What I will remember most about this Christmas was watching Don’t Look Up on Netflix, written, directed and produced by Adam McKay, and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence. For the first time in a long while, I found myself completely captivated by a film. In the form of biting black social and political satire, it reflected my unrelenting astonishment at the indifference to and/or denial of the most important life and death issues of our time: climate change and the pandemic.
I was disappointed but not surprised by the mixed reviews as summarised by Wikipedia (1). Some critics felt condescended to, reflecting the very same trivialising and superficial reactions of society depicted and satirised in the film.
Other commentary, from climate scientists Peter Kalmus and Michael Mann, as well as Saving Our Planet’s honorary member George Monbiot, supported the film. Kalmus characterised it as “the most accurate film about society’s terrifying non-response to climate breakdown I’ve seen,” while Mann called it “serious socio-political commentary posing as comedy.”
The headline of Monbiot’s opinion piece (2) of 4 January 2022 reads, “Watching Don’t Look Up made me see my whole life of campaigning flash before me.” His critique of the critics is succinct: “they will not name the real problem: it’s about them.”
About a dozen years ago, I watched The Age of Stupid, written and directed by Franny Armstrong, and produced by Lizzie Gillett. Since that time, I have been doing whatever I could to get the message out that we have an imminent problem, the threat of catastrophic climate breakdown.Don’t Look Up largely reflects my experience. While I focus on trying to convey the scientific facts – we must stop putting fossil fuels into the atmosphere – the responses are avoidance, denial, trivialization, condescension and the like. Sometimes the responses are, “I never buy my fruit or veg wrapped in plastic,” as they go on to plan their next weekend getaway by plane. Few people are interested in a conversation about energy sources, and those who are interested are often misinformed about their relative safety and cleanliness from an emissions point of view.
Fossil fuel companies and even so-called “green” organisations like Greenpeace have unrelentingly trumpeted intermittent and low-density solutions, like wind and solar, that take up a great amount of space and must be backed up, typically by CO2-emitting fossil fuels. They have attacked nuclear energy on grounds of cost and safety, despite it being amongst the very safest per unit of energy delivered, even taking all accidents into account. As a result, we now have fully functional non-CO2-emitting nuclear plants being closed in Germany and France, to be replaced by fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas.
Don’t look up!