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Film Review: 2040, when approaching the climate crisis with a bit of optimism seems a good idea

By: Alberto Sclaverano

Damon Gameau’s 2019 Australian documentary 2040 is unique among the pictures that deal with the climate crisis. Several excellent documentaries portray the current situation as a catastrophe and focus on humankind’s self-inflicted destruction due to the incapacity to act quickly. Mr. Gameau, a famous Australian director, actor, and producer, chooses a different path.

Structured like an indirect dialogue with his four years old daughter, this movie permits Gameau to imagine a future in which the climate crisis has been solved, and climate change has been finally contained. But it is not science fiction. He travels around today’s world and meets several people, from academics to farmers in developing countries. From everyone, he takes ideas and suggestions. This helps him to sketch a global, effective response to the climate crisis that can solve the problem by 2040 if everything is done properly of course.

For example, in Bangladesh, he discovers that there is one of the largest solar systems markets in the world, and the majority of houses in rural areas already have solar panels. Even a low-income country has successfully implemented a spread solar system-based model. The main obstacle is not related to the willingness of people to adopt it, but to poverty which sometimes makes impossible for them to buy solar systems.

In other scenes, he comes back to Australia to meet a farmer who became famous for his extensive development of regenerative agriculture. It is a different approach to soil use, and instead of consuming every available resource, as often happens with intensive farming, it aims to exploit plants’ ability to pull carbon from the atmosphere and take it back to the soil. It is a form of agriculture that relies on biodiversity’s defense and low exploitation of resources like water.

These are only a few of the many examples that Gameau offers to viewers. He always remains bound to scientific data and presents realistic solutions, either already available or at a very advanced stage of development. If everything is combined, and humankind acts together, this means could block climate change and stabilize Earth’s condition in a generation.

Now, we sadly know that things are different in reality, and humans are not working cooperatively and intensively as the Gameau’s methods would require. But the film remains very interesting. We shouldn’t always describe the climate crisis in apocalyptic terms. The idea that it is “too late” risks making some people apathetic, and enforces cynicism and detachment instead of pushing people to act. Gameau’s documentary is the answer to these worries. He seems to present himself as the counterpart of Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth. Like Mr. Gore, he is very careful with all the staging aspects.

The film seems a long TED-talk that takes part around the world. Sometimes it employs special effects and magic tricks to make the dialogues with Gameau’s guests more enjoyable to watch. And there are sequences with kids that are almost fairy tales/dreams-like moments. This is a movie aimed at the young generation, and at people that still have hope.

2040 can be seen as the exact opposite of Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, a well-made but shocking 2018 Canadian documentary, collectively made by Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier and Edward Burtynsky. That movie was about despair and the irreparable damage that humankind, as a species, has made to nature and other Earth’s life forms, especially through the exploitation of meat animals. 2040 instead, wants to teach us that the future is not lost and that we can still save ourselves and our planet. Its optimistic approach to climate change will perhaps feel naïve to some viewers, but I believe that people also need hope. It is a film for persons who still believe that a change is possible and realize it is a possibility completely in our hands.


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