Mary Anne Hitt, Ian Somerhalder

Showtime's hit shows usually depict life-and-death situations in a heightened version of the world around us. But the cable channel's new docu-series Years of Living Dangerously aims to shine a light on a real-world issue that could be just as dangerous: global warming.  

A project three years in the making, the nine-episode series sends celebrity correspondents such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Harrison Ford to areas around the world and throughout the U.S. affected by global warming. The stars interview experts and ordinary people alike about the impacts of climate change and also ask questions on behalf of the audience. According to executive producer Jerry Weintraub, co-creators Joel Bach and David Gelber wanted to use Hollywood A-listers not just for star power, but as a way for the average viewer to understand the enormity of the issue.

"I was always wondering, why is it that this message doesn't penetrate?," Schwarzenegger, also an executive producer, told reporters at the Television Critics Association winter previews back in January. "The things [scientists] talk about a lot of times don't really resonate with the general public. So I always felt that there was a communications gap and a communications problem between the subject of global warming and bringing ordinary people in and making them part of the movement. ... Scientists would never get the kind of attention that someone in show business gets."

Exclusive: Get a first look at Showtime's Years of Living Dangerously

Other celebrities participating in the series include Matt DamonIan SomerhalderJessica Alba and Don Cheadle. Each of them, Weintraub said, "told [us] the subjects that they were interested in that had to do with global warming and climate control."  Added climate expert Daniel Abbasi: "We were very selective about the celebrities that we chose. We wanted people who had a real commitment to this. These are not cameo performances. We chose people that already have this passion for the issue, and then we gave them an opportunity to do something that most of them hadn't done before, which was go into the field as correspondents. They relate to people.  They're charismatic. They draw people in."

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The subjects explored range from Ford traveling to Indonesia in the premiere to investigate how corruption and the world's appetite for palm oil have combined to ravage the country's landscape and make Indonesia one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases through deforestation. In another episode, Olivia Munn profiles the nation's most climate-conscious governor, Washington's Jay Inslee, and his dealings with coal export depots. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Somerhalder, who talks to megachurch preacher Rick Joyner who doesn't believe in climate change even though his activist daughter is trying to convince him that global warming is real.

"I'm grateful that these guys put this together so we can see these stories come to life and we can see the struggles of these people," Somerhalder said. "I think it's going to activate people. Once you educate someone and you have empowered them, now they become activated, and I think that's where the real change is going to come in." Added Gelber: "[We want to] inspire people to share their own stories and empower them to get involved in solutions. We're also implementing an engagement campaign that will extend this effort beyond the broadcast to encourage our global leaders in politics, business and religion, as well as concerned citizens, to state where they stand on key climate issues and take action."

Watch the first episode of Years of Living Dangerously, which premieres Sunday at 10/9c on Showtime, now:

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