On election night, that wily political tactician, Arthur Sinodinos was asked whether a re-elected Coalition would take steps to address climate change, after years of policy chaos. His reply was that climate change had become such a prominent issue that measures would be adopted as a natural result of increasing community pressure. This was an interesting way of saying: “Yes and no.”
If the election was a referendum on climate change, as some were portraying it, then the portents are not promising. No matter how urgently the issue played out with the voters of Warringah, who dumped the climate change denier-in-chief, Tony Abbott, it seems to have galvanised the voters of Queensland in the opposite way. Apparently believing that any attempt to deal with global warming means fewer jobs and higher taxes, they voted resoundingly in favour of fossil fuels.
It was a false choice, but that means little in practical terms. The vast majority of people still seem to be incapable of grasping the reality of climate change. It remains an abstraction that won’t harm them as long as they have food on the table and footie on the TV. Worse still, it is portrayed as a crisis invented by lefties and greenies for their own insidious ends.
One wonders how many people who feel like this will be going to see Damon Gameau’s documentary, 2040? Very few, presumably, because when you instinctively know what’s right and wrong, there’s no point in watching anything that might challenge those preconceptions. It’s a dispiriting environment for a filmmaker with a social conscience, but a wellmade doco remains one of the best ways of reaching a vast audience.
Gameau is known for That Sugar Film (2014) in which he recorded the disastrous effects of a high sugar diet on his own body. 2040is couched as a letter to his four-year-old daughter, Velvet, speculating about the world she will inhabit when she is 23. The smartest aspect is that Gameau has chosen to put aside the apocalyptic scenarios and present a message of hope. Instead of detailing the dire consequences of climate change he strives to show there are many ways for us to deal with the crisis, and to begin repairing the damage.
2040 is an optimistic film that tries a little too hard to be entertaining as well as informative. I’m not sure the message gains much from reducing commentators to the size of insects, or conducting interviews sitting on top of wind turbines. Gameau’s quirky use of computer imagery and love of unusual settings is part of his theatrical style, although the results can be more irritating than charming.
To find out what the future holds for his daughter and her generation he sets off on a worldwide journey looking for already-existing solutions to problems of climate change. He calls it “an exercise in fact-based dreaming”. En route he conducts sessions with schoolchildren in several different countries, hoping to discover their thoughts and wishes. Their responses, which punctuate the film, are consistently diverting. It’s hard to go past the little boy who slowly and earnestly says: “ I want to see more trees, and I want to see chocolate raining from the clouds.”
The schoolchildren form a kind of chorus, returning after each interview with a talking head, such as the economist, Kate Raworth; progressive farmer, Colin Seis; scientist, Brian von Herzen; or hands-on activists such as Paul Hawken and Neel Tamhane. The experts lead us through a variety of topics, from the way solar power is transforming the life of villages in Bangladesh and providing a potential model for the rest of the world, to the potential benefits of large-scale seaweed farming.
Gameau looks at driverless cars and vehicle sharing, soil regeneration, ‘doughnut economics’, and ways of sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. As the film progresses one begins to feel there so many good ideas, so many simple but effective solutions waiting to be harnessed that not only can climate change be defeated, we might also go a long way towards solving many environmental, economic and social problems. One activist, for instance, says that empowering girls would do a lot to help the environment.
All it requires is will and leadership. The bad news, as Gameau points out, is that vested interests in the corporate world spend a billion dollars a year spreading misinformation about climate science. He assumes these tactics, borrowed from big tobacco, will ultimately be abandoned as the weight of evidence and public opinion increases – which may be close to what Arthur Sinodinos believes.
As the film concludes with a rousing children’s anthem, the planet seems poised on the brink of an era of peace, happiness and prosperity. Alas, when the lights come up, we’re back in a world of religious fundamentalism, voracious capitalism, aggressive nationalism and dumb populism. As the earth keeps warming, Donald Trump is rolling back environmental controls, and Scott Morrison made a similar pledge in the days before the election. It looks as if things can only get worse before we arrive at the utopian future Gameau envisages. Inevitably the burden of change will lie ever more heavily on the younger generations, that’s if we leave them anything to work with.
Written & directed by Damon Gameau
Starring Damon Gameau, Eva Lazzaro, Zoë Gameau
Australia, rated G, 92 mins
Published in the Australian Financial Review, 25 May, 2019