politically neutral reality show focused on debunking a lot of this misinformation and showing how the money behind its spread can be traced back to the organizations and industries that have the most to lose from moving toward a zero-carbon world.  


Photo by Sergio Sala on Unsplash

I think most people would agree that modern society has a lot of existential problems that need solving. Environmental devastation, massive wealth disparity, increasing partisanship and divisiveness – all of these things are holding us back from creating a better world that works for everyone.

BUT: since they are human-created problems, that means they’re problems that we humans can solve. I would love to see a sort of “anti-Survivor” reality show that – instead of setting people up to compete against each other – explores how
people can better collaborate with each other to achieve common goals and how we could evolve our political, economic, and social systems so that both humans and nature can thrive.

I would watch the hell out of shows like this. (Just me?)

These are just a few ideas for reality shows that could help us better visualize a more sustainable world that works for all of us. Now all we need are some forward-thinking TV producers to make these hypothetical reality shows a reality!

Because the better we are able to visualize the world we want to create, the easier it will be for us to visualize the path forward and summon the collective energy and drive to make it happen.

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