Covering Climate Now: Alex Casey watches 2040, a climate change documentary determined to let the light in.
I’ve seen enough documentaries about climate change to know what I don’t want to see anymore. I don’t want Leonardo DiCaprio stroking his goatee on a sheet of ice and saying “folks: it’s bad”. I don’t want Al Gore, pacing back and forth on stage in 2006 and again in 2017 saying “folks: it’s still bad.” Gents! I know it’s bad! I can’t even be hungover anymore without imagining the straw from my milkshake going straight up a turtle’s nose, or the orangutan that’s probably gasping on the arid patch of rainforest cleared to make my double cheeseburger!
I’m a piece of shit, Leonardo! You know it, I know it, so what the hell are going to do about it?!
Damon Gameau does not have a goatee, but he does have some pretty good answers. The bloke behind That Sugar Film (think Supersize Me for sweeties) has turned his attention to our uncertain future in 2040, embarking on an optimistic mission that has been missing from the (necessary, but paralysing) doom and gloom of previous climate change documentaries. Entering the documentary as a layman with as much skin in the game as the rest of us – his home planet is fucked – he sets about finding ways to fix it that exist right now.
Keeping the focus personal, Gameau dedicates his exploration to his daughter Velvet, who is about to turn four. He’s trying to imagine an alternative future for her at 25 years old, one where we aren’t all piling into Jason Kerrison’s ark and squabbling over the last cans of beans in his opshop of rations (athangyou). In order to do this, he uses what he calls “fact-based dreaming” – if you think that’s cute, wait till you see the twee miniatures he wheels out later.
Because where Greta Thunberg wants you to act as if your house is on fire, Damon Gameau prefers you act as if your house is a cutesy stop motion animation. I know which one is twee, but I also know which one I prefer on a fragile Sunday after I’ve spent most of the day looking at skinny polar bears raking through rubbish bins. He frantically stacks wood into the fireplace to explain how our carbon building blocks are out of control, he opens freezer to show the melting of the ice caps, the kitchen sink overflowing as rising sea levels lap at his feet.
It is also here where we also first get a taste of the teeny, tiny, expert men that populate the documentary, made to look like Polly Pocket dolls so I guess we don’t get bored by the scary, brainy, things they are saying. As someone who loves New World miniatures even though they now make me sick because of all the fucking plastic argh all the plastic fml, I was absolutely charmed to see them pop up every now and again with their clear-eyed solutions and their bestselling book titles for me to definitely not read later.
Also, I’ve just realised in this exact moment that I think this documentary might be for children.
Beyond the mini-men, there are some pretty huge solutions. His journey takes him around the world in a carbon-spewing plane, to meet people implementing positive environmental changes right now. In a village in Bangladesh, a young genius has rigged up a solar grid that gives every household the option of sharing their power to those around them. Gameau then flashes forward to how it could be incorporated into Velvet’s life in 2040. Bafflingly, she has kept the name Velvet, but is using solar sharing to gift her neighbours power when she goes on holiday.
Each chapter of the documentary takes Gameau to a new location, bookended with cute kids talking about their futures down the barrel of the camera. Some hit hard (“I just want the future to be good”) and some just absolutely rock (“we should suck up all the rubbish and put it in the rubbish dimension”). Beyond reminding us who will be inheriting this Earth, of course a crucial point, rounding out each part with their dewy-eyed conclusions make for slightly juddery pacing. Throw me straight into the rubbish dimension, but I could have done with less of them.
Because there’s a lot more to tackle here than cute kid vox pops. A trip from a traffic jam in New York to the slick driverless cars of Singapore treads a new path for public and private transport, although I’m not super convinced that by 2040 all the motorways will be obsolete and turned into glorious cabbage patches. Sorry Velvet. What did seem much more realistic is our growing awareness around plant-based diets and regenerative agriculture, with 2040 Velvet making an an absolute futuristic vege frittata like an absolute GC.
One of the biggest revelations was the role that humble seaweed could play in drawing out carbon from our atmosphere. Somewhere off the East Coast of the United States, a “marine permaculture system” aka a huge underwater seaweed duvet thing captures carbon in the air while also making the ocean less acidic. Turns out brown seaweed can grow 50cm a day and can be used as a food, a biofuel, a fertiliser, an alkalizer, a lipstick, a contour and an eyeshadow. Folks, it’s the Thin Lizzy of the sea, and maybe everything is going to be fine.
Look, 2040 isn’t a perfect documentary. The animation tires a bit, and the final sequence made me want to wrap my head in metres and metres of fast-growing brown seaweed, never to be seen again. I’m also sure that anyone with more scientific knowledge than me, a person who once picked up a hardened human stool thinking it was a precious gem, could shoot holes in the sunny solutions apart in seconds. But, in these trying days where basically everything feels like a hardened human stool, I’m choosing to hold this up as a rare gem. Frankly, because I have to.